Year Three: Risk Taking

December 8th is my three year anniversary at Google. Every year I’ve written an anniversary blog post talking about what I’ve learned about Developer Relations as a career in the past year. Last December I decided my theme for 2017 would be “consistency and sustainability,” but looking back, the unintentional theme of this year ended up being risk-taking. I’m guessing that the value of mid-career risk-taking isn’t unique to DevRel, but interpersonal risk-taking has been the source of many of my proudest moments over the last year, so it seems to be a worthy topic for a blog post.

A co-worker advised me toward the end of last year to increase my “visibility.” I rolled my eyes at that. I find self-congratulatory emails and announcements tiring. They often aren’t relevant to my interests or the communities I’m part of. I assume that most people feel the same way, so I avoided sending my own “I did a thing!” announcements. But if I was going to increase my visibility I needed to find a way to do it without annoying others. I found two things that helped a lot. First, I tried to be thoughtful about who I was sending my updates to. My first instinct was to share my announcements with the rest of the Cloud Developer Relations team, after all, people send their announcements to their teammates, right? But when I thought about my motives I realized I was sharing with my team because it was safe. I knew they wouldn’t tell me to knock it off. That wasn’t a good reason to do things though. If I was trying to update interested parties on our outreach efforts to language communities, it made more sense to share with the engineering managers, product leads, and directors working on products for those communities. Sending an email that is addressed to a VP, senior engineers, and other influential folks is scary. I don’t want to bother important people. But I’m getting over my fears by framing everything as a team accomplishment that will hopefully help others at Google understand that the team is working to support them. Another benefit of the team approach is that telling people about something interesting a co-worker has done isn’t bragging and doesn’t have the same social taboo as telling people about something awesome I’ve done. Finding mind hacks to help me through my reluctance to bother people and talk about the cool things we’ve been up to helped others understand that DevRel was out at events helping people build cool things using their products.

I’ve also tried to fight the social norm that inviting yourself into a conversation or meeting is rude. One of my biggest frustrations early this year was feeling like I wasn’t in the room for important discussions. Out of frustration, I started pestering folks to be invited to meetings and inserting myself in hallway chats if I had something to contribute. I’m sure I stepped on some toes. Saying “can you add me to that meeting?” felt as rude as asking “Why didn’t you invite me to your birthday party?” but I did it anyway. Eventually, people started offering me invitations to meetings before I had a chance to ask. I even got invited to a couple of meetings where I wasn’t sure I would be helpful. In most cases, I was right, and a thanked them for the chance to join but suggested we work together differently. But in some cases sitting in on another team’s weekly sync has been much more productive and pleasant for all involved than pestering folks over chat and email. To be clear, I’m careful to be respectful of people’s time, but I am learning that it is more effective to let someone say “no” to my presence and invite myself in than it is to wait for folks to remember to include me.

The last big risk I’ve taken this year was to be more real and honest in my interactions with co-workers. When someone asked me in June why I seemed stress I told him the truth, I was about to move in with my partner, instead of just saying “it is a personal issue.” I’ve made a point to ask my manager questions about my career and interpersonal interactions in my 1:1s instead of just giving him status reports. Telling him in short, simple words what my career goals are and where I knew I was struggling has been hard. But, now that he knows what my goals are, he has been a fantastic ally and ensures I’m included in discussions I didn’t even know where happening. Just today I asked him for advice on how to more clearly communicate to build trust with co-workers. Interpersonal skills have always been a challenge for me and opening up like that goes against everything I’ve been taught about how you comport yourself at work, but it has paid off for me. The memo this summer gave me another opportunity to discuss challenging topics like racism, sexism, immigration, and income inequality with co-workers. While “don’t talk about politics at the office” is standard advice for a reason, talking about these issues helped me forge relationships I wouldn’t have developed otherwise. It also made folks aware that I’m available to listen, if they want to talk. These new relationships have also increased my connections within the company which makes my day-to-day job easier.

Risk taking hasn’t always gone well for me. I’ve had to give some awkward apologies. I’ve had to double check that I didn’t cross a line when someone seemed to react badly to my words. And I’ve said some things that I later regretted, although thankfully mostly out loud and not in a recorded medium. I’m sure that I’ve lost some twitter followers and some blog readers; and there may be folks who are sick of hearing me rant about developer happiness and developer productivity. But even if that’s the case, the net effect has been positive.

I don’t have a theme for next year picked out yet. I’ve enjoyed some of the mentoring I’ve done this year so I may choose mentoring as my focus. I’m also thinking about “trust” and “effectiveness” as themes. I’ll let you know what I decided next year about this time.