Monday, August 29, 2016

Can Coworkers Be Friends?

So I know that previously I've written about relationships with coworkers (mostly negative or tricky ones). But as I've transitioned from school life to work life (especially when I moved far away from my home town), I've found that some of my coworkers have become my closest friends. The kinds of friends who I talk to more regularly than my high school bffs years after I left the job (men and women alike). I'm actually going to weddings for several coworkers from previous jobs or internships this year.

Pros of coworker friendships:
  1.  You can talk to them about your day and they totally get it. Since they understand your industry, they can understand some of the nuances in your day that others may not. And since it's their industry, these stories don't bore them to tears (like some of your non-work friends and family).
  2. It's great networking! Especially when you end up moving your separate ways, you end up with strong professional connections at a range of organizations. 
  3. If you work together, chances are you have the same (crazy) schedule. If you have to cancel for work reasons, they totally get it. 
  4. They can be co-mentors. Even if they are not above you in rank, you can share honest feedback with each other to help each other improve as professionals. I talk through difficult professional situations with ex-coworkers all the time.  
  5. They have your back at work. If they see you being criticized, they can defend you when you can't defend yourself. If you are having a tough time personally, they may even try to pick up the slack at work until you get back on your feet.

On the flip side, like regular friendships- some co-worker friendships don't work out for whatever reason. Be aware of this going in, because having a frenemy at work can have a profound impact on your professional life.

Things to keep in mind when you are with work friends:
  1. Don't play into the temptations of the work gossip mill. Especially early in a friendship, don't give them ammunition to tell other people, "Vanessa said that she HATES you because..."
  2. Drinking to excess with your coworker friends on a regular basis is a no-no. Work besties aren't the ones you want holding your hair after too many shots of tequila- if only because then they'll think of you as being irresponsible. 
  3. Promotions, and changes in responsibility can impact your friendships. Be honest with yourself about which friends will support you and which ones will be jealous, and try to introduce changes in your friend dynamic accordingly. 
So, be aware of the fact that these friends are work friends - but don't be afraid of making some real connections with your coworkers. My work friends are a lot of the reason I love my job, and my ex-coworker friends are amazing. They've helped support me through low points, celebrated my successes, been a sounding board when I feel lost, recommended me for future opportunities, and all together been an invaluable resource for me. I hope that all of you find some special coworkers who will be the same foundation for you.



PS. What experiences have you had with coworkers who crossed over to friends? Are they still close, or was there a catastrophe?

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Thursday, August 18, 2016

The stresses of starting a new job

Starting any new job can be incredibly stressful.  It doesn't matter if it's in Aerospace or not. That being said there's something oddly terrifying about starting a dream job launching rockets.  Don't get me wrong. I love what I do, but.... What if I mess up? What if the rocket blows up? What if it's all my fault, and it comes back to me, and I get fired, and there goes my career, and my life is ruined, my life is over, WHAT WILL I DO!?!?! ............

Ok, now that we've been reminded of the absolute most extreme positively worst thing that can happen, let's take a step back. :)

Here are the 5 things I've learned from starting a new job:

1. You are NOT perfect. 
Let's be real with each other. You WILL make mistakes at a brand new job. Even if you've had 30 years experience. Embracing this fact makes the world a lot less scary and takes away the extra anxiety that the type A personalities (such as myself) tend to put on themselves.  Things happen. As long as you learn from that mistake (and I mean GENUINELY learn, not just "yeah yeah I know"), and do everything in your power to rectify it, everything will be ok. No one will look at you cross-eyed in the hallway, no one will give you grief. Wanna know why? Because chances are they've made that same mistake maybe even two or three times before you.

2. Take it easy. 
We have all heard this before, but Rome was not built in a day. You will not know every little acronym, analysis, or forcing function thrown your way off the top of your head. Don't rush through your work. Rushing only causes more mistakes, and means you haven't fully taken the time to understand what you are doing. Are you able to explain the details of the work that you do? Do the results make sense? If not, there might be a problem with how fast you are going.  If you get something done quickly, then great! Give yourself a pat on the back and feel good. If it took you a while to get that analysis done or that drawing change done, don't sweat it! Patience is a virtue for a reason.

