I've been abit lost in my job recently and feel disappointed by own performance. I'm part of an infrastructure team, and while the primary force pushing me forward is my personal engineering growth, I can't shake the feeling that the domain itself doesn't resonate with me. That said, being an average l4 I'm not in a position to switch teams.
What's keeping me going is the goal of self-improvement, which is helped from being surrounded by my incredibly talented colleagues, each bringing their unique strengths to the table. For instance, our senior engineer is an incredible communicator, teacher of concepts and general problem solver, another engineer is a coding machine and works extremely hard, and an L4 who joined at the same time as me is very customer-centric. In particular, it was through observing the L4 leveraging his strengths, while almost neglecting his weaknesses (he doesn't care as much about code quality and is quite argumentative) that I felt uncomfortable with my own trajectory. I've been so busy with trying to improve all my weaknesses that I'm now reflecting on whether I should focus on my strengths.
All of that said, I've been here for a year, and I'm struggling to pinpoint where my strengths lie. I'm willing to put more hours than others but for obvious reasons that should in no way be considered a strength (my manager described me as a hardworker, which i don't want to be known as haha). I'm also a very enthusiastic person and very open to feedback, but it leads me to being pulled in different directions. I don't think I can be an engineer that does it all and I think Amazon wants you to focus on your strengths through their conflicting leadership principles (e.g. bias for action versus insist on the highest standards, deep dive versus thinks big). I've been reading this book called Atomic Habits recently and it really focuses on the idea of identity and how that shapes your habits. It seems like everyone in my team has built an identity based on what they're good at, how can I find mine? And are there certain skills that provide higher ROI over others that I can perhaps focus on, given that I don't really have any strengths right now?
First thing, there's a fair chance you could be selling yourself short. You're always your own harshest critic after all. Do you have any recent performance reviews, 1:1 notes, or any other outside perspectives that may be able to provide a bit of clarity? These can help just by giving another angle, or you can try and have conversations with colleagues that you trust. Other avenues can be network connections and people you've worked with in the past.
Granted, I have had struggles with this myself in my job search, but sometimes it does just take a fresh set of eyes to give you a new perspective.
As for focusing on strengths, it sounds like your drive for self-improvement can be a strength that you should be able to sell. Perhaps this can segue into being very agile and adaptable. Focusing on strengths is usually more positive thinking, and it also will help you when seeking more winning situations.
I agree with Nicholas that you could be selling yourself short. Some of the things you can do to identify your strengths:
Look at your past projects and achievements and reflect what qualities helped you achieve them. I am sure you will find atleast a few
Talk to your coworkers to gather feedback. Look at your forte review.
Think about what motivates you, what you are passionate about it. This could be code quality or customer experienece or something else. This might already be your strength or can become one if you focus on it. Strengths can be developed over time.
While the leadership principles sound conflicting, think of them as guidelines and apply them based on the situation. You need not be demonstrating all of them but it's good to keep them in mind in your day to day work.
Overall, as long as you are working on improving yourself, you will do great.
Hope this helps.
Hi! Thank you so much for sharing all this information here on Taro! +1 Nicholas and Vaibhav, and I'll chime in with my two cents as well.
First of all, I want to commend your honesty and self-awareness in sharing your thoughts and concerns. It takes a lot of courage to open up like this, and it is definitely a crucial step toward personal and professional growth!!!!
Having only had 1 year of professional experience, I can relate to your feelings, especially the part where you mention that you feel like everyone else has found their niche. My ideology on this point is that all these people that you look up to, have more than likely gone through a diffuse path of confusion in different domains as well, and it is all part of the journey we're all in (together)!
When it comes to skills with a high ROI, it's a great idea to consider the industry's current trends and the direction your team or company is heading. Your willingness to put in extra hours can be channeled into acquiring these skills. You might also want to explore cross-functional skills that can complement your technical abilities and make you a more well-rounded engineer.
Furthermore, I really believe in the idea that you need/should enjoy something to be really good at it. Personally, I spend a lot of time outside of work to focus on my own ventures. I have explored and grown so much more, and I have imported things from my free time into work that has helped me accelerate my strengths. "I'm struggling to pinpoint where my strengths lie." -> Instead of just working on work you've been assigned, you can actually let your curiosity explore in new areas and places you might be genuinely interested in. For me, this has allowed me to clearly outline what I am actually good at, what I can improve on, and what I am not so good at but super interested in (where I can see a path of me learning and specializing). I don't recommend this to everyone, but it's definitely something that has helped me a ton.
Personal side note:
Try setting up a note taking system where you track progress on a cadence. I personally do this every week or so, and then I will take a look at everything after a couple of months. This has several benefits:
(1) You have written evidence of why you should be promoted
(2) It will help you communicate your weaknesses and strengths with your manager/mentor, and it can help them help you navigate your growth path!
Newer devs think that their manager tracks their performance, which is true to an extent, but if you just rely on that, you'll be disappointed in the long run. Depending on your team size, but if your manager is managing say 3-7 people, there is no way for them to have a fine grained understanding of all the work you've done and impact you've had.
(3) Your job hunting self will thank you a lot!!
Your resume will include information from your current role, your interviewer will ask you about your previous experiences, and in both these scenarios, it will hugely benefit you to have all of this fresh in mind and articulated in a coherent manner.
I wish you good luck!
Dumb question: Why do you need to have pre-defined strengths?
You're putting a ton of pressure on yourself to have a brand in some way, but there's no need to have urgency around that. For the first few years of your career, it's totally fine to do your job well and focus on learning. As you learn and tackle larger projects, your strengths will become more clear.
This is similar to the advice I give folks who are struggling to find a passion. Passion is an emergent property of doing hard work across months or years, not something you stumble upon during your afternoon. The best way to "find your passion" is, ironically, to stop looking for it: just do impactful work on important projects.