Remote Work Tips, Leadership
“See you in 10 days!” I gleefully exclaimed on my way out of our Waterview office in New Jersey.
I was heading on a much-needed vacation to visit my mother in Florida for her upcoming birthday. Little did I know that once I got home that our lives, our work, and our world would completely change.
I returned home early due to COVID-19 picking up steam in the United States. Fully decked out in a facemask and gloves, I stepped onto a plane ready for anything with plenty of hand sanitizer and Lysol wipes. The young Girl Scout in me would be proud. “Be Prepared!” would echo through the room during our Troop meetings.
As a young woman, I couldn’t imagine preparing for much beyond my next test or clarinet recital. Today, it feels as if we must be prepared to handle much more than we ever expected. Maybe you’re managing pressing deadlines while collaborating on a team that’s spread across living rooms. Perhaps you’re learning to teach your children using online tools. You may even be tackling the inevitable emotional burden that comes with required extended isolation.
No matter what you are going through, I know we can all make it through this time, even if it is difficult. I hope to share a few tips to carry through your days to make your working life smoother, more productive, and less stressful and to help you feel a little more prepared.
Connections are Key. No, not just your VPN connection! Your connection to other people: your coworkers, your comrades. We spend so much time working alongside one another that it can be hard to have it all ripped away so suddenly. Some suggestions? A simple morning check-in with a fellow associate can go a long way to brighten your day. A call to chat about something other than work might be the break you need, so go ahead and pick up the phone, and indulge in that much-needed laugh.
Communicate More than Usual. Today, everyone works on a distributed team, but thanks to COVID-19, you can’t just turn around and let your teammates know what’s happening like when you all shared a workspace. A couple of things I found that can help:
Communicate openly and often! Putting more detail into your team messages than usual and messaging more often can create smoother communication. Keeping everyone on the same page throughout the week is essential to reducing frustration and preventing a loss in productivity. On the flip side, too little communication can have people stepping on one another’s toes and creating unnecessary issues.
Don’t be shy, ask! If you’re stuck or have a question, don’t be afraid to ask your leader for direction or clarification. We’re all working in an unprecedented way right now, so it’s more important than ever to reach out when you need something. Trust me, your leader will appreciate your engagement, and the critical thinking you apply toward the work you’re doing. Doing this builds both trust and credibility, and organically strengthens your personal brand.
Leverage and Accommodate Time Differences. Even though companies have leveraged distributed team models for years, adjusting to the needs of our global team members has been a new facet now more than ever since COVID-19. For Lifion, where we’re responsible for the development and delivery of our next-gen platform, we span several US and India locations across various time zones and multiple engineering and product teams. It can create a particular challenge but one worth tackling.
My advice? Be flexible and accommodate your fellow associates. Schedule meetings earlier or later in the day to sync with other team members. Leverage communication tools to maintain a connection with one another to share information. Remember to practice compassion and understanding; they’re both free and go a long way to creating a positive work environment. It’s a balancing act, and may not be perfect at first. There may be miscommunications or misunderstandings, but stay the course, and you can find common ground.
Maintain a Schedule. Planning your day will help maintain normalcy at a time where not much feels normal. My goal has been to head to bed at a reasonable hour, wake up a little earlier to jumpstart my day, and have time to enjoy my coffee and breakfast alongside my dogs and fiancé. My workday comes and goes with meetings and projects, and I do my best to enforce a time where I shut down my laptop and sign off for the day. I maintain a timeframe for my working life separate from my personal life even though they currently share the same physical space. Doing this is crucial. Try not to let the lines blur. Prioritize time for yourself to unwind and reset.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to (safely) go outside, close your laptop and get some fresh air! Otherwise, try a brief yoga flow in your living space, play with your kids, or get a head start on dinner. Whatever helps you disconnect and decompress, go for it. Do what helps you stay positive, productive, and healthy. You deserve it!
Sam Ortiz is a Senior Platform Engineer on ADP’s Lifion team responsible for ADP’s next-generation HCM platform.
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Career Advice, Culture, Women in STEM
Sometimes, it is obvious. Sometimes, it is subtle. Yet, in all cases, there are early warning signs. If only we could pause to take it in!
Where is that time anyway? When we are pursuing a Ph.D., juggling life as a student or mid-career professional, so often, we only catch ourselves off course a bit later than we would have liked.
