Goals of this article:

  • Learn the role of your professional standards in your career
  • Discover the role of lexical knowledge in becoming a professional
  • Let go of fears of making time-estimations and learn how to estimate your tasks more accurately
  • Learn how a professional negotiates

When amateurs appear to have lost motivation, professionals still reliably do their best to make a difference. Instead of random actions, professionals form habits that serve them. The daily routine of a professional boosts their efficiency, maximizes their energy, and they almost always appear prepared to do any job.

Although professionals have very high standards, they are not perfectionists. Professionals exactly know when the quality of their work meets their standards.

In fact, the chapter on yourself is all about professionalism. Eliminating procrastination, having a high self-esteem, emiminating your limiting beliefs shape you to become a someone others call a professional.

Professionalism is one of your greatest assets. You will feel better about your work, and other people will also treat you more seriously.

If people take you seriously, you will have a lot easier time at the negotiation table. As long as the other party will figure out your intentions, they will most likely support you. If not, you will easily find another job anyway.

Define your standards and stick to them

Why are professionals taken seriously? First of all, instead of finding excuses, they always take responsibility for their work. Second, they have an internal code of quality standards. While amateurs do whatever other people ask them to, professionals act according to their own quality standards.

A professional tends to take calculated risks. While amateurs fear of getting fired, a professional is expected to give advice regardless of whether the advice is appreciated or not. In other words, the opinion of a professional does not depend on expectations of others.

Suppose that an amateur and a professional are asked to complete a project within three months, and both of them know that they would need at least nine months for a professional solution.

The amateur commits to trying his best. In the minds of their managers, trying his best means that responsibility is now on the developers, and they committed to finishing the project in three months.

In his book The Clean Coder: A Code of Conduct for Professional Programmers, Robert C. Martin argues that the best decisions are made through confrontation of adversarial roles.

When unprofessional developers say, “OK, I’ll try”, they often want to be the heroes of the day. This is a dream that never comes true. Becoming a hero is a side-effect of being professional. Unprofessional work will never be celebrated.

When it comes to self-confidence and self-esteem, a professional does not need any celebrations. Professionals tend to know their value.

If someone aspires to become a hero at the expense of delivering an unprofessional solution, chances are, it is an act of overcompensation for the lack of self-esteem caused by lack of professionalism.

Your self-esteem grows as you act according to your values. Values are what you focus on. As a software developer professional, professionalism tends to be important to you by nature. This is why delivering an unprofessional solution, or saying things like “OK, I’ll try” are very dangerous to your self-esteem.

Under some circumstances, a professional is ready to get fired. Under other circumstances, a professional resigns before getting fired.

One aspect of salary negotiations is that you have to recognize where it makes sense to start negotiations. In case your manager sends you out on an impossible mission, and they do not respect your opinion, you have no other choice: you have to find a different job. Think about it. If you say no, there will always be an amateur volunteering for the job. If you say yes, eventually, your managers will think, the reason of low quality work is that you are not good enough.

Be ready to resign, and find a better job, where professionals are respected.

In some circumstances, a combination of assertive and agressive communication may establish your credibility even in unprofessional environments. The question is if you prefer staying in that environment. After all, you have one life, and these roles rarely contribute to your self-actualization.

If you commit to being a professional for the rest of your career, you will have options by the time you feel like changing. In other words, you will be able to afford to disagree and leave autocratic or tyrannic employers.

Admit when you don’t know something

In our culture, we often mix professionalism with knowing everything. My personal code has always been against putting too much emphasis on lexical knowledge. This is the reason why I tend to surprise many applicants in tech interviews.

It is well known that beyond soft skills, tech interviews often focus on facts. I rather put focus on open book tests, and problem solving skills. For this reason, we have never had to fire anyone during probation.

Professionalism comes with the knowledge of solving professional problems based on your experience and common sense. It is absolutely all right to refresh your knowledge in case you are not competent in a given field. People will get used to the weight of your opinion, and know that sometimes you have to do your research in order to formulate a dependable opinion.

Even though lexical knowledge does not make you a professional, it still brings you forward. Most professionals share the value of curiosity. A professional tends to look everything up to fill knowledge gaps. A professional spends hours every week studying. Building lexical knowledge will be a side-effect of professionalism.

