Don't Do Invisible Work - Chris Albon

Transcript generated with OpenAI Whisper large-v2.

don't do invisible work. I would actually say that probably the lesson to take away from this is that the most normie thing ever is to like fight for your work and to not do work that people don't see and to get credit for your work. So we will go through and you'll see a lot of the similar themes. So hi, I'm Chris. I don't know how to screen share apparently, but I do work at a somewhat popular website. I also am a manager and I've been a manager for a long time and I've also had managers. In fact, one of my managers is actually in this Slack. Grant is in here. So if you ever wanna know like just like why my life is terrible, just point to Grant and then just rag him right now. I can't actually see the Slack, but definitely just point to Grant. So let's do a little visualization. This is a representation of all the work that you as a diligent employee of Acme software did in a month. Let's say this was like some big project that the CEO wanted you to do, right? And so it took five units of whatever. This is this recurring work that you do every week where you standardize code or debug something or something. And then here is one ad hoc thing off to the side because someone from some department you've never heard of before comes to you and wants some kind of analysis. The problem is that if you don't consciously spend the time to track your work, this is what you actually remember what you did and like a week later. And everyone knows this feeling, right? It is so hard to write about what you did the week before if you wait until Monday. And if we keep going with the same pattern, this is what you remember a month later. And if you go even farther, take one step away, this is what your boss remembers, all the things you did, right? For a month later. This is what your boss remembers a year later. And everything else in there, if it's not tracked in some way, like if there's not a way to jog your memory that you did it and very specifically to jog your boss's memory that you did it, it is as if it is invisible work, right? It means that you don't get credit for doing those things, even though as we've established, if we go back, like you did all this super cool stuff, right? You worked on this big project, you did this recurring debugging thing, you talked to this like special person off to the side and helped them out with the project. And yet you don't get any credit for it from your boss if no one remembers that it happens. And the thing that I would like to point out and the thing that I hope you take away from this presentation is that it happens all the time, all the time in tech, all over the place. And the fundamental problem is that performance reviews and promotion packets and whether or not you get a bonus or whether or not you get targeted for a layoff or whether or not you can do anything is based on what people remember you did. People as in your boss, your skip, other peers and yourself, right? If no one remembers that something happened, it's as if you don't get credit for it. And the problem is that without tools, people really suck at remembering what people do. The solution is both simple and frustratingly difficult. It's to record your work and to tell people about it. And this really parallels very closely the stuff that Rose was talking about, right? Figure out what matters, record whether you're doing it and then tell people that you're doing it. And that is like a very, the reason I wanted to do this talk for this one is it's a very, very like norm comfy idea. It's just like record what you're doing and tell people about it. And the thing is that no one is gonna do this for you. And some of you, some of you would be probably screaming at your screen right now, because you're thinking, well, I do all my work in, you know, GitHub, right? Like, so therefore I could just look back in GitHub and see every single thing I did. The problem is that a lot of the work you end up doing is actually valuable, but outside of GitHub. So say if you work in some kind of proprietary system off to the side, say you, you know, work in like, I don't know, like say Snowflakes IDE or something like that, it might not appear in GitHub. Say you end up like actually mentoring someone. So like someone wants to be a data scientist from the ads department, you've spent a few lunches helping them out or something like that. You can actually end up in a situation where you aren't getting credit for that work because it doesn't appear in your regular tracking thing. And the problem is that because you're the primary beneficiary of this and because GitHub is more about like tracking work as if like with the goal of completing that work for some kind of project, not tracking your contribution as a whole, a lot of this stuff can fall by the wayside. And it means that the one of the best things you can do for yourself, really like just genuinely one of the best things you can do for yourself is just record what you do and tell people about it. The other thing that comes up is that some work is just more susceptible to being invisible. Rose brought up Blue Work, which is a very classic example of the type of work, type of work that's very often done by women in tech companies that is things that just don't appear in many other places, right? It would be things like mentorship or talking to