So I was thinking back about my old engineer career the other day. I didn’t mind what I did for a living but it was time to move on to try other things. But as I looked back on my career and I came up with some lessons that hopefully can help someone else in their career.
In no particular order:
- Asking for forgiveness is easier than asking permission, but it only really works on the minor things. So try to be reasonable.
- Don’t be afraid to use your sick time. I used to come in sick for the early part of my career and all I did was get no work done and then infect everyone else.
- Do good work, complete your work on time and be nice to work with. Honestly if you can do that you are further ahead of most people.
- Own your successes and your mistakes. It doesn’t get easier to admit when you screw up so get used to doing it earlier in your career. And come with a plan on how to fix your mistakes.
- Good enough works sometimes. For everyday items do good enough and save your energy for the key items your senior management really care about.
- Never depend on a raise or bonus. It should accelerate your plans, not be your plan.
- The best way to a higher salary is usually a new job. I got more raises moving jobs that I ever did just staying put.
- Always leave slack when estimating the amount of time you need to complete your work. More often than not you will need it and if you don’t you just finished your work earlier.
- Know what you want or need in a job and try to maximize those and minimize what you hate doing. For example, I hated repetitive work but loved getting new projects.
- People won’t recall your work, but they will remember how you made them feel. So be nice as a default.
- When in doubt: speak up. Ask the obvious or hard questions since most people have trouble doing that. Senior leadership doesn’t know everything, contrary to popular belief, so ask.
- Time off is more rare than a raise, so when in doubt take the time off over money.
- If you can’t get all your work done in a day, it isn’t your fault. It is often a resource problem, so doing overtime consistently will not fix it. So avoid doing overtime on a consistent basis, but it is okay for that last push to finish a project.
- Take every dime of money you can for matched savings programs. It will add up over the years.
- Social interactions make the world spin in business. So dear engineers get used to doing some small talk before diving into the agenda of your meeting. I know it feels odd but when you really need someones help they are WAY more willing to give it if they like you.
So what lessons did you learn from your career? Please add to the list with a comment below.
So it happened and I wasn’t entirely surprised. I got an email from my workplace back in Janurary asking for some help on something. Which to be honest was the first time they had done that since I left work. Also I give them credit as it did sound like they did really try to solve the issue themselves but they have run out of options and have to contact me.
I will admit I did have a momentary fantasy of saying no and telling them to piss off just because I can. But in reality I’m not that kind of person and I actually do respect the people I used worked with. So agreed to have a quick look at the issue. The key word in that phrase is a quick look. I’m not putting hours into an issue that really isn’t my problem and I wasn’t really interested in a contact if they asked.
I haven’t thought about my old job all that much and I’m not particularly in the market to start doing it again. I spent my kids’ Christmas vacation being ‘off’ the entire time and not working on much of anything and very much enjoyed that feeling.
So I compromised on their request. I set a timer for an hour and opened up the email and examined the files and reviewed their questions. Of course with a set time limit I could not do a detailed review but rather I provided some general advice on items to consider and where to find more information. I checked the timer at the end and still had four minutes left when I hit send on the email.
Unsurprisingly they came back with follow up questions to which I replied that I would not be answering as I only addressed the first questions as a personal favour for my old boss who I admire. Then perhaps against my better judgment I included an offer if you absolutely need me I would be willing to come in to consult for a very short contract. I crossed referenced a site I knew with suggested consulting rates. I set a rate and then suggested we cap the entire contract to a mere 25 hours. I don’t want to be there for long and I don’t particularly want this to drag out either. I have other items I need to be working on.
Then it occurred to me how would I feel about going back for even a short time and the response in my head was clear: I would feel ill. I never really like the office environment all that much and don’t really want to go back but if you pay me a boatload of cash I would be willing to do it for short period of time.
In the end it worked out fine. They never did come back to me asking for a contract or any more help. They obviously decided to deal with it on their own which makes sense. Using me would me just put off them having to figure out how to do it on their own anyway.
So how would you handle someone asking you to help out at your old workplace after you retired?
Once you give your notice to leave work often one of two things can happen: you can be asked to complete a long list of items before you leave or everything you are working on is taken away from you immediately and you are left being bored until you leave. The second can be referred to being a dead man/woman walking.
In my case, I really disliked the idea of being part of the walking dead. I’ve never really been good at doing nothing and in fact I’ve been know to leave jobs that have long stretches of having nothing to do. So I will admit, I had a plan to account for this situation should it come up.
You see I had a discussion with my boss a long while ago about the need to document my current responsibilities prior to leaving. So we added a project to my work plan to do just that and for the last year or so I’ve been steadily working away at developing support documents so someone else can do my job. While I had most of those done prior to giving notice I still have one major piece that I have barely started. I did that on purpose. Why? Because the project doesn’t depend on anyone else. I have a lot of freedom on how this gets done and it is important for the company that it get completed prior to me leaving. Hence it is really unlikely I will run out of work to do prior to leaving and that can save me from starting out the window wondering why I’m here (more so than normal ;0 ).
Also in my case, it appears my work would love me to keep plugging away at a series of tasks until the last minute. So in short, while I planned to not be the walking dead, it won’t be an issue for me anyway. Oh well, I rather have a plan that I don’t need rather than be bored at work.
So have you ever been part of the walking dead? What did you do about it?