We easily recall those remarkable colleagues we admire. The challenge, though, is to follow their example.

Before being employees, we are human beings. We are not copies of each other, meaning that everyone has their way of dealing with other people and their own way of working, and everyone - most likely - values different things differently.

Personally, these are the things I most value in a colleague at work:

  • principles and empathy
  • technical skills and ambition
  • team player

Not all of the colleagues I most enjoy working with tick these points at the same degree, though.

One of the best guys I have worked with always pushed me forward. His criticism was tough, like a Chef. He didn’t have the sort of empathy I would have wished, but if I would get everything I wish, I would be tremendously spoiled.

His lack of such empathy, however, left no space for feedback such as “it’s ok like this” on pull requests. That caused me to go the extra mile every time. Which can be tiring at times, but much more fulfilling and enriching.

The best front-ender I have worked with, so far, has never let front-ending seem minor. Every time I had to change a template or some javascript, he would enthusiastically and seriously make sure his house was protected and pruned. For him, things such the data usage efficiency and the accessibility level of the web app we were developing were not secondary, and he had no problem making sure I fully was aware of that.

Other remarkable senior backend developers I worked with, seemed to share this characteristic of being able to be firm about their standards while being humble, friendly and making everything seem and feel simple.

Indeed, one of the patterns I have identified is that the best guys make it look and sound simple while smiling, while that, usually, the worst guys tend to make everything look tremendously complicated and scary. The best guys are generally humble and accessible, they have never stopped learning, they love knowledge sharing sessions and appreciate deep, crafted work.

Seeking the best

Many of the software engineers that I admire stress the importance of working with people better than you. Chad Fowler brilliantly bridged this idea into the music world stating “You don’t want to be the best of the band”. Someone has to be the best, of course. But sitting comfortable does not take anyone further.

If you are ambitious, most likely you will want to work alongside people that know (much) more than you.

There is, however, a sensitive subject to deal with: ambitious people tend to be competitive, which causes them to be defensive. And to learn to deal with this shark tank effect is highly important.

I have always been very competitive, and I struggled throughout my life with that.

During university, surrounded by smarter people than me, I got to realize that there is no fun in simply being the best alone.

This took me from wanting to stop all the competitors into feeding them, contributing to their growth and improvement.

This win-win strategy not only helped me to deal with my insecurity as it also helped me to genuinely care for those who are better than me, which, ultimately, makes me better as I have to go a step further to keep up.

Imagine Bill Gates without Steve Jobs, Maradona without Pele, Ayrton Senna without Prost… instead of fighting against your competition, nurture it!

Helping the ones behind

How do you go about people that, for now, are a step behind you? Do you look down on them?

Personally, I really enjoy helping them, not only by providing technical help, but by unleashing them from either an intimidated or a defensive state.

I have a lot to learn in this area, but my baseline is to never look down on these peers. We were all - and are, and will - behind someone else at some point in life. And we so wished that someone who knew more had helped us. Be the person that did help.

Nurture such colleagues and rejoice with their growth. The more people reaching a higher level, the best.

To digest

Recall two or three colleagues that you absolutely loved to work with, or with whom it was enriching to work with and go through these questions:

  • How does your first impression compare to the current one on her/him?
  • What was so special about her/him?
  • Was he/she better than you in your work area?
  • How did he/she influenced you?
  • How did she/he deal with less skilled people?

Becoming that colleague

What are you missing to do that they do? Do you admire they because they start a conversation by intentionally ask you how you are? Do you do the same back, especially to the people you enjoy the less to work with? Do you appreciate that they tell you wrong and request you to improve your work? Are you doing the same to others, or are you saying “it is ok like this” because you think you are being “nicer” like that?

These are questions I have been digesting and that have been making me aware of where I stand and of how I got to grow to become a remarkable colleague.

Keep in mind that the best people you have worked with did not play safe. They were honest, they dared to bother you, to touch your lazy and defensive nerve. They contribute to our growth and we ought to pass that to others.