Lessons Learned from My First 1.5 Years in Industry

In this article, I share the top 3 things that I learned about working in the tech industry as a boot camp graduate. My first year and a half in industry was rough. After toiling and hustling to break into a new tech career, the work place became a wild jungle for me. I struggled with anxiety and health issues, which were exacerbated by stress and a poor work environment (lighting/air/noise pollution).

Despite these challenges, I navigated my way through three different jobs and ultimately landed my current role where I work on an amazing team doing exactly the type of work that I want to do. Overcoming these challenges has taught me about myself and the corporate world. I can’t claim complete mastery over these yet, but I am hopeful that my experiences will help anyone who is trying to break into tech.

TLDR: Top 3 lessons learned include: There’s a big difference between being a contractor and being a full-time employee. Each has its pros and cons. Second, I learned about the agile methodologies for work load management. This is a must for tech careers. And lastly (and least favorite) I learned about aspects of office politics that are important for being ‘successful’ at work. Networking is extremely important for finding opportunities and professional growth.

Note: I’m no expert at career development. I am merely sharing my experiences as someone who was entirely new to tech and corporate work.

First, when I began my journey, I didn’t know anything about contracting. Apparently, it’s a really big thing in the tech industry because of the high demand for skilled workers and lack of available skilled workers. My first two jobs were as a contractor so I quickly learned what being a contractor is like, and after a long period of waiting I was finally able to become a full-time employee at my current company.

There are pros and cons to being a contractor. First good thing is you get paid a higher hourly rate as a contractor versus full-time employees, likely because you don’t get as many benefits as a full-time employee. Secondly, as a contractor you have more freedom to choose your schedule and time off. Since you are only paid for the time you work and you don’t have any PTO, you can take unpaid time off (almost) whenever you want. So there’s a bit more freedom in your vacation days, although you don’t have a privilege of having paid time off. This may depend a lot on the company you work at, but this has been true in my experience. Last “pro” to being a contractor is that there’s a bit less responsibility as a contractor. This is because although you have job duties and responsibilities, your time and commitment to the company is finite. Contractors can only work for a company for 2 years at one company before being required to be converted into a full-time employee or being let go. There’s some law which states this, but I don’t know exactly what it’s called. But I’m sure it’s a real thing.

So there were perks to being a contractors, but the down sides were that you didn’t get as many benefits and sometimes you felt left out or treated differently because of your contractor status. This can contribute to feelings of being inferior or less valued. Often times, contractors are foreigners and this cultural difference also heightens the divide. In my experience, I felt like I was not as important as full-time employees. While I was working as a contractor, I was also constantly in a state of anxiety about my job security. I wanted to be converted in to a full-time employee and my boss kept telling me that I would have to wait. So there was a prolonged anxiety about being let go, but I enjoyed my higher pay rate and I took the opportunity to work as a contractor as an opportunity to learn to new skills and network. And it seems that many companies use the “contract-to-hire” approach frequently because of the low risk. Kind of like a try out period for new hires that they might not be too sure of.

When I finally became a full-time employee, it felt like I became a real person. Being a full-time employee at a company means that you have benefits like paid time off, vacation days, retirement benefits, education benefits and etc. You feel like you have security and consequently some people can slack off and become lazy as a result of this. The downsides of being a full-time employee are that there’s more responsibility, set number of days off and less control over your schedule. All in all, this can be subjective and depend on your goals and experience. But for me there seems to be fewer downsides to working as a full-time employee versus a contractor. There can be real reasons that working as a contractor could be better overall for you. But as someone looking for stability and financial growth, being a full-time employee is perfect.

Second biggest lesson I learned is about agile methodologies, which I had no knowledge of when I finished boot camp. My first three positions were not agile but since my current position is agile, I have had to learn. It has been relatively easy to pick up the methods and procedures, but in the beginning my lack of knowledge definitely contributed to imposter syndrome. It’s worth it to learn some basic concepts, but because there are many types of methodologies and many companies use different types, don’t try to master anything until you know what your company uses.

Third, I was supremely unprepared for office politics when I first started working. I felt extremely intimidated because of the size of the company where I currently work. This ginormous company felt chaotic, cold and restricted. My first team was a toxic environment and I struggled with performing well. Luckily, I was able to network with people and transfer to another team with supportive team members. Don’t get me wrong, there are many friendly and genuine people out there, but in the beginning of my journey in the corporate world, I felt very alone and tense. Working at a very large company can feel like you’re lost in the jungle. It also feels like no one knows what you are doing. There’s no one standing over your shoulder telling you what to do or how to do it. On the one hand, this can feel isolating and alienating at first. But on the flip side, it can be a good thing because you can assert control and autonomy with your work. You can feel like you have freedom and autonomy to do the work.

The biggest lesson I learned from working in corporate is that networking is key to growth and development. This meant emailing folks at my company to discuss their work and background when I first started. I also interacted with groups like data visualization user group, which helped me find like-minded people. I searched for people to connect with in order to find a full-time job opportunity, since I was a contractor when I first started. Then I chatted with people who have data scientist roles, since this is the job that I want in the future. This has been useful to not only learn about the company but also to learn about how to develop the skills to get the data scientist position that I want.

Networking is the reason I found my current position. It’s an invaluable skill in any industry. But this skill is especially useful in a large corporate workplace. I overcame the challenges of being isolated, unprepared and inexperienced by finding like-minded people that helped me learn and grow. I was recommended to the positions I held by connecting with and demonstrating my skills and goals to people with more experience and power than me. So don’t underestimate putting yourself out there in a new work place or if you are currently job hunting, then in job events, online, and with friend networks. In conclusion, my first year and a half was a learning experience. Finding out about types of jobs, agile methodologies and office politics were the biggest revelations. I know that I will continue to learn about these topics and continue to struggle with other things. Imposter syndrome is unavoidable, but I am hopeful that sharing my experiences will enlighten you.