A year and a half into my first engineering job, I was promoted to Senior Software Engineer after starting at the company as an Apprentice Software Engineer. Did I sleep? Not much. Did I date? Nope. Did I fall asleep at work on my computer? Shh..
Now that I’ve told you my shameful secrets, I’m going to share how I went from Apprentice Engineer to Senior Software Engineer in a little over a year and a half.
Creating a Daily Summary
At the end of every work day, I would write a summary of what I had done that day. I would write the things that I had accomplished, important notes from meetings I attended, things I learned, etc. This was a great document later when I wanted to remember who had mentioned what in a random meeting. I was able to search the day and know that I needed to follow up.
I used this document later to get my promotion. Can you remember what you did last Tuesday? I can’t. I was able to take this to my manager and outline exactly what I had done over the last year and a half.
I would also write what I planned to do the following day so I could pick up right where I left off. This habit has stuck with me even five years later. Every morning, I review the previous nights list before I start working.
Accounting for Every Minute Of My Day
This has been documented in a ton of time management books and it sounds excessive but it’s highly effective. If you try tracking every minute of your day for a week, I promise you’ll have around 2–4 spare hours right off the bat.
After tracking your time for a week and seeing where you can save time, move to scheduling every moment of your week. Create calendar blocks for your entire day. This will help you stay on track. You’ll be far too afraid to scroll mindlessly on reddit if you know you have an hour before you need to finish your next work task.
If you just take a look at your screen time, that’s that much more time you can spend coding every day. Turn off your instagram notifications, close twitter, and log off Facebook. That leads nicely to my next point.
It was sometimes hard for me to focus at work because it was so exciting to be at a tech company in San Francisco and meeting all these new people. Did you know San Francisco tech offices have bars inside the office? At night, even if I had went out with coworkers, I would go home and get back to work. I spent a lot of weekends staring at my computer screen while my friends frolicked (yes, I just said frolicked) at Dolores Park.
Read Deep Work and start implementing it in 45 minute chunks. You can be the first one of your friends to have actually read it and not just say they have.
Say Yes to the Work
I took on every single task that I could and more. Writing documentation? Sure. Creating tests for an old repo? Cool. Pairing with someone from another team on something completely irrelevant to my work? Done. Helping organize Frontend guild meetings and the iOS meetings at the same time? No problem.
Even if I had no clue how to do something, I would say I could do it. And then I would go figure out how to actually do it.
Taking Notes By Hand Like a Nerd
I constantly took notes on everything. Any time an Engineer would show me how to do something, I would document everything I could remember. I would even write down names of my coworkers the first week that I started just in case I got overwhelmed and forgot.
I had so many black notebooks that I’m sure I looked like a serial dater. But studies show that handwritten notes improve retention. This is a habit I still use to this day. I have ten black moleskin notebooks next to me right now.
Asking for Help
I was probably the biggest pest most people at the company had ever met. I did try to be independent as soon as I could. But I found allies in the company that I could go and ask for help when I got completely stuck. After a pairing session, I would scroll up in iTerm and copy the commands (I didn’t write these down by hand!) they had used. I was like a mouse eagerly scraping up any knowledge crumbs I could.
If you get stuck on a problem for a half hour, go ask someone for help. This was something that I really failed at that would have accelerated my learning and promotion timeline even more. I would get stuck on a problem and be convinced that I had to be the one to solve it. I’d stare at my computer screen until my eyes glazed over and sometimes I just couldn’t solve it alone.
Worth it in the End
It was probably one of the happiest moments in my life when I saw my name on the big screen in our company engineering all hands. I will never forget it. It was worth every late night, every time my laptop keys left an indent on my face when I fell asleep on it, and every single time I sacrificed going out with my friends (I’ll never really know but I tell myself this at least).
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