10 ideas about 2.5 years
By James SheddenNov 20168 min read
About two and a half years ago, I decided I fancied a change from working for myself designing & building WordPress sites in my bedroom, so I applied to work at GoCardless. From the website I wasn’t totally sure what the company did, but from what I could find on social media it looked like a group of people who were having a lot of fun working together building something they were proud of.
An image from the GoCardless jobs page at the time I applied, featuring Kit, James, Andy, Helen, Phil & Charlotte
After a quick Skype chat, a take-home challenge to test my design & front end chops and finally a trip to the GoCardless office, I left my final interview realising that I really cared whether I got the job or not. On the way back to the bus stop I reasoned that I would soldier on following a rejection — but that I would be really disappointed if I ended up not being able to work there.
My train of thought was interrupted by a phone call from Hiroki, GoCardless co-founder and CEO, making me an offer that I excitedly accepted on the spot. I never made it to my bus stop because I got another call from Andy, who worked at GoCardless as an engineer at the time, inviting me on a company outing to a roller disco in Vauxhall that evening — so I turned around and went back to the office to join the team for some Turkish takeaway before we all headed out.
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Over that time I’ve collected a handful of ideas about doing a good job & working well with others. Some of these I brought with me to GoCardless; some have formed whilst I’ve been here; none of them can I claim a 100% track record with — but I thought that writing them down might make sticking to them even easier.
A photo I took after arriving at my desk on my first day at GoCardless
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1. I want to keep asking questions until I understand
When I joined, I had so much to learn in order to become productive — there was no option other than to ask questions until I understood the answers. Over time it became more normal to get stuff done without help and asking questions naturally started to feel less essential.
It’s easy to… let conversations progress without fully understanding everything being said, but I’ll do a better job & learn loads by always digging until it all makes sense.
2. I want to help my workmates get their work done
When I’ve been stuck on something, it’s been amazing when someone has clearly outlined the steps I needed to follow to solve my problems, rather than just ushering me in a general direction.
If you tag me in code review, my goal is to help you ship your code — and the quality of my feedback could mean the difference between that happening in the next five minutes or the next five hours.
In verbal communication I try to be succinct when someone asks me to help them understand something they need to get on with their job — something I’ve kept in mind especially after getting feedback that my “considered nature can sometimes lead to giving more context than required”.
It’s easy to… feel like there isn’t time to go the extra mile when helping someone else — but I want to keep in mind that I’m not the only one trying to get stuff done.
3. I want to receive feedback that helps me get better
Every six months, GoCardless employees review each other. Over time, I’ve gone from needing to hear good things (looking for validation that I’m doing well at a new job) to being keen to hear bad things (looking for anything specific that I can spend time improving).
I’ve also sometimes sent out my own feedback forms in between the official review seasons to make sure that anyone who works closely with me has an earlier chance to let me know anything I could be doing more or less of.
It’s easy to… settle into a groove and just get on with my job, but I will get better faster with constructive feedback.
4. I want to give feedback to my workmates to help us work better together
If someone is making it harder for me to do my job well, it’s not fun and takes guts to give feedback to that person to improve the situation — hence me not doing it nearly enough.
It’s easy to… not express myself following a negative interaction, be a bit annoyed for a while and move on, but I think we’ll both learn something if I can give some constructive feedback.
5. I want to take a notebook to a meeting rather than a laptop when possible
This only applies to meetings where it would be permissible to have my laptop open — there are lots of meetings where that simply wouldn’t be appropriate and there are also some meetings when I need my laptop for demonstrating something.
I aim to take notes in every meeting and I’ve noticed that when I’m poised to jot things down in a notebook I listen more intently & leave the meeting with a better understanding of everything. Conversely it’s rare that a laptop doesn’t become a distraction — and it ends up needing to be firmly closed when people are talking anyway.
It’s easy to… take a laptop to every meeting out of habit, but for me it’s often more distracting than it is useful for the discussion.
A group shot from sometime around August 2014 — I’m second left in the front row👋
6. I want to describe a solution before I try implementing it
Before GoCardless, I rarely spent enough time in advance thinking about a technical solution — I just hacked stuff until it worked. Too many times I uncovered hidden complexity after having invested significant time in a solution before this one really clicked.
It’s easy to… jump straight into the code and hope for the best, but it’s better to spend time scoping problems out and solve as much as possible on paper before attempting to build anything.
7. I want to think about what I’d like to work on
I turned up to GoCardless on my first day just hoping I could be useful. I was lucky to have people looking out for me to make sure I had things to work on that they knew I’d do a good job of.
One piece of feedback I got quite regularly is that I didn’t speak up enough about what I actually wanted to work on. People left, I became more senior and it became my responsibility to decide what work I wanted to lead on, which I initially found challenging due to previously relying so much on others to direct my focus.
It’s easy to… passively let decisions happen around me, but it’s dangerous to not have a good idea of what would make me happy to work on or the confidence to communicate it.
8. I want to be in as few meetings as possible
This one’s just a reminder to myself to make sure I always question whether it makes sense for me to be in a meeting or not — or, if I need to discuss something with one or more people, to question whether a quick “hey, are you free for 5 mins for a chat?” on Slack would suffice.
It’s easy to… see something turn up in my calendar and go along with it, or to start booking out times, rooms & guests every time I need to discuss something with others — but it’s good to consider what the best use of everyone’s time is, including my own.
9. I want to use principles to do better work
Whilst at GoCardless I’ve seen us work on a company vision; on team themes that helps us focus on the right problems each quarter; on design principles for projects. Done right, each of these should essentially be tools that help us make consistent decisions with confidence.
Since I’ve been here I’ve realised the importance of having solid frameworks like these to inform everything we do, whether we’re prioritising a project, making a decision on a candidate, or solving a design problem.
It’s easy to… justify opinions on the fly, but I can make better, quicker decisions with guiding principles.
10. I want to create the culture that I think should exist
During my first weeks at GoCardless, I gained a strong first impression of an entire company and its shared culture — but naturally it was the people I worked closest with who most impressed certain values on me, like Al who was great at making the most of flexible working, finding time for side projects & generally being a lovely guy to work with.
An individual can really influence how you perceive a company’s culture and when they leave it can feel like they’ve taken an important chunk of that culture with them. If they’ve done a good job of leading by example then those values aren’t gone, because now you care about them too — but it becomes your job to keep them going.
It’s easy to… quietly observe the gradual change of my workplace as the team & product evolves, but I want to actively maintain the culture that I cared about belonging to when I applied to work here two and a half years ago.
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Thanks for reading! What do you think of the above? Do you have similar ideas, or maybe totally different ones? Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.