Originally written on SEP 23, 2015 via Codepen here
After being a virtual executive assistant for different clients around the country for the past year and a half, I really learned a lot of insightful things from each person I helped. As I have transitioned to a web development role, I couldn’t help but point out some useful things I learned along the way that is related to being an EA and web developer. As different as the roles may be to an outsider looking in, there are actually quite a lot of key similarities in the skills required for both roles. So, I have written this article to outline what those are exactly and maybe (just maybe!) you’ll understand more what I mean.
Research skills (aka being a “detective”)
There is no doubt that as an EA you have to be researching into things for clients on topics you have no clue about. When I worked for about 9 clients all at once at varying plans, the tasks would cover things like popular travel destinations and local attractions to what to purchase as a gift to [certain demographic here]. As subjective as it sounds, my recommendations always had to be backed by a reputable source or customer reviews. I can not recommend something because I personally think it would make sense without backing it up with valid research. Similarly, within development, there are often times we are reading through documentation or sites like Stack Overflow to solve a certain problem. This is where Google comes in; Google is a developers best friend! So learning how to search for what you’re looking for (and knowing what to look for) is essential. There are some search term hacks that I learned as an EA that I commonly use and you can view in an article here.
Being Comfortable with Uncertainty
This leads me to the next point on being comfortable with uncertainty. What does that mean exactly? It’s knowing you have to figure something out by the end of the day for example, while being unsure if you’ll actually be able to. It’s knowing you have so much on your plate that you will have to prioritize and focus, while saying “no” to things that can wait. But you don’t let that hinder or distract you at all; the challenge actually pushes you with energy to do it no matter what. In development, both for juniors and seniors, moments like this are quite typical. Unless you are a robot and have a certain project’s specs and code 100% figured out before starting, its pretty common to have to face challenging moments of uncertainty. By learning to embrace it early on and actually acknowledge it, I think that makes approaching projects more human. If you make a mistake, your brush it off and learn, instead of beat yourself up with failure.
Proactive Communication with Clients (remotely)
I think as a virtual (or remote) EA there was a higher level of communication skills required. There were instances that I misunderstood a client’s request or they misunderstood me. One common example, TIME ZONE conflicts and scheduling meetings. Proactivity and over-communication was actually one of my weak spots! I thought if the client knew what they wanted, they would tell me it straight out like a robot. But overtime, I learned by a slap in reality that’s not how things work and I must change this thinking if I wanted to deliver excellent service. Being proactive can mean many different things: It means to anticipate all possible outcomes beforehand and being mindful how that may affect a customer. It means being one step ahead of your client and notifying them of things to be aware of before they may possibly happen. Heck, it also means checking that a certain email system is set up correctly even if a client’s IT person told you it was (true story: it wasn’t). As a developer, especially as a remote developer bootcamp student, email always is essential and over-communication appreciated. Weekly or daily status reports on any bugs fixed or code deployed, problems solved, etc. is seen as proactive communication to your team. It’s invaluable, and if done right it prevents bigger problems down the road.
Saving the best for last, my final key similarity between being an EA and developer is applying habits to refine productivity. First of all, I was a not a typical EA. Everyday I had a bunch of incoming tasks from multiple clients with different preferences, and bigger sized projects with deadlines to keep up with daily. Each day was different and unpredictable in terms of what I was expected to work on (I loved it!). Keeping this in mind, my job required me to have a high level of productivity and prioritization. I think these positive habits in productivity transfers over to being a highly effective developer. There are hundreds of books on Productivity and it’s an industry with a vast amount of tactics and strategies. It ultimately comes down to what works for you and how much experimentation and time you put into finding that. For instance, as developers we often have to break things down into steps before tackling any code. Wireframes, prototypes, sketches etc. are all part of the process. Unless you’re learning things just for fun, we often have to have an estimated turnaround time of how long it will take us to solve something. I normally use a time tracker like Harvest or Toggl to get an objective account of where my time went, as well as Pomodoro-influenced breaks to see how many chunks of time it will take to complete something. Trello is also a great way to keep track of to-do list items and have them saved on ‘Boards’, instead of staying in your head. These are only a few examples on things I’ve refined as a EA and now using as a developer today. I’m curious to hear about any habits you find work for you.
Overall, these were just a few of the main insights I have to offer and that come to mind. I’m sure there are others out there who maybe have transitioned careers and have found some skills gained before to have transferred over their new roles in a completely different industry. I’m glad to have taken the time to write these little tidbits of insight out, as it helps me distinguish these similarities instead of keeping it in my head! Thankful to have had the opportunity to be an EA in the first place, and how it’s helped me fall into the world of development.
edit 10/3: Added Trello app above as another useful Productivity tool I regularly use.