Nick Ang profile picture

Nick Ang

Be the person everyone wants to teach

I’ve consciously taken a new approach to learning to do my job, and it’s by doing one simple thing very deliberately: to always teach what I learn.

teach1 Not a work setting, but that’s me teaching students about a possible career in tech

Suppose I’m an oldie (in terms of tenure) in a team of new joiners. It’s certain that everyone will want or need to ask me questions, because I have the most context of past projects and how the company in general works. This is especially true if I also have more industry experience as a whole.

Okay, so, now suppose that my time is limited and I have to choose which new team member to invest more of my time and energy on. You’re right, there’s no need to suppose, because it’s a fact that my time is limited. Everyone’s is. So, how should I make this decision?

If I were in that position, which I was at the company I’d just left after 3.5 years, I would choose to invest my time and energy mostly on the person who has the heart of a teacher.

The reason is simple: if I know with high certainty that Bob would document or codify his learnings in write-ups or talking-head videos and slot them into the nooks and crannies around the company’s info systems (Google Drive, Confluence, Slack, etc.), then I know that by teaching him, I’m really teaching the rest of the team, including future teammates.

In other words, I can be confident that by helping Bob learn, I’m also indirectly helping everyone else learn, because Bob, with a teacher’s heart, is a catalyst for his and his team’s growth.

When laid out like this, it becomes obvious that this should be what someone new to a team should try and demonstrate as soon as he/she joins, doesn’t it?

Yet, from what I’ve seen, most new joiners do the opposite. Some examples:

  • They arrange a 1–1 call with Devon (an experienced team member) to get a walkthrough of a code base and they never consider transcribing and sharing the notes they’ve written
  • They work on a ticket, get stuck, ask Devon to pair program with them, manage to fix the issue, and end off with submitting a pull request; but they didn’t consider posting a quick write-up of how Devon helped them get unstuck

You get the picture. If I were Devon, I would reduce my commitment to helping that person and double-down on helping someone like Bob. Everything is a tradeoff, especially in engineering, and who to help and how much time to commit to that person is one of those tradeoffs.

Be the person everybody wants to teach by showing that you always teach what you learn. If you are that person, you’ll inevitably mature into your role faster, and all the while helping others mature into theirs. Be that rising tide that lifts all boats!

Nick Ang profile picture
Husband, dad, and software engineer that writes. Big on learning something everyday and trying to have fun before the lights go out.
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