customers or expanding documentation or some kind of like one-off project or things like communication. That it's just, it's easy for that to fall by the wayside because it's not naturally tracked in any kind of like Asana or GitHub or something like that. And so if you do some kind of like ad hoc mentorship with someone and no one ever brings it up again, again, it's as if it's a visible work. It's as if you didn't do it. You're not gonna get credit for it for any kind of promotion. And that's wrong. Like you should fight and get credit for it. You already did the work. You guys will get credit for it. So what can we do? It's a very complex two-step process. I sort of joke here, but it's actually like, it's actually really difficult to do. And I'll talk to like, you know, what some of the ways to get around it is. One, build a really lightweight system for tracking your own work and your own lightweight system. Don't like rely on like the company system for tracking your work, like build your own that is hosted locally somewhere that you can control. And then two, tell people about your work. And there's various ways that you can end up doing that. There are lots of ways to end up recording work. And I don't, I, in designing this talk, I didn't want to focus too much on like specific ways, like Rose brought up the way that she ends up using. There's lots of different ways. I'll talk about a few of them. I'll talk about my own one, but whatever works for you is fine, right? The only real requirements to this thing is that you like record what you do and then be able to like use that and it'll communicate back to people. Brag docs, Julie Evans, I think she came up with it. And I want to give her credit for it because I think she invented it, but I don't want to like, if there was, if it actually came up from somewhere else, I don't want to like jump on their credit. But that was the first time I read about it was Julie Evans' work works blog posts. And the idea behind of a brag document is actually super powerful. So you create this document that inside that document, you write really polished notes about, you know, like things that you've accomplished, right? And so like you, you know, accomplish some projects, you mentor some people, whatever it is, and you write those little nuggets, like in the document itself. And then you share those document, that exact document with your boss or with your skip or something like that. And the thing that's very, that is very appealing about that approach is that the thing that you're recording your work in is also the thing that you're actually ending up sharing. So your communication pathway using the doc is actually the exact same as the way that you're recording it. There's tons of resources out there on Brag Docs. Julia has a template. There's also, you can literally go to, I think, and there's actually like a template there. Like there's tons of really cool things out there. There's lots of Brag Doc templates on GitHub. It's a great approach. What I do, because I was never able to actually successfully accomplish a true Brag Doc, is I keep a private activity log. So instead of having a document where I would write what I accomplished and, you know, like for some kind of project, I was always like the idea of writing something in a way that was polished enough to share it to my boss always kind of made it that I ended up procrastinating actually writing down that I did the thing and then I would forget. And so it was just like vicious cycle. So instead I kind of split them up where I have a private activity log where I just write super messy notes on what I did. That is sort of the like really, you know, super messy one line kind of notes, mostly just to jog my memory later on that I did something. The example on the second half of the slide is a real example of my activity log. I've changed like some dates and blah, blah, blah. But like, basically this is what it looks like. It's just hundreds of lines like this. And I'm adding lines, you know, I'm adding like two or three lines like a day, every single day, just dumping them in. And I don't think all those lines would really like reach the level of brackiness. I don't know what to put. Really like reach that level of, you know, wanting to like show that to people. But I'm just like dumping anything that I think might be useful for the, you know, for the future that I can use it. Then the second part, which is that there's lots of ways to tell people about your work. And I think the thing that was difficult for me with the Brag Doc was that a lot of times, like the way that organizations communicate their performance and communicate like the work that you did is often like weirdly formal. So at the Wikimedia Foundation, like in Grant's, Grant was my boss at the Wikimedia Foundation. We'd have like a separate thing, like every quarter I would like paste what I did into That was where I paste it. And so like, it didn't really work with the Brag Document format, cause I would have to like take it out and put it into this like separate third-party SaaS platform to show my work. And so, you know, to me, I think like, of course, like using the internal places of reporting work, like we used better works, so I would put it into better works. Written is way better than doing it verbally because you remember things longer if it's written and you can refer it back to them. But I