As developers, the world continuously shifts and evolves around us. New technologies emerge, business objectives change, and our teams transform to meet new realities.
But dealing with change is rarely easy. If your company has just announced a big shift in direction or a full reorg, what should you do?
First, take a deep breath. It’s going to be okay. If you need to do a five-sense check-in, do so now. Ground yourself. You still have a job. It might not be the exact same job you had yesterday, but that’s okay. Right now, it all feels really scary because it’s change, but it might end up being the best thing that ever happened to you!
You’re still here for a reason. For most of us, that’s not because you’re the best Java or Kotlin or Swift developer in the world (sorry, but you’re probably not). Most of us are still here because of the way we problem solve, because of the domain knowledge we have in a subject matter, or because of what a great team member or leader we are. It’s probably all the above.
Now you’ve caught your breath, let me walk you through my experience of navigating reorgs, before sharing my top tips for turning these challenges into opportunities.
Getting excited about a new direction
Back in the late 1990s, I learned C/C++ as an undergrad student. That’s what developed in for my first several years out of grad school. When Java was coming to prevalence, I recall being very firmly anti-Java… because that’s what all my C/C++ peers were.
Fast forward to 2005, I was working for a subsidiary of Comcast called GuideWorks as a C++/MFC developer. Our project was the first on-screen grid guide that allowed people to see what was on TV without having to look it up in the local newspaper (yes, that was a thing).
One day in 2006, I came into work and was told that our current grid guide product was being replaced with something called OCAP, and that I was being moved to the new team that would build this new guide – in Java!
I was devastated. I was terrified. So were most of my co-workers. I wanted to be excited! But I also felt like I needed to be angry, because everyone else was angry, and I wanted to fit in. But... I really did want to be excited.
So, I learned Java. And not only did I learn Java, I came to love Java. How was I ever a C/C++ fan!? I even became that person that was kept on projects because I was so good at Java.
When working on the new project, since we didn’t have UX pattern templates that we could re-use, I took it upon myself that each time I would build a new UX pattern for my own use I would build it generically so that others could leverage it.
Not only was I tapping into my own excitement of this new project and the clean slate it provided, but I was no longer afraid to show my excitement as I demoed the libraries I was creating to other developers.
And to my surprise, management noticed! Not the libraries I was building, but they noticed that a single developer being excited about the new direction was infectious, and one by one the other developers were getting excited about learning this new language. And they were getting excited about showing off what they were learning to the other developers.
Over a decade and many more operational and technological transformations later, I’m still here working for Comcast. I’ve worked on seven different versions of the on-screen grid guide. And while each version has been very different, the one thing that hasn’t changed is how people react to big changes in direction.
After each reorg announcement, I’ve seen the same patterns. The fear of change. The anger that a project folks have poured their hearts into might go away. Some people are scared about job security. Some threaten to leave. Some people do leave. New team members are brought in as experts in new domains, and may not always receive the warmest welcome.
Those are all understandable reactions, but they don’t help anything.
How to effectively navigate big changes
So, the next time you find yourself facing a big change in direction or a full reorg, what should you do? Here are my top tips for not just surviving big changes, but leveraging them as opportunities:
- Think about ways that this change can help your career. Are there new technologies, new networking opportunities, new people to learn from, or new domains to understand?
- Take inventory of what you love about the company – like your co-workers and your products – and remember that you still get to do all of that.
- Talk to your manager about where you want to be and what you want to do in the new structure.
- Embrace learning, whether it’s a new technology or a new process. But don’t do this alone. Start study groups and brown bags with your co-workers. People learn better together. Befriend any new experts that were brought in – they are there to help you become an expert too!
- Stay positive! Don’t get dragged down into other people’s narratives. Get excited about the things you want to get excited about.
And finally, I’ll give you the best piece of advice I ever got, circa 2008. A feature I’d worked on for over a year was dropped and my amazing team was split up to work on other features. I was angry. I actually cried at the office to a good friend. As he handed me a tissue, he said to me: ‘Leslie, it all pays the same’. And he was right. Because at the end of the day, it is a job, and we are still here… so keep calm, and reorg on!