Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Progress

For the past several months, when people asked me how work is going I sighed and launched into my "it's uncomfortable.  It's difficult" speech. I want to clarify that the job itself is fine. The people, the environment, the company: these are not the problem. The problem is how I see myself and how frustrated/impatient I am with my progress. 

My progress meter is about to change. Today I sat for the retake question on the oral exam they give regarding their cornerstone principles. The main reason I failed this question was insecurity in my answer. I talked my way all around the correct answer, but admitted I was not confident I'd nailed it. Bad idea. Very bad idea. Never show weakness. Without that, I probably could have just had a conversation with my manager about the bits I missed. Instead, I had to retake the class and answer a different question. 

I retook the class in early December. Knowing this time I'd be tested on it, I actually took notes. I answered the question I failed several times, for several people. Of course they asked me a different question, on a completely different section of the class. I was able to dredge the month-old information from my brain and answer, barely, with a few leading questions to get all the aspects covered. The trainer indicated he would recommend they pass me, which means I'll receive my engineer's cap and be considered a bona fide, full-fledged engineer. I should receive my cap during the next all hands meeting (which was scheduled for today, but cancelled this morning).

Work is still challenging and difficult, but I'm focusing on less complaint and more solutions to the issues that plague me. One of those issues is working as an introvert in their Agile environment. 

My entire professional life, I've had my own desk with walls or cabinets, a cubicle in which I could tuck my head down and get my work done. Even in Support at my current company, I had my own little space. I have my own space now, but it's in name only. The way my company manifests an Agile environment is by setting all the Devs in my team up at a long table, in a large room full of such long tables. There is a constant hum of conversation, sometimes louder than others but always buzzing in the background. There are frequently foam darts flying through the air. Conversations ebb and flow at my table as well.

This can be a problem for an introvert like myself. Even more so for an ADD introvert like myself. I get distracted easily by the conversations, even if I can't hear them well because I'm going deaf. I get overwhelmed and exhausted by the constant human interaction.

One solution I've found is noise cancelling headphones. These only work when I am actually listening to something through them, and listening to music with words is equally distracting. I've started using SimplyNoise.com to drown out some of the background noise and give my brain some relief. Alternatively, I listen to instrumental music on my Pandora account. I had some difficulty at first finding upbeat music that doesn't have words. A quick Google search provided a Reddit thread on exactly what I wanted. I created a station with every single suggestion in the thread, and now I can listen as long as my head and ears can stand the weight of the headphones.  

Another solution has been to run away and hide. They actually encourage leaving your desk if you're creatively stuck. They've built a pretty sweet game room to help distract people from the problems they're working on, to let their brains find solutions behind the scenes. Personally, I suck at the games and it's not more noise and excitement I crave. I've found the ladies gym locker room is almost always vacant during the day, except during lunch and after 4:00. It is completely quiet, except for distant music from the radio in the cafeteria. I take my phone in there and play a quiet round or two of Jewel Legend to recharge. 

I am making actual work progress. The card I paired with the more experienced Dev on passed PO accept. The card I picked up next, that I'd originally put on hold for the card that failed? That was already working. Before putting it on hold, I'd worked with another Dev and we found what we thought was a partial solution. That Dev picked it up while I worked on the card that PO failed, but said he didn't really do anything. Submitted a few things he didn't think worked. After confirming with the PO how exactly the situation should work, I spent 2 days recreating and testing all the scenarios. Turns out it worked in all cases. That card also passed QA and PO. 

I picked up yet another card, where the situation worked most of the time. It took a few days to find the code that was causing it to behave the way it did. The simplest solution was just to comment that code out. That card is currently under QA test, and I'm confident it will pass. I'm a little concerned PO will find some edge case I didn't think to test for. I'll deal with that if it happens. 

So 3 cards complete in the last week, and I'm now researching another intimidating issue. I don't know anything about this area of code. I still don't have much faith in my coding skills. Yet, somehow, I find I approach each card with a bit more confidence. That right there is called progress, my friend.

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