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Why you should be surrounded by people who are better than you

I like questions, so I’ll start with a few that I’d like you to think about:

  • Who is the person you learn from the most at work?
  • Do you have a mentor? And if you do, how much time does he/she have for you?
  • How often do you receive feedback – about what you’re good at and what you need to improve?

If you don’t like your answers, ask yourself this:

  • What would be the level of your programming skills today if you’ve had a more experienced developer guide you along the way?
  • How much more efficient – and successful as a developer – would you be if you received regular feedback on your performance?
  • And finally, if you had all that, what do you think your salary would be today?

Are you stuck in a “golden cage”?

My name is Ivan Lalić and I work as the Head of Research and Development at Lemax, a software company from Croatia that for over 13 years has been developing a global SaaS product for tourist agencies and tour operators. Over the past few months, I’ve had more than 60 selection interviews with developers as we’ve been expanding our team quite a bit.

Inspired by their stories about why they want to leave their jobs, I recently wrote a blog post about the importance of having a good development process – and how not having it can impair your professional development. And hopefully, prompt you to find a better job 🙂

I feel the same way about this issue. Developers who don’t have a mentor, or at least a colleague to answer their questions, who have no one to exchange knowledge with, no one to give them feedback, no one to set high achievement standards and thereby challenge them to become better – usually do not become better. Instead, they remain in their “golden cage” for too long, feeling stuck with a secured position and a good salary, but with not much to show. And they usually regret it.

Culture of people empowerment

Because I see that things are quite different at Lemax, I wanted to share with you what it’s like to work here as a developer. By reading this, it is possible you will discover that you too work in a company that empowers you to become successful beyond your own expectations. It is also possible you will discover that you don’t. In either case, I hope to raise your awareness about how important this is if you want to grow.

1. We are a fast growing team of 60+ people, which includes 11 .NET developers – mostly mid and senior profiles. And since we all work on one complex application, it’s important to get a good intro when a person first starts working here. That is why we have developed a highly structured onboarding process with a bunch of written and video materials for each new developer to study.

What’s the benefit? New developers are not thrown into the fire, but systematically introduced to our business domain and strategy by more experienced developers, so that they can thoroughly understand what we do, why we do it, and how their work contributes to our company’s goals.

2. Apart from the onboarding process, every new person gets their own mentor who is here for all their questions. But even if the mentor is not available, there are other experienced members of our team whom they can always ask for help. We like to foster a culture where it’s not shameful to do so – even if you’re a senior dev yourself, and you’re “supposed to know that”. So, no ego-trippers here.

What’s the benefit? In this way, we don’t have to pause our tasks because we’re waiting for someone to answer our question. And consequently, we can all learn from each other daily and solve problems on the go, quickly and efficiently.

Just to emphasize: this doesn’t mean the answers are always served on a silver platter. Sometimes the most useful answer to a question is a counter-question that makes you think and figure it out yourself. That is, I believe, the quality of a good mentorship.

3. Additionally, we organize internal meetups every once in a while to share our knowledge and best practices that we’ve acquired along the way.

What’s the benefit? This helps us increase our collective knowledge and learn from each other’s successes and failures.

4. There’s also an internal library with a bunch of dev books, and a game-like activity where you can collect points for your extra effort and exchange them for a professional education of your choice (apart from the usual education opportunities).

What’s the benefit? I’ve noticed that expanding our pool of knowledge expands our pool of ideas about how to solve a problem and it stimulates innovation. Besides, it’s a fun way to do more than what’s required of us, and a rewarding one at that, too.

5. Furthermore, we like to give each other feedback – both through code reviews on a daily basis and formally twice a year. This means we make a detailed plan of how you can improve yourself as a developer (taking into account your desired career path), and then evaluate the results in six months.

What’s the benefit? This keeps us focused on taking concrete steps for upgrading our skills, and not just abstractly talking about self-improvement.

6. And finally, we have a detailed selection process where we choose candidates who are highly competent and willing to constantly learn and develop their skills, regardless whether they’re junior, mid or senior.

What’s the benefit? This has resulted in gathering a strong, cohesive team of smart, easy to work with developers (and other team members) who love what they do and who, if you ask me, make this company an outstanding place to work.

Why should you be surrounded by people who are better than you?

In conclusion, I believe we are the average of those people with whom we spend most of our time. And we spend 8 of our waking hours at work! This is why you should be surrounded there by people who are better than you. Because these people will set high standards for you, empower you to step out of your comfort zone and guide you along the way – so that you can grow as a developer, and as a person.

If you want to grow with us, check out our open positions in the Lemax Software engineering department. Otherwise, if you just want to meet us casually or share your experience, feel free to get in touch.

Until the next blog post,

Ivan Lalić

Head of R&D@Lemax