March 18, 2010

Bulk view

Welcome to IBM! Advice for other newcomers like me

One of my mentees wanted to know what books I’d recommend for someone new to the business world. I thought about my favourite books and realized that nothing quite covers the insights that people shared with me when I was starting out. So here are some things I’d like to share with her and with other newcomers:

  • Learn as much as you can, even if it’s scary. Opportunities can make you feel nervous, but there are lots of people who can help you figure things out. Your manager and your team members can help you manage the risks. You can learn so much from people and resources in IBM, and you can learn tons from clients too. Take advantage of the courses, webinars, free books, and so on. Ask people questions and listen to people’s stories. Soak up all  the knowledge you can, and then some more.
  • Ask for help. IBM has lots of resources and lots of amazing people. It’s better to ask for help before you get into trouble, but if you do get into trouble, ask for help instead of letting the situation blow up.
  • Find your passion. Yes, you can go through life treating work as just a job, but it’s much more fun and you can do more amazing things if you can find that intersection of what you’re good at, what you love doing, and what  the world needs.
  • Decide what you want to do with your life. Yes, you’ve signed up for a particular job, and your personal business commitments should include the template handed down through  the management chain. But keep thinking about your bigger picture and make sure things work out for you, too. You don’t have to know everything you want to do, but you do have to take responsibility for figuring that out. Look for the big picture of why your work matters, too. It helps to know why what you do is important.
  • Find mentors and role models. This is very important, and it’s one of the best things about working with a large company like IBM. Look for people who are doing what you want to do and who are who you want to be. Learn from them. They’re often surprisingly approachable and quite generous with their time. How do you find them? Watch people’s presentations, read blogs, ask for referrals and introductions, read articles, look for success stories, participate in communities, get into interesting projects, volunteer, show your appreciation, etc.
  • Build on your strengths. Reflect on your experiences and ask your mentors for advice on identifying and building on your strengths. You’ll get much better at them, much faster, and you’ll create much more value than you would if you always beat yourself up over your weaknesses.
  • Resist the cynics. Lots of people will tell you something along the lines of, “Your enthusiasm is nice, but you’re young, and you’ll grow out of it.” Your mentors and role models prove that people can have lots of experience and still enjoy what they’re doing. It’s important to know that awesomeness is possible.
  • Resist the jargon. Many people like using acronyms, technical terms, and weird ways to say things. (We don’t “action” things, darn it!) Don’t let yourself get used to that. Spell things out. Make it easy for people to understand. Don’t use language that creates a wall between you and other people. Think of the people reading or listening to what you share.
  • Remember that you’re dealing with other people. Be patient, open, understanding, and appreciative. Your manager is learning how to work with you at the same time that you’re learning to work with him or her. Same goes for teammates, clients, service providers, etc.
  • Stay happy. If you’re not happy at work, it can leak into your personal life, and vice versa. If you feel stressed out about something, figure out what you can do about it, and do it. IBM has lots of resources you can use, including confidential counseling services. Stay balanced, too. There’s no sense in working so hard  that you burn out – it’s bad for you and it’s bad for the company. Life is a marathon, not a sprint.
  • Ask questions. Just because you’re new doesn’t mean you don’t have something to bring to the table, and sometimes that something is a good question. Don’t be afraid of looking stupid because you ask a question. Check your assumptions. Clarify points. Learn.
  • Things happen. Adapt. Sometimes things happen outside your control. Your tool has a bug. A team member leaves for a different company. You can stress out about it, or you can adapt and keep going forward.
  • Share as much as you can. Take notes. Share what you’re learning. Volunteer to share what you know. This makes you more teachable and helps you meet all sorts of incredible people. You’ll learn a lot along the way, too. Share your thoughts on our internal blogging platform, and you might be surprised at how good your network can become.
  • Adjust your lifestyle slowly. It can be tempting to splurge using your new income, but frugality gives you more flexibility and less stress. Look for other good tips on adjusting to life on your own, and experiment to see what works for you.

What else would you advise new graduates joining IBM?

Thanks to Kim Liu for the nudge to write about this!