Don’t Be Afraid to Pivot

Running a startup and working within a startup, I’ve learned that you have got to make decisions quickly.

When opportunities arise, you must think strategically for the long term and re-prioritise, change or even cancel your projects in order to seize those chances.

Always keep in mind what your long-term objectives and goals are. If you’ve been presented with an opportunity that will move you closer to your goal, then take it. If you’re a bit apprehensive, you could draw out a SWOT diagram or a table of positives and negatives to figure out your next move. But at the end of the day, the goal is to keep moving forward, so don’t let a lack of experience, lack of faith in yourself or lack of time stand in your way.

Make it happen and pivot! You can always finish what you were doing after you complete this little detour from your initial plan.

Speaking Up as a Woman in a Male-Dominated Tech Team

Here’s my next post which appeared first on Simple Programmer.

Since university, I’ve been in work environments (and sometimes geographical locations) where I’ve been in the minority in terms of ethnicity and gender.

It’s been this way for so long now that it usually surprises me when I see more than one woman in the office or on the team at the same time as me.

Therefore, I’d like to share with you, especially those female readers out there, the journey I have gone through in becoming a more outspoken person at work and other situations.

Yes, probably not all of these are specifically “female only” issues, but I can only speak from my own experience.

I’m sharing these thoughts with you so that if you’re currently going through this, you know:

  1. It’s not your fault.
  2. You’re not alone.
  3. You can get through it.

I hope that my experiences will help other females find the courage to speak up more in the workplace or other male-dominated environments and situations.

My Early Experiences

As I came from an all-girls secondary school and sixth form college, the change in gender ratios upon entering university took me massively by surprise. What was worse was that boys would make friends instantly, calling each other “mate” until they were friendly enough to ask each other their actual names.

Being in this new balance of males to females, I quickly noticed a few things. One, because of the very small number of girls in my course, I had no one in my seminar groups to bond with and hardly anyone in the lectures.

Two, the boys didn’t seem to engage with me in the same way they would befriend a new male and integrate him into the group. Looking back on this time, maybe this was due to the fact that I was in a computing course with a load of boys where some or most weren’t used to interacting with women regularly, but at the time, this wasn’t obvious. And since I was by myself and far from home, being left out wasn’t a pleasant feeling.

Because of the lack of women in the tech industry, we are more likely to second-guess ourselves in situations where we are the most experienced. We don’t shout about our achievements and don’t claim our individual successes. So in order to make sure I wasn’t stuck in a course, speaking only to myself for three years, I chose to learn how to speak up.

Why It’s Important to Speak Up

I currently work as a QA and Release Manager. Day to day, I have to ensure that the projects we produce for our business and platform users are of a high standard.

I carry out manual testing and write automation scripts to alert the developers as soon as possible when their features are broken. Besides this, I communicate with product managers to get accurate acceptance criteria, and I make sure the product’s features align with the business values.

When testing, I also need to speak with developers and DevOps engineers regularly. Every so often, I also speak with the “chiefs” to update them on issues that may affect the quality of the business products at a high level.

So, I do a lot of talking and listening every day. It’s important that I can confidently engage with everyone, from the CEO to developers, so that my point is heard and taken into consideration.

If I’m not able to speak up about the issues that I find or convince others about my opinions, then customers could have a bad experience. This could negatively affect the company’s brand and impact their finances in the long term.

If you speak up and show that you are capable of getting your point across, you will portray a stronger, more confident self. Therefore, the sooner you learn how to say something, the sooner you’ll be listened to and heard.

Obstacles I’ve Faced

I have come up against a number of challenges, and they have not been easy to face or overcome. To be honest, feeling at ease about speaking up has a lot to do with your team and company. Knowing that you’re in an environment that’s not judgmental is key when you’re trying to overcome these challenges.

But you won’t always get to work with these “golden teams.” Here are some of the things I experienced when I didn’t feel like I was working with that “golden team” and what I learned as a result.

