Jul 17, 2016

How to find outstanding people to work with?

A few years back, in 2010, I gave a talk to the graduating class of DIET as part of the IEEE Gold program. The topic was about "How to craft a successful engineering career?".  I had just finished little over 3 years at Microsoft and was looking forward to the next phase in my career. My talk was partly based on my own experience and partly based on what I thought were the key traits of successful software engineers. Among the slides, there was one about getting ahead in your career, where I emphasized on working with people who do outstanding work:

Recently, someone chanced upon the presentation and asked me the exact question - How to find the best people to work with? As I think more about it now, the advice to work with outstanding people seems obvious but is not very actionable. 

  • How do you find outstanding people to work with? 
  • What if they do not want to work with you? 
  • Do you really have the skills to work with such people?
  • How to create situations that require you to partner with the best?

I do not have best answers to these questions except my own experience. I will begin by highlighting that most times people don't chose their first job and make the decision based on companies coming to their university, grades cut off and city to work in. More often than not people find themselves in jobs they don't see themselves doing for more than a few years.

At the beginning of my career, my first job was not the most challenging and exciting role that I had imagined it to be. It was not pushing me enough to learn and I very soon grew out of it. As I was still very new at the company, I decided to explore more teams and their focus areas that would excite me. Not the easiest thing to do when you are just a few months old in your first company but the best and sometimes the only way to proceed further is to have an open discussion with your manager, but at the same time continuing to do good work in your current role. Your manager needs to feel invested in you and continue to believe in your good intentions to deliver outcomes for your current team. Managers and employers usually support career discussions if they are based on the need for more challenges and wanting to contribute more. This is one way to start exploring teams and people you see yourself working with.

Another tactic you can try is to figure out who is the most technical & outstanding person (or skills you relate with outstanding) within your team. Try to create and propose projects to work with them. It is often hard to do so as they may have limited time or different personalities. But I have found that there is a lot you can learn by being around such people.

If you cannot figure out the best people that you have something to learn from in your own organization you should look outside in the community. Attend meet-ups and professional conferences to network with people. Look for ways to contribute to an open-source project. By going beyond your immediate workplace you are more likely to find someone you would be energized to work with, learn and feel satisfied.

Sometimes, it may be the case that you may have a skill gap to reach where you aspire to reach and people you wish to work with. Ultimately, you have to also remember and answer the question for yourself that 'Why will outstanding people work with you?' When I decided that I wanted to build a career in research, I realized that getting a PhD is the minimum qualification. That meant going back to school for my doctoral studies. After I finished my PhD, I found that several new opportunities opened for me in academia and industrial research.

To work on outstanding projects and people, we should always aspire to do outstanding work ourselves. No matter what the role or the job, always strive to give your 100% and aim to be the best in the world at it. As they say - don't half-ass anything, whatever you do, always use your full-ass.