Thursday, June 30, 2016

Reflecting on a moment of personal growth a long time ago

After writing my prior blog post about remembering how I started programming, I recalled something from about 17 years ago.  Looking back, it was a great "personal growth" moment in my (then young) career.

I was at my first internship after starting college.  The company was a startup that worked predominantly on Unix/Solaris.  Very early on in the internship (I think the first week), I realized I knew alot less about Unix than the other interns and at times was really lost in what was going on during training.  I became worried about my ability to actually be able to do the job.  To be honest, it may have been the most lost I've ever felt at any point in my life.

As an example of how little I knew at the time, I recall that while I had setup my personal website using instructions I found, I did not actually know what things like "chmod 744" actually did.  At the time it was just something I knew you did to get things working.  I remember I didn't know the grep command.  I remember at one point asking another intern what a daemon was. 

So this was my knowledge of Unix and I was supposed to be doing Unix programming for this internship.

Now, I should mention that this was before the time of Google's dominance.  It was the time before Wikipedia and blogs.  There was no stackoverflow.

However, at the same time, I was much younger in my career.  I'm sure there were elements of "how to learn" that were not quite yet cemented in my mind.

Now, I could have done one of several things once realizing I didn't know anywhere near as much as I hoped (or should have).  I could have faked I did know what I was doing and continue on.  I could have shut my mouth and just see what happens.  On the extreme end I could have quit thinking I wouldn't be able to cut it there.  I've certainly known people who did those things like this in their lives.

I ended up going to my boss towards the end of the first week, telling him about my concern for this and how I felt really lost.  I don't think I'd ever been so worried over a conversation in my life.  But he was very calm and caring, telling me thanks for admitting it.  He got me some books from some of the engineers to take home and catch up on.  So I did read them starting that weekend.

The end result after that summer?  I ended up learning a lot more.  Became comfortable in Unix environments.  I got more accomplished that summer.  I like to think I proved I was a good employee, as I was invited back to work part time during the school year.

So I have looked back at this event and considered it an important moment in my personal growth when I was younger.  The formula for succeeding on projects/work isn't magical.  Ping others for help/pointers (today "others" can be Google), read stuff, put in hours, try things out, and eventually you can figure it out.  As I look back on my career, this exact formula is the method by which I had success on many projects despite feeling extremely lost/confused in the beginning.

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