When You Think of the Answer First

It’s the usual weekly meeting “X” with the team, and you’re discussing the best way to solve a problem. After taking a few points in and using your own knowledge, you come to a sensible suggestion, but you stay quiet. The team goes on for another 15 minutes discussing the solution.

Then suddenly someone else will exclaim the same idea you had. You’re happy because you were right, but you kick yourself because you regret not saying it.

Lesson: Even if you aren’t sure it’s the right solution, speak up and say what you think. Your teammates are not mind readers, so you have to help them hear your thoughts. And if your idea solves the problem, you could save everyone time and build your credibility at once.

When You’re Not Confident in a Group

Imposter syndrome affects a lot of people, male and female, but I’ve found that it especially affects women within the technical fields.

Feelings of self-doubt and fraudulence can strike, for instance, when you’re in a small group of developers. You may not feel like you can contribute to the discussion for fear that you’ll be wrong, and then they’ll find out that you don’t know as much as you seem to. You’ll be laughed at for saying something stupid, and then you’ll be fired, fall behind on your mortgage payments, and lose both your house and your partner.

OK, that’s probably getting a bit extreme, but that’s generally what people have in the back of their minds. Your team or employer will find out that you don’t know everything and will think badly of you. So instead of speaking up, you stay silent in the hopes that no one discovers your “secret.”

In reality, this never happens. People on your team are generally more forgiving (and feel exactly the same way as you). The only thing that actually happens is that you don’t grow.

Lesson: Say something, no matter if it could be wrong. Practice engaging within a group to learn more than you currently know. Asking questions and giving your opinion is generally something that’s not going to negatively affect you.

When No One Hears Your Answer

Another situation could be when you’re in meeting “X” and you drum up the confidence to express your idea, but no one hears you, and they continue talking. You go quiet again and continue to listen to everyone’s comments. Then after five minutes, someone has an idea that’s exactly the same as what you said previously, and you kick yourself again.

Lesson: If this happens, don’t shrink back. Remember that the fact they didn’t hear you was most likely accidental.

You need to think about why you may not have been heard. This may be for a number of reasons, for example:

  • There were too many people in the room speaking, so they couldn’t hear your voice.
  • You said it too quietly to be heard.
  • You’re typically a soft-spoken person who may not be easily heard all the time.

Try hard to shake off whatever you’re feeling about this, gather your confidence, and say it again but louder and clearer, making sure that everyone can hear you.

When Your Answer Gets Dismissed

This last example is not very pleasant, but it can happen, so I thought I’d share it.

You’re in meeting “X,” and you are quite confident about the subject being discussed. A question is asked, you give your opinion loudly and clearly, and it’s even a possible correct solution. But you get shot down by the person leading the meeting. However, when another person says the same thing, they are praised for their idea.

Lesson: Note the times, dates, and situations where this happens. Then report it to your manager and/or Human Resources department as soon as you can. This may be a pattern with a specific individual. The stifling of anyone’s opinion should never be tolerated in any company.

Get the Team Used to Hearing Your Opinion

The only way to overcome these situations is to give your opinion whether or not you know it’s right. The idea is to get used to speaking clearly and confidently.

Don’t let people who have opposing opinions when discussing your ideas catch you off guard and shake your confidence. They’re not (always) doing it to challenge you negatively, but they are doing so constructively, making sure your ideas are truly solid. Discussion about your idea confirms that you at least are being heard.

Lastly, you want to make sure you’re not too forceful with your opinion. Be strong and confident, but not arrogant. It’s a fine line, and some people may only see you as bossy, arrogant, or bitchy no matter what you do.

Make sure you identify these individuals and take what they say with a grain of salt. Don’t let them shake you.

Face Your Fears Little by Little

When I first entered these environments, this gender imbalance made me a lot less confident and unsure of myself. Sometimes, this can be misconstrued as you not knowing what you’re talking about rather than your being in an uncomfortable situation.