The world of work, as we have known it has been changing for a long time now. If you are in the United States, the change has been visible…
Thanks to much-needed automation and business process improvements, essential for the evolution and optimization of business, the current workforce (yes, that is us!) are directly or indirectly in the path of changing work models that offer significant growth opportunities and yes, challenges.
The way I like to think about it is this: a challenge is an opportunity to rethink and reimagine the possibilities previously undiscovered.
As individuals, we spend a tremendous amount of time at work and put our hearts and souls into doing our very best to deliver stellar results, and look to grow with and within the organization. Passion, purpose, and growth are essential contributors to happiness. Happy employees find intrinsic motivation to explore, experiment and excel in their work through moments of Flow. That work happiness is abundantly positive and contagious in a way that radiates through every interaction with every person.
In the landscape of robots, robotic process automation, and AI that look to optimize work environments, there are naturally fewer vertical job opportunities as organizations realign to provide abundant lateral growth opportunities and training for their employees.
In the fast-changing world of work, it is natural to feel disappointed and frustrated when conversations with the manager on career-growth prospects either do not exist or are bland and uni-directional. We are human. It’s natural to want recognition and additional responsibilities that offer growth to learn something new.
When things go South, there are early warning signs in conversations such as “why you are not qualified” rather than “how you can acquire skills needed.” Then, out of the blue, that position you aspired to have and worked very hard to get goes to someone else.
Yes, it happened. You just got passed over for a promotion, and the only thought that fills your mind is that you must quit and find a new job on the internet!
How about we change the situation to our advantage? It is in moments of utter despair that we are closest to finding our success. But that can only happen if we can recover fast and find our inner strength to ReEmerge stronger and more resilient than we have ever been before.
We are amazing Individual Centers of Excellence (I.C.O.E.), and we own and drive our career to define our success.
We can grow in any direction we want and go as far as we choose to and do so at the pace that works for us.
Yes, take that vacation time off or mental health day to relax, recharge, and reactivate the inner core strengths that propel you forward. Identify new areas of growth within yourself and the organization.
You can leverage your tenure, experience, and expertise to your advantage and help support your organization’s business goals. Cross-pollination provides an excellent opportunity to add your uniquely human perspective.
Continuous learning is critical to personal and professional growth and helps to future proof your career, so keep learning! There are so many free and low-cost online options including Coursera, LinkedIn Learning, and also check for learning options within your organization.
Yes, there is hope, and there are new areas of growth…just not where you expected to find them.
Please, invest in your career success. Build on your tenure and grow with and within your organization.
So, have you identified any early warning signs? If so, have you looked at your career portal to initiate a conversation with another hiring manager?
Oh, the places you can go, if only you keep driving. Best of Luck!
(Originally published on LinkedIn November 4, 2019. Republished with permission.)
Career Advancement, Intern to full-time, Women in STEM
Do you have the right job?
Have you ever wondered if you have the right job? Or what makes it right for you? Is it the technologies, the money, the people around you, or is it the work-life balance? Do you sleep peacefully at night, thinking you had a good day at work?
I feel like I’m one of the luckiest ones to have it all. I am originally from India and came to the US to get my master’s degree in Computer Science. Straight out of college, a good company in Wisconsin hired me. During the two years of my life that I spent there, I always felt something missing. I was far away from friends or family, and I had no idea what work satisfaction meant or how to achieve it.
About ten years ago, I came across an entry-level position to create web pages for an HCM system in Alpharetta, a suburb north of Atlanta, GA. In that job, I worked on JSF and Dojo Toolkit. Yes, JSF and Dojo There was a pretty good market for people working on web applications using those technologies. Time flew by. I loved every second of it, but all good things come to an end.
Using blank pages, we drew how we wanted to display information to the user, how much information we need to show the user to avoid confusion, and how many steps it took to finish a task. We went to different departments at ADP, introduced ourselves to random people, and asked them to vote on our ideas. Doesn’t that sound like a lot of fun?!
All we needed were post-its, pencils, pens, white paper, and of course our shiny new MacBooks! Oh wait, did I say MacBooks, at work, nine years ago? YES! My husband was jealous. He had to carry a 100-pound IBM laptop! Did I mention that I got married that first year at ADP and bought a house? That I went from a carefree single life to a more responsible person?
