When you’re new to the job and everyone knows more than you do

Do you remember what it was like to be new to the job? I do. I
remember it like it was yesterday. Wait, it _was_ yesterday. I was in
a customer meeting with all these people who were trying to solve a
problem. I was just fascinated by all the stories and insights
and perspectives they shared, and I knew that I was nowhere
near being able to contribute something like that.

I’ve read that new graduates often come into the workplace thinking
they know everything. There’s no danger of that here. From my point of
view, I don’t know anything compared to these folks. I keep warning my
teammates not to expect that I know anything. ;) On the way into the
meeting yesterday, I told my teammate, “You do know that I’m a
complete newbie at this, right?”
She told me that it was fine and that
I shouldn’t worry about it. Well, if she’s okay with that, I guess it
will work out. After all, everyone started from somewhere. =)

So if I can’t bring decades of experience and thought leadership,
what can I bring?

I can bring hard work. Someone needs to take care of the grunt
work, and I’ll happily volunteer for that so that my team members can
be freed up for more creative work. I might even be faster doing that
than other people would be because of the shortcuts I come up with and
the tools I use. Besides, with fewer habits to unlearn, I might
stumble across interesting ways of doing things.

I can bring my questions. Questions make people think, and
maybe they’ll realize something interesting in new.

I can bring my writing and reflections. I’m still a little shy
about speaking up in meetings, but I enjoy thinking about what I
learned during the meeting and writing it up as a blog post or handout
or article. I can make educational materials, too. I’m looking forward
to helping people learn by sharing those handouts and giving people
hands-on help.

Even if I’m new, I can bring something to the table.

And so can you. If you’re new to the job, cheer up and don’t be
intimidated by all the other people who do it so easily because of
their experience. If you’re already experienced, please look out for
us newbies and help us settle in. =) After all, everyone has to start
from somewhere!

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  • I run in to this all the time when I interview and hire post-grads. Sometimes it takes more than one or two real world problem interactions for them to have sufficiently “jousted with humility.”

    I love it when I get comments on things not being a textbook design solution, 4th normal form database structure, etc.

  • Unlike many CS geeks, I believe that worsethanfailure is non-fiction, and that everything must’ve made sense to someone somewhere sometime. ;)

  • Kathryn

    You’re right – you can bring a lot. One of the problems with so-called “experts” is that they get too comfortable with their mental models and assumptions. Sometimes (gently – egos at work) questioning these assumptions is really valuable. Bringing the “newbie” experience to a strategy session is also invaluable – as this is often lacking. Not to mention the significant value of energy and optimism that you pointed out. I love this post – think I’ll use it in a presentation (with credit to the author of course).

  • Dave E

    Rule # 1. There will always be someone who knows more about something that you do, no matter how long you have been doing this!

    Rule #2. Humble is ok, but don’t underestimate the value that you bring to the table. A fresh insight into many issues can often be very valuable.

    From what I’ve seen of your postings you bring an incredible amount of knowledge and enthusiasm to the job. I’m sure there are people on your team that are thinking “how does she know all that stuff?” (I know I am !).