what to do in your first job in tech

Published on May 12, 2020

I am still working in my first job in technology. I started almost one year ago working as a writer, and here I am, still working for the same company.

There is a lot of advice out there on how to get the internship or job you want -- how to write a cold email, how to network, and so on -- and that makes sense, because there is no need to know what to do in a job until you have one.

Finding a job in tech is a difficult process. You need to hustle to find the position that is right for you. You may need to write cold emails. But what do you do when you start working? That’s a great question, and one that deserves more attention.

So, I’ve decided to compile a list of a few things I am doing to optimize my experience while working in my first job in tech.

Add value whenever I can

Your first job in tech is an excellent opportunity to build career capital. While side projects and networking are valuable endeavors, perhaps the most impactful thing you can do when you find a job is to invest as much as you are willing to into your job.

There is a quote from Patrick Collison that I quite like: “to the extent that you enjoy working hard, do.” This is how you should think about your job.

When I started my job, I was initially caught up in thinking about what my responsibilities were. Then I realized that, in a startup environment, your responsibilities are usually not laid out nicely in a job description. You need to be willing to adapt, and do new things.

So far in my job, I have worked on research, product, technical writing, and long-form writing. I have taken on a few additional assignments between those projects, as well. While I could have said no to many of these -- and just stuck with my initial work -- they have all provided me with an immense amount of value.

Especially if you are working in a startup, there should be plenty of work to do. This means that, if and when you are ready, you should try to take on new assignments.

Optimize for learning

Your first job may not be the most glamorous in the world. I was lucky enough to be going into a job whose work I enjoyed, but even then I felt like an imposter when I started. I thought to myself: why would this company hire me as a writer, a high school student, when there are so many other professional writers out there?

Upon considering this question, I realized that I had a lot to offer the company, and that I was not expected to know everything on day one. But, because I was still new to writing, I knew that I needed to use this job as an opportunity to learn as much as possible.

Every day, I like to ask myself: what am I learning? If I feel as though I am not learning anything, I know that I either need to be taking on an extra assignment, or experimenting with a new approach at doing something. Stagnation is the one thing I want to avoid.

When you’re working at a startup, there is often no time for your boss to tell you what you need to learn. You’ll be given assignments, and you will be expected to do them and follow through.

That’s why I try to be as proactive as I can in expanding my knowledge related to topics that are coming up at work. Right now, I am learning about conversion rates, for example.

Embrace working on a team

One of the “soft skills” I have been working hard to optimize for is being a great team player, and there is no better place to cultivate this skill than on your first job.

Every week, I like to make sure I am checking in with the people who are relevant to my work. I like to engage with my team members as much as possible, and find out more about what they are working on and how they can help.

Sometimes, this means taking on an extra call every now and again, and other times it means just sending a few more Slack messages. Either way, though, I am building connections with other people who may be able to help me out in the future.

What not to do in your first job

With that in mind, there are a few things that I think you should avoid doing in your first job. These are as follows:

  • Expect to advance quickly: If you are in your first job, you need to work hard. Really hard. Don’t expect to get a promotion after a few months unless you have really earned it, and even then, don’t hold your breath.
  • Work within a job description: If a company has taken a chance on you, the least you can do is try as hard as possible to fill their needs. Of course, you can say “no” to something if you are not ready or don’t have the time, but don’t get too caught up in what your responsibilities are “supposed to be.”
  • Look for another opportunity too soon: I haven’t entered a second job yet, and right now I am happy where I am. But I want to stay in this job for a while, because there are so many opportunities for learning. Your first job is a unique opportunity to build skills; don’t move on until you are ready.

These are just a few of the things I think are important to do -- and not do -- when you have found your first job in the technology industry. Above all else, make sure that you recognize how lucky you are to have the job that you have, and try as hard as you can to use every opportunity you are given to advance.

One final note: many of the things you learn on the job will not look like learning opportunities. That’s because skills like teamwork and being dependable are not taught like programming languages or writing skills are. They are built on the job, every day.

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Made by @jamesg_oca. Code on GitHub.