Shortly after, I took on two new projects and went from an entry-level developer to a Senior, and then to a Lead. Having fun all along and a good work-life balance, I had my baby and took a long maternity leave. Then came the hard and challenging part for every new mom in the world, leaving my baby to go back to work. My colleagues, who had become my friends and family over the years, were very supportive and very kindly eased me back into work. We started a new project with five members on the team and grew into 80+ associates working on smaller and more focused areas within a year. Our main objective is to create the best experience for our users. We leveraged the latest and greatest technologies available. We started with AngularJS, Less, Bower, Webpack, and Node and currently on Angular 8 with SASS and Angular CLI. I am super proud to say that I work for ADP and MyADP, a team dedicated to creating the best HCM experience for millions of people!
I literally grew up in ADP between these five different projects over ten years. I got experience from five different jobs, learning every step of the way, growing my career from a junior developer to a Principal Architect, and becoming the best version of myself every single day. I am proud of every year, every day, and every minute I spent here and consider myself beyond blessed. I’m very grateful to my manager, who hired me ten years ago, and who remains an amazing leader for my team. I’m thankful for all the colleagues, leaders, and experiences that I have had over the years. Happy 10th Anniversary to me!
So, let me ask you this question again, do you have the right job? Or what makes it right for you? Is it the technologies, the money, the people around you, or is it the work-life balance? ADP is the place where you can have it all and don’t have to choose one over the other. Find your ideal job at tech.adp.com/careers.
Sree Malladi is a Principal Application Architect on ADP’s NAS team based in Alpharetta, Georgia.
Career Mobility, Career Advice, Voice of our People
Some years ago, I heard someone sarcastically say, “This is where elephants come to die” in response to me asking them why such intelligent people as themselves were still at that company.
Since then, I have been referring to “elephant graveyards” when describing companies and teams that don’t have headroom for intelligent people to rise the ranks and grow as engineers.
An elephant graveyard, when applied to a corporate setting, is a team, company, or some other set of conditions, in which otherwise bright engineers take positions or assignments where there is no hope for future career growth. In this post, I hope to define the conditions that must be present for an elephant graveyard to form, how to detect them, and how to navigate them.
An engineer’s career growth has three dimensions: skills, recognition, and compensation.
Skill growth is a function engineer learning new skills and becoming an expert through practicing newly acquired abilities on real-world projects.
Recognition is a function of showing initiative, applying new skills, and being recognized by supportive leadership.
Compensation is a function of recognition and skill growth.
An elephant graveyard forms when the three dimensions of career growth become stagnant.
Skill growth stagnates when the project reaches a certain level of maturity and is either no longer growing or is in a terminal decline. Projects reach maturity when they reach a critical mass in production and are no longer rapidly evolving. When the active development phase is over, the projects are often scaled back. When projects don’t rapidly evolve, there is no room for the acquisition of new skills.
Another reason for skill growth stagnation is the presence of the Smartest Person In The Room. The Smartest Person In The Room is either the developer themselves (which means they’ve outgrown the project and are now a toxic influence on it) or someone else (who created the conditions in which only his ideas are good).
The emergence of the Smartest Person In The Room is toxic to the team, and good leaders should discourage it. Since only their ideas count, the rest of the engineers can’t grow and earn recognition.
Recognition stagnates when skills stagnate, or the engineer loses leadership support, including management incompetence. When leadership is unsupportive, new skills don’t often earn any recognition.
When both skill growth and recognition stagnate, compensation stagnates as well. Chances are higher if you work for a well-run company, the reward system is in line with skill growth and recognition. Poorly run companies, not so much. Companies that create artificial limitations barriers, like title hierarchies, run the risk of losing technologists for compensation reasons.
First of all, try and detect an elephant graveyard before you join the company. Ask questions about team dynamics and the project maturity cycle. Don’t join a company or a team where elephants come to die.
If you find yourself in an elephant graveyard, however, it’s not all over. Evaluate your overall situation. Is work-life balance important to you at this phase of your life? Are you fairly compensated at this moment in time? Are there opportunities within your company on other projects? Is there an opportunity to shake things up on your existing project?
As long as there is room to grow, there is no reason to be restless. You are not an elephant, and you are not in a graveyard. Not yet, at least.
Published by Oleg Dulin
I am a software engineer and technology architect in New York City / New Jersey area. All opinions expressed here are mine and do not represent the opinions of my employers and customers, nor should my opinions be construed as opinions about my employers and customers.
Reprinted/Edited with permission. Read the original post.
