What to ask the new guy (as written by the new guy)

What to ask the new guy (as written by the new guy)

Since I'm the new guy and hired as a senior engineer, I get asked quite a lot about what I see and if there are things we are doing wrong. People are a bit bemused when I tell them that everything has been great so far. I do understand why people keep asking this but the thing is, I think it's fundamentally the wrong question to ask. It focuses too much on the negative. That's a common thing being done in businesses. Who hasn't had a performance review where this was the topic, or got asked about your weaknesses in an interview? Weaknesses, whether they are an individual's or the organization's, must be eliminated. It's common sense, isn't it? How else could we grow?

A couple of years ago I read a great article challenging this common wisdom. It argued that instead, we should put focus on the strengths. Strengths are what make us competitive and give us an edge. No one wins anything just by having no weaknesses. You also need to be particularly good at something. By the sheer combinations of interests, education, and experiences, everyone has something they are good at. Sadly, those strengths often go unnoticed, because of the focus on what they are not good at.

No one wins anything just by having no weaknesses. You also need to be particularly good at something. By the sheer combinations of interests, education, and experiences, everyone has something they are good at.

In my previous job I came close to firing one of my most valuable engineers due to this shortsightedness. I was solely focused on his speed and efficiency, or rather his lack of those. Can't have someone who cannot keep up with the team's velocity, now can we?

Luckily I kept him on, because at some point I realized, that while he will never be the fastest developer, if I have got something critical, he is the man. If the results of complicated calculations need to be absolutely correct, 100 % of the time, he will deliver. He will read through tax law and tirelessly write hundreds of test cases to get impeccable results. That's his strength where no one else comes even close, and the company benefits greatly from having him on board.

When I think back to that moment I wonder what stupid, younger me was thinking.

Truth is that people usually don't need some outsider (or newbie) to tell them what their weaknesses are. If you do something inherently stupid - like smoking - you don't need me to tell you to stop. If you weigh 130 kg, you don't need a nutrition expert to tell you that that bag of crisps you eat every day is a problem. If you're an engineer, you don't need a senior to tell you that scrolling through Instagram for 3 hours a day is tanking your efficiency.

The trick is to find a strength, or a person with a strength, that helps you do better.

For instance, I've discovered that we have an incredible reviewer in our team here who surprises me again and again with the insights and details that he notices. From simple oversights to grave logic errors, he catches them and keeps pointing them out. It's awesome having someone like that pick up where I let us down. Could be that one of my weaknesses is being impatient with those entry tasks I got – maybe I was rushing to start the next feature I am supposed to build out. Luckily his strength compensates for my weakness.

So what is your strength? And are you making the most out of it? Who is helping you reach your potential?

This post was originally published on Stefan's blog.