The Engineer: Fitting into the Work Environment
Hi guys! This week we want to talk about fitting into the work place setting. This topic is something I'm still learning how to navigate, but I'm hoping my perspective will provide you with some insight or inspiration.
Now before I get into the work environment, let me talk about undergrad days at Pitt. I was always one of the few black people in all of my classes. Ultimately, I graduated as the only black person earning a degree in Computer Engineering that year. Throughout my time I realized very quickly why so many black women choose not to pursue a degree in computer engineering; it's hard to fit in! I found it very difficult/almost impossible to relate to my classmates and when I didn't understand something, they weren't exactly the most welcoming. I did make a couple of friends in my classes my last year of school but for the most part, I walked the computer engineering path alone. I think undergrad is different than the real world because the connections you make in your classes really only need to last during that class time. Outside of class, you don't have to talk to them if you don't want to. In the work environment, however, it's different.
In the work environment, there's almost two circles you have to fit into: Your team environment and the company environment as a whole. Sometimes those circles intersect, however, a lot of times they can be drastically different. In this past year, I've been on two different teams and they were drastically different. When moving to this new team, when I thought that I had gotten into a rhythm and an understanding of the culture, I was made quickly aware that I wasn't.
The reason why fitting into your team is so important is because when push comes to shove, you want them to remember you as a valuable asset to the team and not someone that is disposable. Sure, it's great that you're really smart or possess high technical skills, but if they don't like you, don't be surprised if you're one of the first people to go. Little things like adhering to a similar dress code and coming in and leaving when your team comes in and leaves make a big difference. There's also some things that may require a little more effort such as going to team parties, after work events. Even if you don't feel like socializing, those also stand out a lot more even if it's not explicitly stated in your review. You have to show that you're a team player as well as someone who can work individually.
Truthfully, you’re probably not going to 100% fit in to your work environment. You’re likely going to be the only person on your team that looks like you and coming in brand new to an already established team can be intimidating. When I make a mistake, I find myself taking it 10x harder because I feel like I stand out more because I’m the only black person on my team plus I’m new. It’s important to find your community of people within whatever new space you’re in to support you, reassure you, and be your advocates. The more confident and adjusted you feel in your work environment, the brighter you will shine.