No one will have a larger impact on your career trajectory than your boss. And not just that, he/she could influence your confidence, motivation and persistence more than you know. It is essential to take into account more than just the job itself and the package that goes with it when considering taking your first position. Or a new one.
Yes, the company name might be a big one. You get a brand new laptop and a decent salary. Free cereals, fruit and other nonsense every morning. It’s all good and it will help you, but trust me, that is not all that matters. If your advancement and well being is not a priority for you boss, you will not go far, despite the free gym and sauna. Perhaps the best thing to do here is to explain through two examples. I could easily write more examples similar to the Story nr. 1, but you’ll get the point.
Story nr. 1 – You look too happy
This is a weird one. Before my current position, I worked at a large company, building a large enterprise app. Boring as hell, but I was in a good team with a good team leader. However, my team leader was not my boss. We had at least three bosses that I know of, one of them being in the same large room with us. One boss pushed the other and so on until the pressure was finally directed to us, the coders.
To be honest, my team didn’t get that much pressure. We were always on time and the amount of work we were doing almost exactly fitted the 40 hour workweek. But since the entire development department was in a single large room, we did feel the atmosphere and hear the occasional yelling coming from our managers.
The day I realised something was definitely wrong was when this happened. My team leader and I were smiling over something and our boss approached us. “You guys smile too often. I’m gonna have to fu** that up for you somehow.” Those were literally his words. I was rendered speechless. What he actually meant was this: “You guys seem to have a lot of spare time, since you have time for smiling. I should direct some more projects your way.” In my opinion, the normal thing to say would be “Hey, looks like you’re on time. Great, lets have a beer after work.” But no, his boss is pressuring him so he is pressuring us and that probably won’t change. Of course, pressuring coders and switching them between projects almost never had the desired effect; the result was often software with a lot of bugs that would need a lot of fixing in the future. Naturally, I didn’t feel comfortable going to work anymore knowing that I should pretend to be extremely busy to avoid harassment.
Leaving that position for my current one wasn’t much of a hard choice.
Story nr. 2 – Never be afraid to fail
This is a positive one. Few months into my new job, I had to migrate the whole frontend from Bootstrap 2 to Bootstrap 3. To explain the problem very shortly: BS3 is not backwards compatible with BS2. And we have over a hundred templates used by our Django app. My largest commit consisted of over 70 files. I checked and double checked – but I didn’t check one of the main features of the site. Whoops. I failed to see the forest for the trees and as a result, for more than 30 minutes, our main feature didn’t work. The boss saw it before me or the other coder even realised what was happening and he wasn’t happy. Naturally, I fixed the issue within minutes, but that didn’t make me feel any better.
To be honest, I was sure I’ll get sacked the next day. But, I wasn’t, so I waited for the next day, because I knew it was just a matter of time. After few weeks passed, I stopped thinking about getting fired, but the whole situation still had a negative influence on me.
Last week, roughly ten months after “the incident”, I had my first review. When my boss asked me what was the most stressful situation during my past year on the job and what were the failures (his focus was much more on the positive, than on the negative, though), it was an easy question: BS3 migration. He didn’t even know it was troubling me that much.
His comment on the matter showed me what being a good boss really means. “You must never be afraid to fail in our company. I want you to excel, and you won’t be able to do that if you are afraid of failure. We learn from our failures and they help us become better at what we do. You will never get fired if you make a mistake. If you constantly make mistakes, that is a different issue and then we would need to talk. I want us to move quickly, to develop and grow and to do that, we will sometimes make mistakes.”
Follow your gut feeling when choosing a boss. If you do make a wrong choice, don’t be afraid to move on. Find the boss who doesn’t make you feel nauseated when you go to work and who supports your growth. Think about it.