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27: Ensuring Professionalism - Rules I Practice

Published 3/16/2015

In this episode, I discuss some of my personal rules for maintaining a reputation of professionalism.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Do Developer Tea? My name is Jonathan Cutrell, and today I'm gonna be talking about professionalism. So what is professionalism? It's kind of a difficult question to ask because it's different for everyone. One person might think it's professional to wear jeans and a t-shirt to work. And who's to say they're wrong? A lot of people might would say they're wrong. I wouldn't. I like jeans and t-shirts. I think they're comfortable, and I think it's okay to be comfortable in a professional environment. But it's not just about what I think. And it's not just about what you think. In fact, it's not about what any particular person thinks or believes. It's about understanding the fact that what you do has an effect on the perception that people have of who you are. And sometimes that perception is very difficult to control. But you're not completely hopeless. There's not absolutely no societal norms that will help inform you. And so I'm gonna share with you some of the things that I have practiced in order to ensure that people around me see me as professional. I'm not gonna say this is a one shot solution or that these are the only things you should be practicing in order to be considered professional. But here are a few things that I have been practicing in order to appear as a professional. Number one, do not try to sound smarter than you are. I can't stress this enough. The things that you say are incredibly important. Your words are powerful. So don't try to sound smarter than you are. Now why is this important? Well, because if you do try to sound smarter than you are, and there are people in the room who know what you are trying to talk about, but failing to talk about properly, then those people are going to pick up on it. In other words, the people who are smart can tell when you're being phony. They can tell when you're lying. And when you lie, it's very difficult to trust you. It's very difficult to trust somebody who lies, even about their own knowledge in order to make themselves look better because that shows that they are not willing to admit when they're wrong. That shows that they are willing to sacrifice integrity in order to look better in the given moment. And it also shows that you're not very smart. If you're trying to sound smarter than you actually are, well, then you're revealing weakness that otherwise, if you were to just keep your mouth shut, people wouldn't know that you had that weakness. So it's better to just stay quiet and take in what others are saying around you. Ask questions. There's never anything wrong with asking a question. There are never any wrong questions. Of course, sometimes it's better to say silent than to ask questions, but there are very often very appropriate times and ways of asking questions. So that, guess what? Next time you have that conversation, you're not going to sound like you don't know anything because now you do. Once you ask questions and the smarter people in the room have an opportunity to teach you something, then now you know. Now you are smarter and you can talk authoritatively about something. You don't have to act smarter than you are. And people will pick up on the genuineness of you asking a question. And they appreciate the opportunity to be able to teach. People appreciate the opportunity to be able to answer questions. So don't try to sound smarter than you are. Instead, opt to ask questions. This is good for everyone. It's good for you because you learn. It's good for the other people because they have the opportunity to teach you. And it's good for everyone who cares about being honest in a business context. Don't try to sound smarter than you are. Okay, number two, stop swearing in your code comments and stop swearing in your code commits. Like you're get commit messages. Don't swear. Why is this? And let me clarify. When I say don't swear, I mean be very sensitive in the things that you are saying in your code comments. It's not just a black list of swear words. It's also anything that might be offensive to a group of people near you. Why is this important? Well, you never know who is going to read your code comments and you never know who is going to read your commit messages. You might know who's going to read it today or tomorrow, but when you are writing to a project that is going to live, perhaps beyond your interaction with that project, it's very possible that someone in the future will read those commit messages and will read those comments. And if they come across something that is offensive to them for any reason, then it immediately degrades the integrity of whoever it is that wrote that thing. Now, we aren't going to get into a political discussion and we aren't going to get into what constitutes someone becoming offended and whether or not is OK to be offended. I'm simply trying to give you a guideline on how to live and interact with other people in such a way that will give you a sense of professionalism. So if you stop cussing in your code comments and cussing in your commit messages, that is offensive to a large group of people. And so it's an easy way to avoid a particular scenario where they feel offended. And it's not just to avoid offending people. It's also because when somebody sees a curse word or an offensive slur or something like that in your code comments and in your commit messages, they can take away from it that you don't care about who you are offending. And that's probably an even worse problem, right? Because if you are a reckless person, if you are somebody who is willing to curse regardless of the consequences, then you easily become a liability. You easily become somebody that is, you become a liability for whoever it is that has hired you to write this code. Because if you offend somebody and it causes a negative situation with a business relationship, well now that simple decision to curse in your code comments, it looks reckless. It looks like it is your fault, even though it might just be you expressing yourself in a situation where you thought nobody would see or care. So don't curse in your code comments and don't curse in your get commit messages, even if it's just a pet project. There's no reason to do that. You can curse in your text messages and you can curse around people who you know, don't mind it, whatever. But if you're trying to be professional, just don't do it in your code anywhere. Okay, so moving on, if you are in doubt about a post that