At the age of 22, I was shown my desk at my first software engineering job. I booted up my computer, and waited. I asked my manager what I was supposed to do.
“Don’t worry! Just figure things out for now.” he replied.
My last programming was in a classroom, with a teacher giving me my assignment. I didn’t know how to figure things out. I didn't know of any customers. I didn't have goals to accomplish. I didn't even understand our business model.
With help, figuring things out is a great way to learn. It's useful to be put in an uncomfortable position, as a source of personal growth.
Without guidance or direction, "figure things out" meant months of time wasted. I had a friend at work who had graduated at the same time. Without direction, we wrote video games together. We had long lunches. We occasionally found a small task to work on, but mostly we received a paycheck to sit around.
All things change with enough time. We found some customers, and they asked us to do some work. We figured out what their goals were, and started self-directing ourselves. We built new software, grew relationships with our business partners over the years, and eventually added great value.
It was slower than it should have been, as we was inventing how to be successful rather than being coached. Eight years into my career, I moved into management myself.
As a manager, I remembered what it felt like to be lost at my first job. When I moved companies to Amazon, I was able to observe some great leaders. I learned how managers can be a force in helping someone have a strong and fulfilling start to their career.
As you start your career, you’re unlikely to have a choice regarding your manager. You may get someone engaged and experienced in helping new employees get off the ground. You might not. You don’t want to leave your career to chance. Below are a few of the strategies I've personally used over the years when I’ve ramped up in new jobs, and what I regularly recommend to others to grow their careers in absence of a strong manager driving it for them.
A great manager would immediately introduce you to the people you need to know. Don't wait. I've always prioritized meeting everyone important in my first week at a new job.
I wrote an article previously called "Hit the Ground Running" about the process to follow with some examples.
If you've met with a couple dozen people in your first week, you won't feel so alone. You'll have a long list of people you can collaborate with to get advice and assistance. This will give you a great work social network.