And unfortunately, for some men in high up roles, this can be abused further by talking down to you, making you feel less confident about your suggestions, and even dismissing your ideas when you do drum up the courage to say something.

I’m here to let women who are in the same position as I once was know that this treatment is not OK. The only way to make yourself heard is to speak up. Speak up loudly and confidently.

This is still a personal journey. Some days, I don’t want to be talkative (which usually suits my developer colleagues, who want to get in the zone and code all day, just fine), but I still need to push through and complete my daily tasks.

Sometimes I make mistakes and say stupid things, but I’ve learned to pick myself up faster and get better each time, and you can, too.

Like anything worth doing, it takes hard work and practice. And remember, you’re worth being heard.

How My Soft Skills Have Improved While Working In A Charity

Soft skills, like good communication, listening, personal organisation and being able to teach others skills, are attributes that are sometimes harder to teach than technical skills. This is because soft skills are part of a person’s day to day life from when they are little and are ingrained into their behaviours. Therefore, it takes more time and focus to change the behaviours for your soft skills.

I’ve noticed that one easy way to be intentional about how you learn to change your habits is to put yourself into situations where you are forced to adjust the behaviours. I think that I’ve improved my soft skills through charity work.

I have been volunteering at the Lignum Vitae Club (LVC) charity since 2013. LVC was started in 1969 by the Jamaican High Commissioner’s wife and it’s mission is to support charitable causes which provide education and skills training opportunities for disadvantaged children and young people from Jamaica and the UK.

I decided to join the club because I wanted to help give back to the country of my heritage and help support other charities doing good work in relation to Jamaica.

When I began volunteering, a lot of the members were at least 27 years older than me, especially those on the Executive Committee. I’m a millennial and have grown up with tech. I easily adapt to and learn new software, trends and hardware. Because of this, I became the “technical guru” of the club.

But at times, it was hard to convey my new ideas using technological advances to people who didn’t understand it or the benefits. This is where I believe my soft skills have improved.

Here’s a short list of the skills that I think I’ve improved so far:

Communicating My Opinion

I’ve learned to be more aware of my audience when talking (my husband does tell me that I speak fast). So when I’m in a meeting explaining my view, opinion or new idea I make sure I communicate clearly and slowly, and to try not be sound condescending or in a way that can be construed as that. Because of my job and what I enjoy doing in my spare time, I pick up new skills quickly but I need to remember that what’s easy to me, may not be easy to others. So clear communication is key.

Speaking About New Tools or Technology

Another aspect of communication is being able to explain my ideas to implement to a non-technical audience. I’ve have a lot of ideas and I want these ideas to help the club to get bigger in reach and members. Since I’ve been at the club, we’ve set up a website which I currently run; we’ve redesigned the logo; signed up for most social networks; introduced new payment and donation methods to the club like JustTextGiving and just wait and see what I get done in the next 12 months. But it’s important that I explain the background and benefits of these new tools and systems to the other members. Most are used to using computers on a daily basis but if you’re not using them, the terminology used with these new tools may be confusing. I keep this in mind when trying to give a balanced but informative view on all new tech tools I suggest to the club.

Becoming More Diplomatic

Most of the club meetings are in person and a lot of the females in this group are Alphas. Being one of the youngest (and knowing that I like things done quickly), I’ve tried to be conscious of hearing and listening to the views of others. Ensuring I don’t cut people off when they’re speaking (a bad habit I have when I get excited, passionate or carried away) is something that I’ve definitely recognised and improved upon over the years. This helps me and the other members so everyone feels heard and that I’m generally being respectful.

Long Term Benefits For Me And The Charity Members

Developing your soft skills without an environment is difficult because you have no goal to reach or place practice.

Recognising that LVC is a good place to improve my soft skills means that when I’m around these women, I make a conscious decision to improve. Soon enough, I’ll have done this so often that these changes will be unconscious behaviours and hopefully make me a better person.

Identifying environments or events in your life that can help you to build upon your soft skills is something that I encourage you to do.

Make your journey towards self improvement easier, by giving back.

