Working As the New "Kid On the Block"

Just as you hear native-speakers using a language, you should pay attention to your coworkers and listen to what they’re doing. I observed my project lead asking other employees, “what’s the level of effort” before. I had a general idea of what it meant, but maybe if I had paid closer attention and saw how a coworker answered that question, I would have been more prepared.

Michael Spreitzer
Developer

The other day I was asked by my project-lead to evaluate the level of effort required to implement a system to handle language translations for a website in two different ways. After looking at the options and investigating, I gave some general details about the process for each approach and said, “The level of effort seems roughly equal either way.”

He replied, “[What’s the] ETA - Estimated Time?”

I thought about the estimated time for arrival and said, “A couple days for either of them.”

He laughed, “Please, the level of effort means how long would it take for us to implement the new feature, so we can evaluate our costs and thus, customer investment.”

With that much detail, I felt like I was going to get it right this time. I said, “Sorry, about the ‘a couple of days’ comment. I should have answered differently. By Thursday, I think we could have either method set up properly for the client to add translations at their convenience.”

He replied with a link to a computer website defining ETA as “Short for estimated time of arrival. ETA is an estimated time for something to be done or the time someone or something is arriving.” My response was, “I know ETA.”

Then he said, “Sorry, wrong link” and provided a link that defined ETA as ‘Estimated Time Allocation (project management)’.

Now, I understood that ETA also meant “Estimated Time Allocation,” and all I could say was, “Ohhhh!”

As a junior developer, I had never heard that term before, but now I know. Today, I grasp the jargon better. This story illustrates how challenging it can be for a new developer to learn the “jargon game” as I’ll call it, terms of the trade.

However, it also shows how patient 2amigos is with junior developers and how invested they are in creating an environment where developers can learn, grow, and do their best work. In my experience, not all companies or managers or project-leads are like that.

Drawing on my understanding as a junior developer, I’ll tell you what I’ve found to be helpful in learning the jargon game and give you tips that will make your experience as a junior developer smoother. Second, I’ll also discuss how 2amigos creates a positive work environment where employees are cultivated and junior developers are encouraged to learn.

Learning the Terms

As a junior developer, you won’t be able to learn all the jargon and terms immediately. Sometimes it feels as though you’re playing a long waiting game and gaining mastery over terms of art will be the sort of thing that you must learn as you go — day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year. Only after you can put that nice “senior” in front of your job title, will you finally feel like you’re on the inside and you have the jargon down.

It doesn’t really have to be that challenging, does it? Can you learn the terms and the jargon game faster and avoid conversations with managers and project-leads like the one I had? The answer, of course, is “Yes.” Here is what I’ve learned.

First, it’s helpful to have an environment where you can dive in headfirst and learn while you’re surrounded by more knowledgeable people. However, not everyone has such an inviting environment with managers that make it easy to learn, grow, and assimilate new jargon while making mistakes. It’s certainly helpful if the people around you are aware of where you stand and will patiently facilitate your learning, but it isn’t essential.

The next step involves taking responsibility for getting ahead of the jargon game. Accountability is a helpful mindset when learning almost anything, but particularly something like this. Treat the new jargon as though it were a foreign language and immerse yourself in it.

Learning vocabulary and basics in a language that is not native to you is generally straightforward. However, what if you’re trying to learn unconventional expressions or nuance like when to use certain words or phrases? For example, if you’re learning Spanish, you might learn that “Buenos tardes” is “good afternoon” and “Buenas noches” is good night. That seems simple, right?

What if you’re greeting someone at 5 or 6pm? Which phrase do you choose? What if it’s dark out (seems like night time) but it’s only 5pm because it’s Winter? Does the phrase you use at which time depend on the time of the year or whether it’s dark outside? Does Daylight Savings Time matter at all? The subtleties of something like this don’t show up in dictionaries and you’re probably going to have to figure it out by listening to what others who know the language say or by asking them directly.

You need to take the same approach with the jargon game. If you can think about it ahead of time and realize that you should ask someone about a specific term (maybe one you’ve heard before), you can be proactive. Other than that, you don’t really know what you don’t know, so to be proactive and learn this kind of stuff, immerse yourself.

How much faster will you learn a language, especially the subtleties, if you’re spending time surrounded by native speakers, or consuming movies, shows, books, magazines, and conversing in the language when you have the chance? You’ll become proficient with the language a lot faster than just learning the vocabulary and conjugation rules in classes or from a language-learning book.

Just as you hear native-speakers using a language, you should pay attention to your coworkers and listen to what they’re doing. I observed my project lead asking other employees, “what’s the level of effort” before. I had a general idea of what it meant, but maybe if I had paid closer attention and saw how a coworker answered that question, I would have been more prepared.

After that, try to see what other people in the field, outside of your company, are saying. Visit seminars, lectures, and talks hosted by people in the field (large companies, like Google, will often host these focused events on a range of topics). Watch YouTube videos or listen to podcasts and read books. You can’t find a book called “All the Jargon You Need To Know Like What ETA Means” but the more time you spend around people in the field, the more likely you’ll hear, figure out, and understand all the small “jargony ins-and-outs” that are actually relevant to your work.

Having friends or acquaintances who are in the same field, but outside your company, can be helpful too. You meet up, spend some time together, talk casually about how everyone’s work is going, and things like this can come up in conversation. If you don’t already have a group of friends or acquaintances like this, consider going to meetups in your area or join Facebook groups or other forums where general discussions with like-minded people are possible.

It’s helpful, not only to engage and interact with people who have about the same level of knowledge and experience as you, but also those who have a higher level of knowledge and experience. If you want to grow in anything, it’s invaluable to have the opportunity to learn from those who have already been where you are currently and know more than you. Visiting lectures, paying attention to your workplace and coworkers, consuming material like videos, books, and podcasts, going to meetups and talking to acquaintances in the same field are all good ways of achieving this.

Further you’re not just spending a lot of time to learn a few terms and helpful expressions here and there. You’re just picking those things up as a peripheral benefit while you consume relevant and helpful material and expand your knowledge and grow as a developer. Basically, the more time you’re immersed in development discussions and tasks, the more time you’re learning and the better off you’ll be.

2amigos’ Environment

2amigos management encourages a significant focus on developers learning and becoming the best that they can. It feels like everyone, especially the managers and project-leads, are patient and invested in building up developers, especially junior developers like me. Let’s just think about my anecdote at the start of this post.

My project lead wasn’t upset with me and he wasn’t frustrated. He was extremely patient, despite needing to explain, over and over, a fairly common term whose definition can be found online with a simple search. Lots of people at other companies would not have been thrilled, but my project lead laughed about it and did what he could to help me learn.

2amigos places a big emphasis on developers helping each other. If a developer is struggling with a task or is challenged, managers want that individual to be able to ask for help. The team and the company function best when everyone is succeeding and doing the best work they can be. That attitude applies to the entire organization, not just with developers. Nothing is gained when someone is blocked and spinning themselves in circles, so to speak, when someone else can clarify the matter.

This company knows what is most important as well as which philosophies and ideas will create the best environment for their employees to learn and do their best work. In addition, they know that when all their employees are placed in a position to succeed, the company will be successful.

That's a really fortunate situation for me as a junior developer. It makes what would have been an awkward, somewhat distressing, workplace conversation, a pleasant and beneficial one that I and my project-lead can laugh about.