If at First You Don’t Perceive- Question, Question Again

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This post is part of our continuing series First job Friday where successful professionals share lessons they learned early in their career that have helped them get where they are today.

Steven Scott, now a Failure Analysis Engineer at Nvidia Corporation shares the impactful lessons he garnered from his first job out of college:

I was recently at a trade show and ran into an old co-worker from nearly thirty years ago. We chatted for several minutes about some of the people that we worked with, where they were now, and wondered if we might run into any of them. It was good to see Jim, and I said, “See you next year.”

As I continued through the show, I began to think back to the job I had when I first met Jim. I landed the job right out of college. One of my instructors had applied for a job in San Jose, California, and remembered that I had done well in her classes so she recommended that I apply as well.

First of all, this company regarded itself as a tough place to work, and prided itself on the fact that only tough people worked there. When I arrived for my interview, I had no idea that this was the company’s reputation. I was already uncomfortable wearing a suit, and nobody else around me had one on. The interview began with what would later be known to me as a “wolf pack”; four members of what would eventually be my group, as well as two members from elsewhere were there to greet me. I’m sure I began sweating instantly, but tried to remain cool. They fired all sorts of questions at me including how to write a program in a simple language. Somehow I survived the interview, and was eventually hired.

Once hired, I remember the first weekly meeting that our group had. The fact that my group consisted of three PhD’s, a vice president, my former instructor, and another guy that later turned into my boss was not the only thing that rattled me. What got me was that I didn’t understand 90 percent of what they were talking about. They spoke in acronyms and industry jargon I didn’t understand. I tried to look interested and just hoped that they would not turn to me and ask me a question. Thankfully they did not.

Then, something amazing happened. Little by little I could understand what they were talking about. That first job taught me to ask lots of questions, and be an active learner. In addition, I realized that no one knows it all at the beginning of their career; half the battle is a desire to learn and an internal drive to keep going even when you feel in over your head. Moving forward, I took every opportunity for professional development that was offered to me; eventually I was able to move to another group, and later another company. That was nearly thirty years ago, but I remember that first job like it was yesterday.

By sticking with a difficult position when looking for work elsewhere may have been easier, Steven Scott learned how to become an active participant in a complex workforce, and to seek out assistance while attempting to become familiar with a new vocabulary and environment. He learned that if he wanted to become an expert in a new space, he was going to need to get his hands dirty, ask questions, and get involved.

Shutterstock images:  Dusit & agsandrew