Monday, March 15, 2010

Professionalism and what they don't teach you in college

All of a sudden, I feel like the committee that put together our schedule was brilliant.  They scheduled it on  the week of Daylight Saving Time, which gives us all a week to get used to the new time schedule.  If it were planned, I would be impressed, but I do get the feeling it was not actually planned and is just a coincidence.

I was thinking about something this morning, and it has to do with professionalism, and how these things are not formally taught in a classroom.  Specifically, I was thinking back to a moment about ten years ago, and how I personally didn't understand professionalism once I got in to the workplace.  My first place of employment out of college was an Internet startup, and the standards there were, shall we say, lax.  It was a rather informal environment, and it was a perfect adjustment for me coming out of college.

However, the Internet startup days were ending, and the company wasn't meant to succeed.  Many of the employees saw the writing on the wall and started to look elsewhere for employment.  A friend of mine worked at a place in Clifton, and I was hired there.  It was quite a change.  At Montclair State in graduate school, I remember we talked about this thing called COCOMO in a Software Metrics class, and we discussed how large companies and small companies differ.  I understood that on a logical level, but going from a company of 40 people to a company of 40,000 (really) was a culture shock.  Where I used to walk in to work in a football jersey and jeans, I now was expected to be in business casual attire.  Where I was used to not needing to be in the door EXACTLY at 8:30 am if I didn't mind staying later, I now needed to be.  Where I was used to being able to use the Internet at lunch time and at various points in the day to check personal email, it was now monitored and reported to supervisors.  I struggled with this, because I was doing a good job, and I didn't see why this other stuff mattered.

There was building access at ITT 24 hours a day, and there were times I needed to come in during off-peak hours to work on things.  I came in on a Sunday and worked 10 hours one day, because there was a limited number of systems we could use to test our software, and it made our lives easier.  Since it was a Sunday, and there was rarely anyone else there, I didn't think it was a big deal to come in wearing jeans and a t-shirt.  To make a long story short, one of the more established members of my department was also there, and told my boss, and he talked to me about it.  Another time, I was working overnight for the same reasons as I mentioned before, and I brought in music and a radio.  Since no one was around, I had the music playing loudly.  A similar situation arose, where someone mentioned it to my boss.  My reaction at the time was to wonder why these people were not minding their own business.  However, I sort of understand it now.  I had to drop my ego in order to really start to succeed in the business world.  I dressed the way that was expected, acted as if someone were around, even if they were not, and generally tried to behave the way other people in the company were.  I bristled at this, but it was my route to success.

I say this because I know employers complain about students sometimes, and the complaints typically are not about technical capabilities, but in the business savvy, or "soft skills".  A friend of mine was recently laid off, and I know from my personal relationship that they can be somewhat abrasive and irresponsible.  Companies, many times, make personnel decisions based on the way you fit in to a company.  Even if they say that they are laying you off because of cut backs, many times that is just a way to fire someone without having to show cause.  Things like dress code, business communication, taking constructive criticism...these are things that people are not necessarily taught.  My feeling is that college should be part of that.  When you as a student deal with a professor, it's a chance to practice interacting with a boss and authority figure.  When you are in college, some of the things you can get used to that will help you professionally are timeliness, maturity, responsibility, and how to be less egocentric.  These were some of things I had to learn, at least.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fuentes: You know, I-I'm a professional.
Creasy: That's what everybody keeps saying. "I'm just a professional". Everybody keeps saying that to me. "I'm just a professional", "I'm just a professional". I'm getting sick and tired of hearing that.

-Man on Fire