Best advice Samantha ever received? “If you are the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”
Samantha Ortiz started out as a zookeeper. Then she went into marketing. Now she’s a software engineer at ADP’s Innovation Lab working on its NextGen Platform. Her ever-present curiosity, creativity, and passion for understanding behavior and solving problems have been common threads throughout her varied life experiences.
From Horses to Manatees …
Samantha was born and raised in the Bronx and was comfortable in the city, but she always had an interest in the natural world around her. Her older brother raised tropical poison dart frogs at home, and she was mesmerized as a child while observing them in their terrariums. She also spent most of her free time riding and training horses at Riverdale Riding Center in the Bronx’s Van Cortlandt Park, expanding the interest she had in animals.
After spending most of her life in the city, her family moved to Florida, and she was suddenly surrounded by agriculture. She made the most of her new journey in life. Sam joined the local Future Farmers of America, becoming the chapter’s student advisor and showing a pig at the county fair. Sam also continued her love of riding horses by finally fulfilling her dream of owning a horse and practicing dressage. “My mother was always so supportive of my adventures with animals,” she says. “Even if she felt a little out of place on the farm – she is a New York native, after all – she was there for me every step I took.”
Her passion for understanding living things continued in college as she studied psychology at New College of Florida, focusing on animal behavior and conservation. She spent her undergraduate years working with a wide range of animals, from studying manatee sensory behavior to handedness preferences in lemurs. Sam also conducted research on numerous species of fish, including Indian Mudskippers (an amphibious fish), and Stoplight Parrotfish. She spent several summers in Panama working on her thesis research on Parrotfish’s feeding behavior and its effects on coral reefs. She was also introduced to design, exploring zoo and aquarium design, its effects on animals, and how it fosters conservation behaviors in visitors.
… and from Reptiles to Coding
After college, she worked as a zookeeper in Florida, caring for animals and presenting reptile educational programs to visitors. “So many people were curious about alligator behavior, especially since we were in Florida,” Samantha says. “I shared with them how human actions, particularly humans feeding wildlife, would contribute negatively to the animals’ natural behavior, making them more dangerous as they’d become acquainted to people. Everyone’s actions and behaviors affect something or someone else.”
Samantha’s natural interest in behavior took her down a winding path beyond the natural world and into technology.
A relationship took her to Texas, where she worked for a digital marketing consultancy. While she worked as a copywriter and copy editor, Sam also started to combine her knowledge of behavior with the tools of technology. The marketing campaigns she ran combined multiple applications, and she realized she wanted a deeper understanding of the software she was using. How did it target specific demographics? What data did it use to determine which campaigns would trigger actionable behavior in users? “Where I went to college, they encourage you to be an independent thinker and deeply analyze things,” she says. “That’s how I have always approached everything.”
Samantha started to explore coding by teaching herself web development through an online program. After relocating back to New York, she applied to Hack Reactor, an intensive, full-time coding boot camp
“At first, I was telling myself I’m not ready, maybe it’s too late, I don’t know if I can do this,” she remembers. “So, I started with some prep classes before deciding that software engineering was what I wanted to do.”
Coming to ADP
While Samantha was at Hack Reactor, she built applications with classmates, and two of them went on to work at ADP. She was invited to a networking night at the ADP Innovation Lab, where “I met lots of fun, intelligent people who love what they do. I started talking to Yaara (Katz) and we just clicked. It was so great to meet another female software engineer with a passion for her work. We laughed and I really felt comfortable. I knew I was home.”
Samantha loves software engineering, noting, “It’s such a creative process. I have loved writing my whole life, and designing programs and coding is similar. We notice the audience, figure out how to present the information and design the task, and focus on the user. Building software is writing; refactoring code is editing.”
Continuous learning is another part of the job Samantha loves. “Every day is a different challenge,” she says. “I get to work with new technologies, learning more every step of the way. I am part of a team with great people, and I always feel valued. I started around Christmas a few years ago, and they invited me to their holiday party before I even started. Any idea I have is considered by my team. That’s been true from the first day I walked in the door.”
The best advice Samantha has received was from one of her software engineering instructors, she says: “If you are the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. Keep learning. Stay open — even if you’re scared or not feeling confident.”
Samantha’s advice to people considering a career shift is, “I wished I had jumped into coding earlier, when I was first drawn to it. Making a change doesn’t have to be a scary obstacle. Take it in steps, and know that everyone is learning all the time.”