Thomas Countz

End of Freshman Year

What I've Learned After my First Year of Being a Software Consultant

As I enter my second year as a software consultant (my sophomore year, as no one will let me call it), I’ve gained a new perspective about being pushed, having to pull, personal principles, and being the adult in the room…

Being pushed was invaluable during my first few months of being a freshman consultant. My team and company helped “push” me towards challenges/opportunities and made sure to “push” support towards me. “Thomas, can you lead the client retro, next week?” Is an example of being pushed towards something new. “Do you want to talk through how to approach that implementation idea you brought up?” Is an example of support being pushed up underneath me.

Both happen without me asking! This isn’t always a good thing, however. What happens if I wait, but no one offers the kind of support I need? What if I get pushed towards something I don’t think I’m ready for? This is what happened to me. It lead to anxiety about my performance and a negative self-review…

Tackling the first issue is where I learned about “pulling”. Pulling is when you pull from (“ask,” is a better word) your team/organization to give you what you need.

The frustrating part was that I didn’t know what I needed until I wasn’t getting it, and once I realized this, I was afraid to ask.

It takes a lot of self-worth/self-confidence to feel like you can ask for some things. Between being a minority in tech (gay & POC) and having imposter syndrome, getting to a place where I felt comfortable asking took me a long time. On top of that, I felt very indignant for having to ask for some things at all!

“Why isn’t there just a clear policy about X??”

I haven’t quite solved this issue yet, but luckily, I work in a psychologically safe organization and often, I just had to reach out.

But anyway, “pulling” is that: asking for what you need. It’s a type of professional dance one does with their company. (I think people with white-collar backgrounds might already know this). Going into my sophomore year, I’m no Fred Astaire, but I think I’ve learned to Waltz.

The other issue with “pushing” is getting pushed towards something I’m not ready for. This is where personal principles come in. They’re related to “pulling” in that they require a certain amount of self-value/worth that can be hard to gain.

A few of mine related to work:

If they’re not defined, you can’t be principled about them. They’re not used as demands, but as reminders to ourselves about life priorities that cannot be compromised for work. They’re agreements we make with ourselves about what’s important to us.

These working principles are internalized pre-commitment devices that we can use to defend our priorities by making pacts with ourselves before we make commitments to others. They are rigid, and cannot be flexed without good-faith negotiation & compromise.

This doesn’t mean that I will never work overtime, for e.g. This just means that I need to manage the expectations that others can have of me. I have to make pre-commitment agreements with my team so that they can understand what my priorities are vis-a-vis our collective work.

The power of principles is that others can always say no. And if/when they do, you must say no to those people. This is the weight that your principles carry. Spend time negotiating with yourself about what’s most important to you. Be kind to yourself.

So, when it comes to being pushed, there are ways that I can’t be pushed. If I’ve done my job well, I’ve communicated these effectively, with kindness, and understanding that my priorities aren’t the same as others.

One more thing about principles, I try to state them in the affirmative. When I put them negatively, I immediately feel as though I need to become defensive, but ultimately, they are positive! What I commit to is valuable!

Lastly: being the adult in the room… This one just occurred to me when I was recently asked to do something difficult. I immediately thought: “well, this sounds really difficult and the person asking certainly hasn’t set me up for success!!”

After some reflection, I realized that even though, in some contexts, that thought might be fair, what I was being asked to do didn’t encroach on my principles, I didn’t intrinsically disagree with it, and ultimately, I was just afraid of failing.

In terms of setting me up for success, they had! They explained to me, in detail, how difficult the thing was they were asking me to do, and they helped create an atmosphere of psychological safety by assuring me that failure to succeed wasn’t a reflection on me.

What I was feeling was my child brain recoiling in fear and projecting refusal to participate because I didn’t believe that I could be successful. “I’m not good enough to be able to do that!” Imposter syndrome. “I’m only a freshman, after all!”

After realizing this, I went back to them and said flat out:

“I think we can do this and do it well. I have good feelings about this, no matter the outcome. Let’s do it!”

It’s this exact confidence, (that is often said that cis-White men have inherently), and commitment that costs me very little, but has the psychological benefit of forcing me to start to believe that it’s true. Note: It wasn’t a question of “can I”, but “would I?”

I thought about the people I admire—they are the people who would have also said yes. Saying yes to difficult things feels very adult to me. I think of my parents and how many times they’ve done the hard thing. To me they didn’t flinch, but of course, everyone has doubts.

I humbly thank everyone who I’ve gotten to learn from this past year!

You are all rock stars to me! ❤️