How to start a new tech exec job

This will be a bit different from the usual stuff I write about, which usually deals with tech stacks and architecture. Why? Well, I recently took on a new position and I knew that I had to set up some clear basic guidelines to myself on how I’m going to tackle this new challenge.
See, my last place of employment was the longest stint of my career — close to 9 years. In that time, I had the privilege of joining a startup of 2 co-founders and watching it grow to a 1000+ people company. Needles to say, growing a company means that you get to witness, firsthand, a lot of new people take on new roles. That being the case, and if you’re a vigilant learner, you can learn a lot about the dos and don’ts of how to start a new job.

What follows will be a few ground rules that I synthesized for myself after observing what worked well for new hires. It goes without saying that while witnessing positive efforts, I also encountered negative value efforts. Thus, the list also contains what not to do.
The items listed are in no particular order and while they’re most relevant for executive roles in the technology field, they can also be applicable to other roles. As always, these are my personal observations and conclusions — your mileage may vary:

  • Be humble! For me, this is almost the basis for everything else. People in my industry have a healthy sense of ego and self worth. While this can be very beneficial since it can be a great motivator for self development and learning, it can also lead to a state of over-inflated self worth. I don’t think I need to specify how this can be harmful — no-one likes to engage with people who are sure that the sun shine out of their behinds. Also, humility is a prerequisite for learning which is mandatory in our line of work.
  • Listen, don’t talk! When you transition into a new company, you have an inherent and natural inclination to prove your worth. After all, the company that hired you spent a lot of time, efforts and resources to find, what they think, is the best person for the job. That being the case, we have a natural tendency to try and show our worth from the very first interaction. Usually, that translates to voicing an opinion on every single matter — regardless if you know the background, people involved, the actual use-case etc. While this is normal, most of the time your observations and opinions will miss the mark for one very simple reason — you lack a LOT of context. Instead of talking, try listening and writing down stuff for future questions when you do get said context. That is not to say that you shouldn’t talk at all, but, as a general rule, listen much more than you talk.
  • Don’t rush to provide value! As a direct continuation to the previous point, a lot of people rush to prove their worth. This usually translates to taking critical decisions very early on. This means that you’ll be taking uninformed decisions which is usually a bad thing. Instead, take the time to go easy on yourself and LEARN! The first weeks in a new role can be overwhelming but they’re usually the best time to come to grasp with the new culture, methodology etc.
  • Don’t belittle past efforts! A lot of the times, when we arrive into a new company, it’s easy to notice all the things you perceive as faulty. As you’re exposed to the inner workings your new place of work, you’re bound to come across a plethora of stuff that you’re sure you would have done better. It can be in the realms of tooling, technology stack, infrastructure, actual code or even organizational processes. While your basic notion might be correct, it’s worth noting that almost all of the things that are currently in play in your new company are there for a reason. It can be a service that was written specifically for one client, an internal tool that was the best when it was chosen, or any other thing. Most of the things you’ll come across, were simply the best effort that was taken in order to help the business push forward. That being the case, be respectful! Most of the people know when stuff is not as good as it should be. If it’s still there, it’s because they either didn’t know any better (and you can help them), or because they’re too busy doing other work that has greater value to the company.
  • Have opinions, not ideals! It’s easy to come into your new role with a fixed set of ideals that you strongly believe in. While those ideals can have tremendous value, more often than not, they have a tendency to solidify into a dogmatic agenda. Agendas run the risk of becoming some unwieldy and uncompromising “holy torch” that you’ll find very hard to relinquish. Instead, try to have a solid and well rounded perspective that can absorb many different views. It’s very akin to the old “have more tools in your toolbox”, but on the conceptual level. It’s perfect that some things resonate with you more than others, after all, you got hired because you have a perspective. Just don’t let said perspective override every other opinion in the room.
  • Evolution, not revolution! When you step into your new role, you do so because a group of people believed that you can help the company do better — they believe in your ideas and perspective! This can easily lead to mistakenly thinking that you’re on some crusade to turn the company around. While it’s true that some individuals get hired in order to completely change how a company operates, that’s usually the case with failing organizations. Most new roles mean that you’re entering not only a new position, but also a delicate network of people and processes. Trying to change everything at once will, at best, fail and, at worst, antagonize the majority of the people around you. Change can be great, but it should be doled out in doses that correlate to what the organization can “stomach”.
  • It’s all about the people! Like everything, no one succeeds or fails on their own. Taking that to be axiomatic, your value is only as good as the positive effect it has on the people working with you. A lot of the work you’ll do will touch other people. One of the best things to focus on early on is getting to know the people around you — understand what motivates them, where their passions lie, what troubles them etc. Once you have a good understanding of the individuals around you, you’ll all have a much better chance of succeeding together!

That’s about it. I’m sure that there are a lot of stuff I missed, but, as always, I’m always learning. If you have anything to add to this list I would love to see it in the comments.



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