Our mind works in a way that the more we know about a subject, the more associations we can formulate. The more associations we use, the better our problem solving skills will become. People with good problem solving skills tend to have above average lexical knowledge.

Extending your lexical knowledge without putting it into practice is close to useless. This is why I encourage you to put your ideas into action, and learn by doing. More associations will be created in your brain.

Time estimations

Most people fear about estimating time needed for completing a task. One reason of this fear is status anxiety, dependance on the opinion of others. Our super-ego may tell us, giving time estimations is dangerous.

In our fears, once we miss a deadline, we are regarded as less reliable. Not meeting deadlines appears to be highly unprofessional on the surface. Our inner critic will start blaming us for being late. Eventually, you will literally feel physical pain while announcing a deadline.

This fear has to stop. Shift your mindset!

Let’s explore the myth of deadlines. First of all, the problem with them is that the word deadline contains dead. This is a word with negative energy. I hardly ever use this word, even when coordinating milestones. However, there is not much we can do about the word, it’s part of the English language.

I normally propose using the phrase target date. It does not only sound soft, but it also emphasizes that it is only a target. In other words, in case something unexpected happens, the target date can be moved.

I do use the word deadline only to highlight critical tasks. For instance, if a client asks us to complete a task in two weeks, and they may leave us causing my company to lose 100 times my yearly salary, it is worth making sure that we communicate the severity of the situation. As long as you use the word deadline sparingly, other people will do their best, and they will also back you up.

When it comes to estimations, a professional creates best case, average case, and worst case estimations. Depending on how the business reacts, out communication should be shifted accordingly. For instance, if they only listen to the best case scenario, it is your duty to inform them that a best case scenario is not a binding estimation. If they ask you to try your best, make it clear that “trying our best” is our default behavior.

Always check all the dependencies, plan your tasks properly. Apply tolerance on target dates. When something can go wrong, will go wrong.

Calculating with tolerance necessary for handling unexpected situations. Professionalism comes with a tolerance factor in time estimations. “Trying our best” does not use shortening or eliminating this tolerance as the basis of an argument.

If your employer says, your estimation needs to be modified such that you finish earlier, first do your best in trying to reduce the scope of the project you are targeting. Do not reduce quality of work under any circumstances!

Reducing the scope also appears in The Clean Coder. Robert C. Martin emphasizes the importance for striving for the best possible outcome. When an impossible demand is formed, a subset of the features can be deployed on time, within budget, meeting your quality standards.

Using the terminology of the previous section, striving for the best possible outcome is an assertive behavior. The strength of your message comes from high self-esteem. You know that your message is important, and you are not willing to get into conflict with your own values.

If your employer tends tries to force deadlines on you that don’t make sense, make sure you work on yourself in order to be in a position to resign as soon as possible.

Unhealthy time pressure compromises the quality of your work, the quality of your life. Don’t end up spending money on artificially repairing the damages your unhealthy employment situation.

Professionalism and negotiation

The fact that you are a professional, should not be directly used at the negotiation table. Your actions should communicate professionalism, and not your statements about yourself.

Think about it. If you wear a T-shirt with the message “Nothing to Prove”, you are trying to prove that you have nothing to prove. This is a contradiction. Using the phrase “I am a professional” communicates that given you are not sure whether your employer knows you are a professional, chances are, you aren’t a real professional.

Therefore, your standards should communicate whether you are a professional or not. During negotiation, make sure you define your own standards. Constructively suggest ideas that benefit your team and your company.

If you see that the company is not doing something professionally, make sure you don’t start complaining without offering a helping hand. Seek cooperation, not competition! If you show your employer why it is beneficial for them to apply your standards, they will be a lot more open and grateful. A narcissistic bragging and complaining person who preaches his standards instead of making things happen is just as welcome as the messenger bringing bad news with him in the middle ages. Avoid narcissism, be positive, and lead by example.

Summary

A software professional’s attitude relies on strong willpower. A professional defines high standards and sticks to them. Integrity is never at stake for a software professional. Professionals don’t fear about getting fired, therefore, they get promoted more often than their pears. A true professional never hopes. A true professional gives estimations according to the best of his knowledge even if it costs him his job. After all, if someone fires a professional for doing his best, it’s not a company worth working for. As true professionalism is rare, a professional will always have great opportunities to choose from.