you're getting ready to put on Facebook or Twitter, just don't do it. It's not worth it. And quite honestly, there are very few boundaries between our professional lives and our social lives. Now if you care a lot about it, if you really want to be able to express yourself, then you have the option of going private on Twitter and on Facebook. Unfortunately, Twitter and Facebook by default are a public thing. In your actions on Twitter and Facebook, matter to your professional life and they matter to your employer and they'll matter to your future self and your future employers. And it's kind of a public record. It's a public record of what you do. So you can't just do anything you want to and put it on the internet and expect that people won't change their opinions of you. So I say just default to the safe thing and don't post it if it's even questionable. There's no reason to sacrifice the perspective of professionalism in people who see your Facebook or your Twitter posts or whatever, or whatever thing you post to. Okay, so that's an easy one. I feel like if you have a problem with that, if you really badly want to post something to a social thing, then that's your choice and nobody can stop you from doing it. The question is, do you really want to be perceived as a professional? So run everything through the filter of, could I possibly be seen as unprofessional if I post this? And I would say make it a rule to not post it if the answer to that question is maybe. Okay, so the next thing is, it's not about what you wear. It's about what everyone else is wearing around you. I mentioned earlier in the show that I don't mind if people wear jeans and t-shirt, that to me, there's nothing particularly unprofessional about that. There are cases, however, when that is unprofessional. Now, how is that possible? Well, because our dress is intended to be something that fits in with the culture around us in an appropriate way. An appropriate is determined by the people of that culture. And there are plenty of cultures that are very different from the one that I'm in. For example, in San Francisco, you would see probably more people wearing the jeans and t-shirt that I talked about earlier than you might would on the East Coast, where I live, where a lot of people still wear the traditional suit and tie in the United States. And around the world, people who are listening to this podcast, what is appropriate where you are might be very different from what is appropriate where I am. So I can't give you rules on what to go and pick out and where to shop for your clothes. All I can say is that the people around you are what determine what is appropriate for you to wear in a business scenario. Whoever you are doing business with, for example, that is a consideration that you have to make when you wake up in the morning and get dressed and go to work. And again, if you have a problem with these things, then that's okay. Like I understand that it's not that great that we judge each other, our professionalism based on what color we're wearing. But ultimately, if you wear a lime green shirt, that's gonna change other people's opinion of you, whether or not it's right. So the rule of this is to act in a way, the rules that I follow rather are to act in a way that uphold people's opinion of my professional nature. And I'm okay with that. I've decided that I'm okay with not being able to express myself every single day by what I wear because I have to wear something based on my own rules for myself. I wear something that is appropriate for the place that I'm at and allows people to see me in a way that is professional. They see me as a professional because I choose to wear something that is culturally appropriate for my situation. And I recommend that you do too if you care about being perceived as a professional. Now, the final tip that I have for you is to be present. And this is particularly important for when you are in a meeting or when you're in an interview or when you are around other coworkers and you're having a conversation. Be present wherever you are, whatever it is that you're doing, be doing that thing. Quite often this means put your phone in your pocket rather than surfing Twitter in between every single silent moment and a conversation. You don't have to stay connected to the outside world as much as you might think that you do. Instead, choose to put away all distractions. I don't care what that distraction is. It could be a notepad. Maybe you're easily distracted by taking notes and you're not as present when you're taking notes. Put that distraction to the side and be present. And what this gives people is a sense of your care for their time, your appreciation for who they are, what they care about and for their attention. And when you give them your attention, that gives them a perspective of you and that is favorable. That gives them a perspective of you as a professional. Someone who is willing to give their time in very intentional ways and in controlled ways. When you choose to constantly check social media, it looks as though social media is controlling you rather than you controlling social media. When you are constantly writing notes, it looks as though you are instead of choosing to focus on the relational aspects of your human interactions, you're choosing to focus on some productivity aspect of your human interaction. And people would prefer that you choose the human, the human interactions first. That is a rule that I follow in my life. And once again, if you want to appear professional, I believe that these guidelines might help you do so. Thank you so much for listening to Developer Tea. If this show is providing value to you and there have been quite a few people who have reached out and told me that it is. You've told me how much you appreciate what this show is providing to you and the format and all of the conversations that I've had with guests. If this show is providing value to you, then consider giving back to the show by going to developertea.com, front slash donate, even a very small donation, monthly donation of like 99 cents a month. That makes a huge difference to me. I look at the people who are giving that donation and I see every single one of you who is joining on to support this show on a monthly basis. It means so much to me. I appreciate it so much. You can also support the show by leaving a review in iTunes. And if you want to ask questions or if you have feedback, if you have thoughts on how to be a professional, if you think that my ideas were just totally wrong, let me know on Twitter at at Developer Tea or by email, at developertea.com. Thank you so much for listening and until next time, enjoy your tea.