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I heard several times that the greatest way to build your career and increase your knowledge is to become the weakest in your team. I recently became one.

However, every time I ask a question or ask for help they look at me like I'm stupid, and every time I try to tell someone something, they look at me like I'm a 4 year old child.

How can I take advantage of the learning opportunities in working with people senior to me without feeling lost, stupid, and like I can't contribute? How can I fit into this workplace as the weakest link?

  • I'm not sure we have enough information. The phrase "Every time I ask a question" is an overgeneralization and an abstraction. What research have you done? What have you tried? Is the problem that you're the weakest on the team, or that the team has unrealistic expectations, or that you and the team are simply a bad fit. – Mark C. Wallace Oct 2 '13 at 11:11
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    This question is off-topic because it is about workplace issues rather than Project Management. It may be on-topic at Workplace.SE. – Todd A. Jacobs Oct 2 '13 at 14:42
  • This is more of a general career question and would fit better on Workplace SE, but to be accepted there, you'd have to edit and focus on an actual question that's not too broad or too open-ended. Hope this helps! :) – jmort253 Oct 3 '13 at 1:37
  • Hey Nikolas, I edited this post a bit to focus more on the problem you want to solve. Before I migrate this to our sister site, Workplace SE, can you first edit and provide some background? Are you fresh out of college? Are you an experienced mid-level employee working with a bunch of superstars? Where do you fit in relative to the folks who are stronger links? When you've edited, please click the flag link under the post and flag for moderator attention. Hope this helps! :) – jmort253 Oct 5 '13 at 3:45
  • I am middle developer working with rock stars on very hard problems like big data and cloud computing. Thing is that this guys are very close for communication but they all have 10+ experience in It. – Nikolas Papirniy Oct 6 '13 at 9:10
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There can surely be a benefit in being the "weakest", in the sense that you are surrounded by more experienced team members from whose experience you can profit. However, whether or not this really works out depends on you, the team, and the "gap" in experience.

For it to work, you must show that you are trying, i.e., don't only rely on the others. Prove that you can do things on your own and that you learn from what they show you. If you keep asking the same questions your teammates will surely get annoyed soon.

For it to work, your teammates must be open minded (and maybe experienced enough) to take in a new team member. Sometimes people get arrogant (surprisingly this happens most often to those who are actually not too far ahead themselves) and therefore act as if the new one is stupid. In this case I recommend to get this right onto the table in the next team meeting. Don't be afraid to talk to your team about problems your experiencing. A team that cannot reflect on itself cannot function properly.

Something else you can do, if you don't want to go all out directly, is talking to the last member that joined the team before about his time as the "weakest". Or, if that's not the right person for you to talk, chose a senior team member you feel comfortable talking to.

A remark on the notion of "weakness". In my experience it is seldom helpful to anyone to regard yourself as weak. I'm sure you have your accomplishments and your strengths. Only you are new on the ground you're walking and you need some time to get used to it. Such an orientation phase is not a weakness, but a perfectly normal and healthy thing. After all, it made you reflect on your role in the team. Image what would happen if somebody new joins the team and starts to tell everybody how to do things, right-away! It's good to have respect (and sometimes a little self-doubt) when facing something new. This is what makes us strive to become better.

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My thought is you should not demoralized with your team's behavior. Particularly when asking the questions as you need to know the answer for the question and if you do not ask you will not get the answer and you will be the looser. Best friends are critics. You can learn lot of them. Try to be more positive and keep your curiosity and ask questions. Learn alternatively through internet and well prepare for the meetings and put your point with more confidence. Once team feels you are active participation and good suggestions/points they will start recognizing and you can see the difference. It is not easy but not impossible. You will fail few times but you will learn a lot through failures and move on.

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Rather than dwell on the whole "weak" part, I'd interpret this as

  • You are trying to get out of your comfort zone (the only way people will grow!)
  • Your team will either motivate you to ramp up (via intense osmosis!) or you will willingly leave or be jettisoned. Either way, you've successfully learned something about yourself and if this is the optimal career move for you. :)
  • You are putting yourself in a position where you will make mistakes frequently and if your team has a supportive critique + feedback loop, you actually get better faster!
  • Though with each mistake, you will need to promise yourself that you don't repeat the exact same error over and over again (this is the #1 reason a team member gets voted out of the island)
  • Your craftsmanship (at code, or whatever the heck you are producing) improves as you are getting your work reviewed by people whose respect (even an iota) has to be earned.

Though for all this to work, you have to really "know" that the team (and the lead) have bandwidth to accept a green member. All players in the team have to self-organize enough to accept your weaknesses and follow the right balance of mentoring you and/or assigning you tasks that don't create a damage path that needs clean-up.

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