First Day at Thoughtbot

I haven’t interacted with that many humans in a long time. For the past four months, I’ve been mostly coding alone in my apartment, which the occasional google Hangout to break the silence. Luckily, my small talk game was still strong. But even better, I didn’t need it.

Everyone was real nice. Not “really” nice, but real nice, which is the opposite of fake nice. Fake nice is when you plaster a smile and talk about the weather for an obligatory 3-minute minimum, then cross off “spoke to new girl” on your checklist. Real nice is when you lean in and offer a detail warm enough to make me forget I’m the new girl. Real nice is when you’re not trying and I can’t tell. I’m always surprised at how real nice tech people can be.

My first day was on a Friday, which is investment day at Thoughtbot. Everyone does something tech related that’s not necessarily client work. They learn a new language, play with a new API, write a blog post, whatever. It’s pretty low key, which made the awkwardness of a first day less awkward.

As an apprentice, I get assigned a mentor each month. My mentor was on his last day of a client project, and it was crunch time. He was super nice and really supportive, but I felt bad that he was so busy. I hate bothering people, which made asking questions a lot harder than it should have been. It’s a stupid thing to stress out about. As though something terrible would happen when you bother people. The worst they’d do is tell you to leave them alone, or they just ignore you, but I still get really stressed out about possibly annoying people. It’s one of those things I just gotta get over.

We paired for a bit. We worked on a small feature for the app he was working on. When he asked how I’d approach a problem, I had a great deer-in-headlights moment. Instead of focusing on my understanding of the problem, I was playing the game of what-would-he-want-to-hear-right-now-that-makes-me-look-like-a-genius, which is pointless since I can’t read his mind. But I told my brain to shut up, as you must do, pulled myself out of panic-mode, and gave an answer. We solved the problem and moved on.

My favorite rule of learning is to be selfish. Be selfish with your learning. Ask all the questions, propose all the answers, sit in the front row, raise your hand at every chance you get, and hog all the TA time. We don’t sit in rows at Thoughtbot and raising my hand would be weird, so in this context, it’s really just the first two.

When you’re being selfish, you can't worry about being wrong or looking stupid. You can’t afford to. There’s no time for that. And as an apprentice, I’m supposed to be learning. It’s ok that I’m the least knowledgeable person on the team. But I forgot my rule, and I held back. I wasn’t the selfish learner I was supposed to be. When I did ask the questions and propose the answers, it was great. But the times that I didn’t sucked. Working on that for next week.

But the most uncomfortable thing I have to get use to is how they communicate. I’ve worked for three startups and worked with a bunch more. “Flat leadership” and “transparency” are words they like to throw around, but I’ve rarely seen it in action. At Thoughtbot, transparency looks like a general Slack channel that is my primary means of communication. Conversations that might only pertain to you and one other person are still put in that general channel. The default communication is open and inclusive, a beautiful concept. But it also means that any questions I have or issues I run into are publicly broadcasted to the whole company. This is terrifying. It’s one of those situations where you’re convinced that everyone is staring at you and laughing, but in reality everyone is too busy to care or pay attention. It’s that gap between what you know and how you feel. It’ll take some time to close that gap.

They had these amazing Argentinian chocolate caramel sandwich thingies (I don’t know what they’re called), that I think one of the developers brought it. I’m trying to be more healthy, and I recently replaced my weekly tub of cookies with a bag of apples. My proudest moment that day was eating half of the caramel sandwich, then having an apple instead. That’s commitment.

Also, there was unlimited coffee that I didn’t have to make myself, so I peed a lot. 

That is all.