3. There is always someone better than you, but NEVER stop questioning/asking questions. 
You may work with people who have just started and know nothing, or with people who have been an expert in their field for 40 years. Regardless of the background/history/heritage, always ask questions and never stop wondering why. Innovation comes when human beings question the status quo, when we ask "Can this be better?" or "Why does it have to be done this way?" Some people get stuck in their ways, and it's a good thing that you are there as a fresh set of eyes. Seeing something for the first time means you offer a new perspective. Now I'm not saying be a jerk, and tell the certified engineer who happens to be a fellow and AIAA tech lead "You're wrong, that's not right, butt head." However, you could say "Can you explain to me why this Navigation system uses this this this and this instead of methods A,B,C,and D?" Engineers LOVE to talk about what they do. Give them a chance to tell you why, and show you how awesome your new job will be ;)

4. It's going to feel overwhelming. You are going to feel like you are drinking water from a fire hose.
But honestly, if it doesn't feel overwhelming or like a brain overload, then you might be doing it wrong. Even if you have experience in that field, take the time to learn as much about everything as you can.

Credit to Jorge Cham 

5. Stop trying so hard.  
There will always be people who don't like you at first, who feel threatened by your presence, or simply disagree with the fact that you were hired in the first place. Don't worry about those people. Focus on you. I know that's easier said than done, but let's be real. There are always people in life who won't like you, and you can't change that. Let them be. If anything, they are missing out on an amazing person and a good time ;) Give yourself some credit and realize that just because someone on the team doesn't like you, doesn't mean it's the end of the world, or that the rest of the team feels the same way. Maybe that person needs to work through some of their own issues, or they are going through a hard time. No, that doesn't make it right that they didn't give you a chance, or they treated you poorly, but let them be. Let them deal with their own issues. You just started a new job, you've got bigger and more important things to worry about.  ;)

Love from your favorite Aerospace geek,

Monday, August 15, 2016

How to survive a layoff (Part 1)

I work (as I have briefly mentioned before) for a utility,  which is arguably one of the most stable positions you can have. We don't go out of style like the latest gizmo,  or tend to suffer catastrophic failures like most highly traded companies. People will always need water, electricity, gas, telephone lines and internet infrastructure. Which is why you can imagine that the announcement that we were going to restructure and cut a significant amount of our staff came as quite the surprise.

In the immediate aftershocks, I learned three things about layoffs:

The first thing I learned about layoffs is that the fear of losing ones job is palpable and spreads through a group of people  faster than the zika virus. It starts with one vocal negative person who preaches the layoff like a conspiracy theorist with a cardboard sign preaches the apocalypse. They ask people questions like "how do you KNOW it won't be you"  and "whose going to feed your family once that severance check runs out". Given, for the few people like me with no real "roots down", this tactic doesn't really work. But it does mean that everyone else starts to freshen up their resumes and then people who weren't worried before start to be concerned about what will be left of the organization when all is said and done. Will all the other good employees have jumped ship?

The second thing I learned is that,  as odd as it is,  this is an excellent opportunity for  building community (should you decide to use it). The general turmoil sets the stage for some of the most real conversations I have had with my coworkers. With nobody guaranteed a position  we start to open up about where we see ourselves in the future, we help each other with resume reviews,  we give each other advice and feedback on how we can become successful. Maybe this was unique to the people with whom I worked,  but after some time together we are a family who really takes care of each other.

The third thing I learned is that I could use this as an opportunity to get some really great feedback. I've sat down and had some serious conversations with my management where I have solicited their advice on how I should handle the whole thing, where I stand in the organization, and what they see as my career progression. As much as I pride myself in being a take-no-names go getting business bitch,  I am still oddly timid about brazenly asking for advice on how I can develop myself professionally. Something about this whole situation made me feel less awkward about scheduling time with people I respect to try to get some clarity.

So, in my opinion, step 1 of surviving a layoff is realizing that the world does not start and end with a single job. There are positive things that come along with any major change, and this may be the beginning of a great chapter of your life. So while you should take whatever action you need to be comfortable, don't listen to the harbingers of doom because this is not the end of the world.



PS. What are your experiences with layoffs? Did anything positive come out of it?

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