Personal Resilience as a Software Engineer: Three Steps to a Better Mindset
We’re excited to launch our Engineering blog series, where we will hear from Matillion Engineers about their jobs, their tools for success, and their experience developing a market-leading data integration and transformation platform in a world where data is more valuable and critical than ever. In our first Engineering blog, Kristian Epps, one of our Development Team Leaders, talks about Personal Resilience and how it can help technical team members think and work more effectively.
What even is personal resilience?
The ability to cope with stress provoking events, without experiencing any personal stress signs or symptoms.
Simply put, personal resilience is how well you cope with hard challenges. I think this is very relevant to us as Engineers because each feature can become a challenge – or “stress provoking event”. And as soon as we get promoted, we take on line management which is a whole new barrel of “fun”!
As such, we should all learn to be resilient and deal with challenges well. I’d be remiss not to mention Imposter Syndrome here, which is the feeling that you have somehow fooled everyone into thinking you are better than you are, and are only one mistake away from being discovered. Having personal resilience is a mental weapon against this way of thinking.
Personal resilience and its impact on my life
I was very lucky to have a personal resilience course recommended and run by the BBC in the UK. When I first said I wanted to become a tech lead, I was told this would be a key course – more so than any engineering practices or fancy languages. I needed to be able to deal with hard situations at work, move on, and still enjoy what I did for a living.
I was very suspicious, but took the course anyway. Even after the course, I made light of the things that I learned. However, what I picked up has served me well over the years as I’ve gone through some really tough periods. The ability to compartmentalize an issue and then carry on being motivated has allowed me to grow as an individual and succeed in what I want to do. I have even been called “One of the happiest Matillioners” by another engineer, even though I would definitely not call myself a naturally happy person.
3 steps to my personal resilience
I’m going to demonstrate my three biggest skills and mentality shifts, and how you might be able to apply those to your day to day. I warn you, there is a little “audience interaction,” and it might even feel a little cheesy, but it’s worth doing.
(Side note: One of the activities our course instructors had us do was “write a birthday card home to yourself full of self-adoration.” It’s years later and my wife still laughs at me for that as she opened it before I could get to it!)
1. Celebrate your wins
I wanted to kick off with a corker, because this is something I think engineers can be pretty bad at. When we’ve made something and take a step back from it, the first thing we obsess about are its flaws. “Needs better logging,” or “needs more tests,” or even the classic, “it needs to be more generic.” We never seem to just be proud of what we have achieved.
And okay, there’s definitely some strength in improving our code – one of Matillion’s core values is, “No person, process or product is ever finished.” We should always look for ways that we can improve the things we make. However, (a) We shouldn’t let that get in the way of shipping value to our customers early; and (b) We shouldn‘t let that mindset take over and make us feel inadequate. With that in mind:
Please take a moment and think about something you made that you are proud of. Perhaps it was a whole product you worked on for months, or perhaps it was a small feature that you thought was pretty cool.
“One of my favorite memories of being an engineer was building and releasing an interactive shareable element for the BBC Sport announcement of the England squad for the 2014 World Cup. It was in a sore state when I picked it up, but I delivered it on time with all the core features we wanted and watched it hit 500k uses in its first hour of launch, and a million by the end of the day!”
Celebrating our wins makes us take a step back and see that we do actually make some pretty wicked stuff. We feel good about the challenges that we’ve made it through and it reassures us that the next big project we come across is something we can take on!
2. Celebrate your strengths
Although similar to the previous point, celebrating your strengths is more important, especially regarding Imposter Syndrome. As we hit roadblocks within the projects we work on, we might begin to think that we aren’t good engineers and we start to compare ourselves to each other.
This way of thinking ends up causing us more problems as we look to getting around the challenge rather than going through it. You consider avoiding or putting it off thinking someone better will do it. However, you never really grow as an engineer without going through those tough tasks! Try this:
Take a moment to think about something you think you are good at. It could be a “hard skill” like unit testing, or understanding a particular feature of a language; or it could be a “soft skill” like mentoring, presenting, or thought leadership.
“One of my strengths has been in recruitment. I’ve consistently received great feedback from the people I’ve worked with in talent acquisition and now I’m super proud of the front end engineering team we have. It’s a genuine delight to work with them all and I’m glad to have brought them all together.”
While it’s good to share vulnerabilities with one another, if we can get comfortable talking about our strengths publicly with one another, we reaffirm to ourselves that we are capable of taking on difficult challenges. Also, others will know who to come to so they can grow as you have.
3. Realize that time washes away all sins, and that the future is exciting!
There’s an old saying that “You are your own biggest critic.” What you must remember is that everyone is so focused on themselves, they are already thinking of the next thing while you are dwelling on something that went wrong. Don’t do it!
So what should you do? Stop thinking about that mistake you made a year ago and focus on what you’ve learned from it. There’s a fitting analogy here that there’s a reason the rear-view mirror in a car is much smaller than the windscreen – we need to keep our eyes fixed forward on the future rather than staring at the past, or we’ll crash! Last exercise:
What’s one lesson you have learned, and how does it make the future even more exciting?
“I’ve learned a lot from the people I’ve hired. My mantra at the beginning was always to hire people better than myself so I’ve got people I can learn from. As such, I’m learning pretty much every day from the code they write, and I’m incredibly excited for the future of the front end at Matillion as we level each other up!”
When we stop focusing on our mistakes, we get ourselves into the resilient mindset of personal improvement and resilience to any challenges we might face. Those difficulties become learning opportunities we can turn into future wins so that when we do glance in the rear-view mirror we just see how far we’ve come.
Now, all that being said I am definitely no expert in this field. There are plenty of other better resources out there that deal with this topic. But I wanted to share my personal view and experience to give you a flavor of what it’s all about. If you want to learn more on the subject, there are plenty of great courses, such as “Mindful Resilience for Work-Life Thriving” on Udemy, which go much more in depth in just an hour.
Interested in joining our team?
As Matillion continues to grow, we are looking for exciting and enthusiastic engineers. If this blog has resonated with you, and you like the sound of working in an environment that will invest in your growth, take a look at our careers page and find something right for you!