don't think you should like discount the just informal, like bringing up that you did something, right? Like if you're having like a casual one-on-one with your manager, glance through your doc and make sure you say some of the things that you think might be interesting, right? Like just like, it's, I wouldn't like formalize everything to the point where like the only way that you're talking about your work is through like this one document. I would just be like, I have tons of ammunition in my activity log and I'm just like hammering them out through every medium possible. I'm talking about it on Slack, I'm writing a weekly update to the whole staff where I'm putting things in there. I'm talking about it in weekly one-on-ones verbally, I'm putting it into like a one-on-one note doc if I have like whatever I can, I'm like pushing it out there that I'm doing this kind of stuff. The one that's kind of like incredibly impressive and I think I would like to do more of is blog posts and newsletters. So there was this person who worked at Slack and I won't name her, but she was really accomplished at Slack and an amazing person. And one of the things that she talked about sort of in like a private meeting was that like by putting stuff out there in blog posts and newsletters, you know, like here's this cool project we did, here's all the work I did on it and that kind of stuff, like a project on your, like on a blog post on your personal blog, you are in a way communicating it in a way that you can then refer to later. And so like even things like writing stuff for this audience is actually a way for you to communicate out that you're doing stuff, which is just super valuable. And it, you know, we talk about things like Brad documents or activity log in terms of like promotion for your current job. So think about it in terms of job security, but there's a huge benefit to actually just telling the world that you're doing stuff. Like if you're doing some super cool, I don't know, like some super cool new Kubernetes thing or something like that, like, you know, like record that stuff in your activity log, write a blog post about it and put it out into the world. And like, you get, you will get credit for that in ways that are really interesting. You'll get, you know, someone when you're applying for a job, someone will look at your personal site, see the kind of stuff that you're doing, think it's super interesting, and then you'll sort of advance the next round or something like that. And it's just, it's really useful, but you're not gonna be able to do that if you're not sort of recording for yourself like what you do. The other one is that you should definitely keep personal access to the things. Don't just rely on the internal customer company systems. I say that because honestly, like no joke, the best place to put like your activity log or what you're doing, like the most easiest place, and it's wonderful, is if your company uses Slack, just use your own Slack channel, like direct message yourself on Slack. That's like, it's timestamped, it's awesome, it's amazing. But if you lose access to Slack, you're gonna lose access to all that information. So like, I don't use that even though it's so nice and easy and simple to use, but you really do wanna make sure that like, whatever happens, right, you can do it. And I actually messaged in our Slack for this conference that like the Brag Doc or Activity Log or whatever you wanna do is a tool for you to build your resume. Like if you lose your job and you need to like update your resume, all of a sudden you have, you know, this huge record of what you've done, and you can sift through it and find some really interesting stuff. The goal for this whole thing is if someone asks your boss or like someone asks a recruiter or something like, what have you done? They have that deep well of examples to choose from. And actually, you know, Rose brought up this like really great point that I think people overlook, that as a manager, I know that there are times that I'm advocating for a staff member or like one of my reports, and then the report doesn't know that, right? There's some like special project that's coming up and I want them to be the one doing it. And someone's like, oh, I don't know if they're the right person. And like, if I have that, you know, like if I can dig through those notes and those Brag Docs for them or whatever they have listed, like I can bring up all these great examples. If I remember all those great examples, if I can look through their, you know, like formal, like, you know, letters that they're writing, like weekly updates or whatever that they're writing, I can use that as ammo for like an argument. And their actual report who wrote them, like doesn't even know that I'm doing this, right? But like, it's important, it's important. And if you have a good manager, that manager is advocating for you. And it's great to give them that kind of ammunition that they can use, even though if you end up not seeing it in any, you know, like you don't actually know that they're doing it at the moment. That is the end of my talk. And here's my little, I'm gonna add this to my own activity log, gave a presentation at NormConf because, you know, we should all track our work. And I definitely think probably the most normy thing to do is just to take credit for what we do, because what we do is pretty freaking awesome.