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Building positive habits to progress

After reading The Power Of Habit by Charles Duhigg, it made me realise that people’s habits can be used to change behaviours for the good and yes, sometimes the bad. These changes in behaviours can either positively or negatively impact your life.

So, in 2018, I’m going to try and do this for myself. Why not try and improve my development skills by building a new positive habit into my daily or weekly routine?

But building a habit is time consuming. It can also be difficult if what you’re trying to learn is brand new and interrupts other, more longstanding habits whether they’re good or bad.

Slow progression

Building a new positive habit into your routine is like when you first start going to the gym. It will take a conscious decision to keep it up in the beginning (it may hurt a bit too if what you’re doing is physical). The trick is to try and work the new behaviour into your routine little by little. Try and fit your new behaviour into times where it’s easy for you to implement.

Making sure your new behaviour fits into the SMARTER acronym will help you to get onto the right path building a new behaviour into a routine that will eventually become a habit.

Be SMARTER

If you’re unfamiliar of this well known guideline for target and goal limiting, each of the letters stands for a particular limit that you need to make sure the goal you set meets.

The traditional acronym has always just been “SMART”, however I recently came across this extended version. The addition of the “ER” is to make sure that you learn from the targets you set and make changes depending on the results. The practice of retrospectives are used a lot more within development teams now as it’s a vital meeting within the agile process of SCRUM which is widely used across many organisations now. So if you’re a part of a new organisation you’re probably well acquainted with these meetings. You analyse what you did well, what you didn’t do so well and how to improve next time. This essentially are what these last two letters add to your targets making them grow with you.

Definitions

S is for Specific

Make sure you are clear and concise about your behaviour.

M is for Measurable

Your progress should be tangible. You should be able to clearly see how much you have progressed with quantifiable results.

A is for Achievable

You are only human with so much time, so ensure you can actually reach your target of the behaviour you want to incorporate.

R is for Realistic

Again, that silly little human aspect means that we can’t state that we’ll be able to learn a new programming language in a day because the scope is too broad and there’s just not enough time. Make sure you set yourself goals that are realistic.

T is for Time-bound

In order to measure your progress, it’s good to set a date to work towards. That way you can tell how much you have learned between a set amount of time.

E is for Evaluate

After you have measured your progress, look closer at your results and think why you’ve achieved those specific results. Questions like these will help you think more deeply:

  • What was the approach you took to learning your new behaviour?
  • How much time did you dedicate?
  • Was it the time of day that you chose?

How have these particular decisions affected your behavior being adopted? Could small changes to these make it easier to adopt other behaviours or even commit them to being a habit faster? Give this stage a bit of time to come to useful conclusions.

R is for Re-evaluate

The last stage is Re-evaluate.  After analysing how your “behaviour to habit” building exercise has worked you must apply anything you have learned to your next behaviour to try and achieve the best results possible.

Start learning your new behaviour

As well as working to the SMARTER guide above, I would recommend you try and keep in mind the points below. This should help you turn your behaviour into a habit.

Limit your chances to be distracted

Set yourself up in environments where you’re less likely to procrastinate or get distracted. Unfortunately, due to the invention of the smartphone, we have a device capable of distracting or keeping us entertained most of the day. But at the times where you should be doing something productive, actively put your device on silent, hide it away or turn it off for the duration that you need to ensure you stay focused.

Make the sessions short

When you’re trying something new you should first try and introduce it in small increments. Depending on what you’re trying to achieve, think of a sensible and small timescale start with. By starting with small increments it means that it’s not so intimidating and will seem easier to accomplish. You are more likely to perform new activities especially if they’re in small chunks.

Ensure it can be done daily (or at least the majority of the week)

In order to build up your new tasks into a habit, you must perform the action daily. It’s been said that it takes about 21 days for new behaviors to become habits so performing the task everyday will make sure you build this new habit as fast as possible.

Building a new positive habit is a challenging goal, but one well worth it. Good luck setting your 2018 goals!

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