Do what you need to do: The importance of doing the basics with excellence
A while ago I had an acquaintance who joined the company where I worked as a backend developer. As a member of a team I was closely associated with, I observe how well he performed in some tasks.
No one designed workflows like him, and his communication with the business area was excellent. He was loved by the entire team because he was always very present, always very willing. However, some members of his team expressed concern because he seemed to avoid more technical tasks. If there was coding involved, you can be sure it wasn’t him doing it.
Efforts were made to train him. The more experienced developers stayed after hours trying to help and teach concepts, but he seemed to have the necessary coding knowledge. In theory, he knew what to do, but in practice he never did.
After a few months he was fired. And how about his team? Surprisingly (or not), they ended up becoming more agile after his departure.
What is quite clear to me may not have been that clear to this dev at the time. Before being good at extra tasks, you need to be good at what you were hired to do.
Do (first) what you need to do.
No matter how organized a backend developer is, or how much he assists HR in hiring new people, or how much the team likes him: if he does not know how to code in an exemplary way, he will not be a good developer.
Before being impressive, be predictable. It may seem obvious, but the abundance of daily tasks can sometimes lead to deviating from core responsibilities. Some assignments always ends up being delayed or left aside, but you must take care that this only happens to secondary activities.
Dedicated individuals often want to excel in their roles, but that may end up not meeting managers' expectations precisely for trying to extrapolate what they are being paid to do without first doing the basics.
The rule for success in professional endeavors is to focus first on the obvious: A writer must, first, write. Marketing, image, negotiation, etc., are obviously important, but they are in the background of your main activity.
Proactivity is great. Being proactive with tasks that aren’t yours can become problematic
Of course, people and companies increasingly seek professionals with a wide range of skills. The market is competitive, and varied skills can be decisive to achieve a good placement. It is great that each professional is resourceful in resolving conflicts, that he is good at teamwork, that he is adaptable, communicative, flexible, but it takes focus and caution not to get lost.
Let’s consider a hypothetical example.
Imagine a data engineer who, as part of a team, is tasked with creating a new system. Imagine that during the development process she is constantly approached to assist new professionals, nothing related to the new system, only because of her exceptional teaching abilities.
In this scenario, if the engineer becomes overly dedicated to tasks outside of her own, how will she be able to create and implement good strategies, or define the best storage?
Time and energy are limited resources, and in her case, they are not being well invested.
While being proficient in guiding others is commendable, one must ask: Is someone misrepresenting the role of this engineer and overloading her, or is it the professional herself who is failing to set boundaries? Or is it possible that what is happening is a lack of prioritization of what is most important?
If someone is constantly removed from their main tasks for the accomplishment of another task, is it possible that this person’s talent is more useful in another project or in another sector?
That’s why it’s important to exercise caution when it comes to soft skills.
Soft Skills are important, but Hard Skills are irreplaceable
Your time is limited, and the tasks are endless. Striving to be a well-rounded professional is a very noble attempt and should be valued. The important thing is to know what to do first.
While you may be hired for your strong soft skills that align with the company’s values that, alone, doesn’t hold in the long run: you’ll have to push yourself enough to develop all the necessary technical skills to be excellent in the role for which you were hired.
With some luck, you’ll be able to extrapolate your tasks and do even more than expected, but that’s only worth it as a bonus. Ultimately, you will be recognized and evaluated based on your performance in your core function.
Have you ever wondered why certain people are never fired, consistently promoted, or protected from layoffs? Try to remember an example of member of the team that nobody likes very much, that is inaccessible or that does not have much interpersonal skills: the answer to their maintenance and growth is probably because he is excellent in his main function.
So, since no one can be good at everything, excel on what you were specifically hired to do.
A well-done basics remains the path to success
Regardless of new challenges and an ever-accelerating culture, doing the basics right is the real winning strategy. Once you have a strong foundation, you can then try in other areas, expand your skill set and push yourself to become an irreplaceable professional. The basics well done, however, will always need to be a priority.
It is critical to understand your role and focus first on your core responsibilities. This includes developing the core technical skills before anything else.
Soft skills are obviously relevant, just remember that is necessary to be careful when taking on parallel tasks. The limits must be clear, and the priorities even clearer. So, find out what your role is and try to focus on exercising it in the best possible way.
Anything beyond that is a bonus.
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