Dear future colleague, changing the focus from myself to others made me a better developer

February 5, 2020

Read time 5 min

Dear future colleague,

My name is Aku Kotkavuo, and I’ve been working at Reaktor as a software consultant for the past nine years. Little did I know what an adventure I was signing up for!

The past decade has been full of roaring laughter, learning, successes and failures. I’ve learned a great deal about technology, but even more about teamwork, humility, respect, and kindness – and these things have guided me towards becoming a real professional.

Without a doubt, the last nine years have been the best time of my life. I matured in the most supportive environment I’ve ever worked in. I’ve grown up to become like one of the people I admired when I first joined Reaktor, and I’ve been able to share some of what I’ve learned with the people who have joined after me.

I joined Reaktor at only 23, looking for a new challenge. Despite my young age I had decided to take a chance at applying to work for the top Finnish software consultancies. Reaktor seemed like the most interesting of the bunch, and to my great delight the interest was mutual. They took a chance on me and I became the youngest Reaktorian at the time by a number of years.

Over the following years I discovered how little I knew and how naïve I had been – in the best way possible, by following in the footsteps and working with real professionals. I was treated with respect and kindness from the start – it seemed like everyone wanted to unlock the potential I supposedly held within. Every Thursday evening we gather to our HQ to have fun and share what we have learned from our victories and fuck-ups alike, a tradition that continues to this day!

Growth often involves pain, and my journey was no different. After a number of projects, I had learned a lot, but I still felt I hadn’t been able to really prove myself, especially among my more experienced peers. This persistent, nagging self-doubt made me feel vulnerable. I became thin-skinned and defensive. I started jealously guarding my own productivity at the cost of my team. I grew a shell around myself and stopped listening to heartfelt advice from the people around me. I feared I maybe didn’t belong here after all, that the people recruiting me some years ago had made a terrible mistake.

Throughout all this, my friends never gave up on me. In a gentle way they made me see how I had progressed in some ways and regressed in others. They made me realize how I could really take the next step on my career: by caring less about myself and more about my team. The best way to become a mythical “10x developer” is to help everyone else around you to reach their true potential.

The framing inside my mind gradually changed from “how can I become a better developer” to “how can I become a better teammate”. This paradigm shift has been the map I’ve used to get where I am now and what continues to guide my future growth.

Over time this mindset resulted in the kinds of success I can now be genuinely proud of. Passing on some of these learnings to the next generation of Reaktorians, I feel like I’ve finally been able to reach some of what the people who hired me saw in me all those years ago.

One of the best things about working at Reaktor is being able to choose your own path. After working on our internal tools for a long time, I longed to get back into direct contact with a client. I started looking for an environment where I could get back into consulting and deeper tech. I set out my timetable for a rotation and started helping in sales efforts. We found a great fit for my existing skills and wishes with ZenRobotics.

ZenRobotics interviewed me along with two other candidates from Reaktor. I happened to be a really good match from a technological viewpoint: I have experience working in Python, Clojure, C++ and JavaScript, the main programming languages used at ZenRobotics. On top of this, I felt like I hit it off with the developers at ZenRobotics right away. I didn’t have previous experience with robotics or the type of machine learning used at ZenRobotics – areas I’ve since gotten much better at.

While the first few weeks are always full of wondering and pondering, it didn’t take long before I felt comfortable enough to start making concrete things happen. These first few contributions are important for developing trust: my job is to make changes, not just wave my hands.

Getting to know the people around me is always the key. You can’t effectively make change happen without knowing who is going to be part of that change. Trust opens avenues for deeper collaboration and better well-being. Now, nine months later, we’ve reached our original goals and are working full steam ahead on the next release. Lots of work remains to be done, but there is a sense of optimism in the air.

At ZenRobotics, I’ve learned a lot about what it means to ship software together with hardware and the additional difficulties it presents. You can read more about how we have helped at ZenRobotics here.

Even after a decade of working here I feel like I have a long way to go. As I grew up, so did Reaktor. We’ve increased our reach from a regional leader to a global agency, with sights set far into the future. I hope you’ll join us and see this amazing place to grow for yourself – there is so much more to look forward to!

Welcome aboard. Apply here.

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