Work ethics in your twenties

I am in my first year of University, studying Computer Science with little enthusiasm. I realise that waiting till I graduate to gain any real work experience in my field is nothing short of procrastination. So, the first thing I do is teach myself Ruby on Rails, a cool web development framework a friend showed me and fascinated me.

To give you a bit of context, this happened roughly three years ago, when I was 20 years old.

A few months pass by and through a series of circumstances I get an offer to work part time for a nimble little startup of just four people. I’m excited, since it allows me to work with the new framework I had learned, so I take their offer.

Thus begins my journey into the real world. Until now, I had only experienced the educational system, which is rather lenient towards incomplete work. If I only completed 70% of an assignment, I’d still pass and I’d not feel any real consequences. Naturally, I apply the same logic towards professional assignments, not seeing anything weird about it. Silly me!

Even when I do complete what I committed to doing, I still feel genuinely surprised by the lack of praise. Throughout my whole life I’d been used to getting a pat on the back for doing precisely what I was supposed to do.

In a nutshell, I feel entitled to the attention of everyone around me, not caring how much value does my work bring. When I get stuck on the tiniest issue, I promptly go ask someone, instead of looking it up on the internet; then I’m again surprised they don’t particularly like interrupting their work to solve my problems. I think you get the picture by now.

Looking back, I don’t think I was a particularly special individual. Many of my peers shared the same traits I described above. We live sheltered lives, many of us being encouraged by our parents and friends to only focus on studying and getting good grades. Teamwork is a nice sounding word we don’t really get a grasp on. We think society owes us something for getting so far and act accordingly.

Additionally, for many of us, our first job of any kind is only after we graduate from the university. Telling this to a couple of older Canadian friends of mine left them completely baffled.

I consider myself lucky though. For about an year, I often have conversations with older, more successful people. My core friends studying abroad are now exposed to a broad range of cultures, many with a very structured attitude towards work.

We exchange ideas and I eventually start asking myself some questions. Do I want to have a mediocre life, strictly working within my job description, not even peeking out of my comfort zone? Can I live with myself if most of my day is spent working on something with little to no impact on the world?

It’s not that hard to just have a decent life, nor is there any real malevolence in it. There is however a waste of potential.

With this in mind, I start exploring my options. I feel more aware of myself, more humble. I see nobody owes me anything, but it doesn’t scare me anymore. I’m free to figure out the complexities of life. Within the start­up where I work, I get involved in as many areas as I can. I feel no longer constrained by the “programmer” label set by my contract. I start learning a lot. I try to contribute to whatever is needed, constantly asking for feedback.

There’s still much room for improvement and a long road ahead, but at least I now feel excited to tackle any new challenge life throws at me.

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