We're All Humans

When I joined 8th Light three years ago, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was a major adjustment. I had just left my job of 14 years where I was a jack-of-all-trades for a small real estate and property management company. It was a small team—just me, my boss, and a few consultants—and we were all very personable. I was used to giving hugs, chatting while we worked, and celebrating birthdays and other holidays with cake.

Walking into 8th Light felt like a much more corporate environment, and I wasn’t sure how I would fit in. I didn’t know if I’d be able to communicate with any of the software programmers. I was a little older, and I didn’t have the same background in tech.

I was issued a new computer on my first day, which was the first time I’d ever really used a Mac. All of the buttons and shortcuts were different. All of the apps I had to use were new to me—Slack and Google Sheets just seemed like more confusing versions of things I’d used before.

I was worried about asking others for help, because I didn’t want them to think I didn’t know anything. Before I even opened my mouth I could picture them saying, “Oh, you don’t get it?!” I didn’t want to make a first impression as someone who was unqualified to work in tech.

I relied on Google for everything. One day I found myself Googling what it meant to “ping” somebody. I was really asking for help on how to ask for help.

As I spent more time on the job and seeing what all went on around me, I realized that some of the developers would struggle a bit too. They would get stuck filling out forms or using some of our apps, and come up to our front desk for help. There would be shortcuts in Slack or Sheets that I found on Google, and was surprised when a developer didn’t know them. Didn’t they spend all day building this?

That’s when one of our executives explained to me what a software developer does. It turns out I was only partly right. They are writing these applications, but they’re deep in the weeds, not necessarily becoming an expert in how to do every specific task. It takes a lot of code and effort just to make really small features work well. Plus, each app is different, so even that knowledge might not apply.

This lesson made me start looking at apps differently. I began to understand what buggy software is, and that helped me out a lot. When I’m using an app and I see a glitch, instead of blaming myself for not knowing how to use it, I think to myself, “Oh, somebody messed up here, and they need to fix it—or get us to help fix it.”

Once I gained this perspective, I became much more comfortable in my job. I finally knew my way around Slack and Google Sheets, and I stopped being embarrassed if I needed to ask for help. I would get excited sometimes because I would actually answer a developer’s question about how to use them.

But the biggest change for me personally came when I had lunch with the software crafter apprentices. Up to that day I’d spent most of my lunches alone at my desk. The group of us would have lunch at the same time each day and chat. Once we started talking, I was so fascinated with all the things everyone did outside of the office. I was curious about all the different hobbies and projects they worked on, and most of them had nothing to do with code. We talked about vacations, gardening, cooking, crafting—anything and everything.

Our lunches turned into daily meetings, and I finally started to understand that while they might be coders and I might work in the back office, we’re all humans. This led me to another realization. For so long, I thought I was worried about accepting everyone else’s personality, and whether I could really work in such a quiet, corporate-feeling office. But in reality, what I was worried about was if everyone else would accept my personality. I like to dress up in festive outfits and bring in treats for holidays, and I wasn’t sure if it was OK for me to show these “fun” parts of my personality. It meant a lot when I learned that my new coworkers appreciated and enjoyed that part of me too.

I think there are a few different lessons to take away from my story. The first is that it is important to be comfortable exposing what you don’t know. You’ll often find you aren’t the only one who doesn’t know it, and you can start to build bonds over figuring it out. These days I have connections with at least somebody in every department and at every office.

I also learned that we’re all a team. We all have certain skills we can use and roles we can play, but in the end we shouldn’t always define each other by our jobs. Building an effective team and a positive culture depends on a lot more than just the items on our résumés. When we make connections and appreciate everyone as a human, we create more productive relationships and a more enjoyable workplace. When people feel accepted, they will be more willing to speak up and offer skills and expertise they might not even have known they had.

Lastly, I’ve learned that I’m not the only one who feels different. Now, whenever someone new comes into the office, I love being able to welcome them. Because no matter what experience or technical skills you have, at 8th Light I want everyone to feel at home.

Kim Carten, Executive Assistant

Kim Carten is an executive assistant at 8th Light in Chicago.

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