Julia Evans

Writing down my career

I’ve been working at my job for 3 years now. That feels weird because my total programming career so far is 5 years, so 3 years is a big chunk of it.

At the beginning of January this year, I started wondering – what have I really done here? Am I doing things that are worthwhile? What should I be doing differently? It feels pretty worth thinking about because I have spent 3 years doing it 40 hours a week every week.

So I had the idea to just write down every single thing I did in my career here so far. I mentioned this to my manager one day and he was like “great idea, julia!” and wrote up a helpful format for me to put it in.

the format

here are the basic sections:

  • Projects
  • Design work & documentation
  • Collaboration & mentorship (did i do an extra good job of reviewing code? did i help someone with a project a lot?)
  • Stuff that isn’t my job (sometimes I organize events and do other random tasks that aren’t part of my normal job. That goes here.)

I spent about half a day filling this out. I split it up by year (2014, 2015, 2016) and for each year wrote down everything I did that year. I tried to remember every major project I’d worked on, why we did the project, what the results were, whether it worked out the way we hoped it would or not. I was pretty honest because, well, it was for me and I wanted to understand what was working and what wasn’t. I ended up writing like 13 pages of details.

I don’t really know that these are the exact right categories (would you use different ones? what are they?)

what I learned

Writing down all this stuff was pretty useful! It helped me see some patterns, like:

  • in my first year, I got a lot more guidance about what to work on than I did afterwards.
  • I didn’t write any design documents for the first 2 years, and then in year 3 I started doing that. Starting to write design documents was really great.
  • I really do not write a lot of documentation at work, even though it’s something I thought I valued.

and a bunch more interesting-to-me things. It was really useful to look at projects that failed / didn’t work out the way I had hoped and think about whether I could learn anything. (and, conversely, look at the super successful projects and try to see what I should keep on doing!)

why was it useful?

Here are a few reasons I think writing all this stuff down was useful!

I decided I thought documentation was important, and that I wanted to spend a little more time investing in documentation for my team. I am happy about that, so far!

It helped me better appreciate people who have helped me along the way (wow, $person really did help me a lot, that’s awesome, I should tell them that)

I got a new manager pretty shortly after, and I could show it to him and he could see what kind of work I’d done previously. And then when he wanted to tell other people how great my work was, he had an easy reference to use.

Sometimes I worry that I haven’t accomplished enough good things (“3 years? what have I even been doing?“). Writing down a ton of facts about things that I’ve done at work helps assuage those worries a bit! (“hmm, well, that is a lot of things, I guess I was doing SOMETHING =D”)

reflection is good!

I think taking time to write down facts about what I’ve done at work was a really good thing to do! I really like the fact-based approach – “we did X! here is the reason we did it! here were the results!” instead of trying to evaluate everything (“I did a good job”). I think I will try to do it again.