How to Succeed as an Introvert Engineer

How to Succeed as an Introvert Engineer

by | 5 min read

As a child, I was often called shy.

I didn’t like being the centre of attention and would hardly speak to others unless I knew them very well.

I attribute some of this to having an outgoing older sister, as they say, “I couldn’t get a word in edgeways”.

Whether it be by nature or nurture, it was clear I was an introvert. Despite that (or because of that) I have gone on to have a successful career as a software engineer.

For introverts, navigating the corporate world can be daunting, but there are a few ways that you can make life easier for yourself.

Not everyone is 100% introverted or extroverted, usually we have a mix of both characteristics. It is worth finding out which side you lean, even if it is just to understand yourself better.

What is the difference between Introverts and Extroverts?

Introverts and extroverts can seem like polar opposites at times. It is a wonder that we can coexist at all.

Introverts, as the name suggests, are more internally focused. They enjoy working by themselves, in a quiet environment, so they can focus deeply on one task at a time. They don’t like distractions and will often find social interactions draining.

Extroverts, on the other hand, are externally focussed. They prefer to work in an environment surrounded by people that they can interact with. They are happy to flit between multiple projects and will frequently need to talk through things to be able to collect their thoughts properly. Unlike introverts, extroverts usually find social gatherings energising. They are the life and soul of the party.

Are engineers mostly introverts?

In my experience, there do tend to be more introverted engineers than extroverted ones.

Programming requires a lot of focus, you typically need to get “into the zone” to do your best work. As a result, it does tend to suit introverts more than extroverts, which is probably why more introverts lean towards a career in software engineering.

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There are plenty of extrovert engineers, though. They are often the ones who will call for a meeting, that could have been an email.

They are typically more outspoken, which results in more attention from management. If they are good at their job, then they are more likely to get a promotion over an equally qualified introvert. Of course, this can also result in negative effects if they aren’t as good as they appear on their CV.

Is engineering a good career for introverts?

Software engineering does require long periods of focused work, which does lend itself to more introverted people.

This, however, depends greatly on the company and environment you work in.

For those mostly unaffected by the virus, the pandemic was a blessing in disguise, especially for introverts. Finally, they could do their work in the quiet of their home without having to socialise with other people.

However, many companies are requiring their employees to spend at least some time in the office. Before the pandemic, remote working was rare and introverts were forced to work in noisy open-plan offices, which aren’t ideal environments for focused work.

Even if you do manage to find a remote position, not all work can be done in isolation.

Teamwork is essential to build software efficiently. Lack of communication usually results in teams working on the wrong tasks or getting stuck for unnecessary long periods of time.

For those that are working using the scrum methodology, there are also a handful of “ceremonies” scattered through the week that require talking to your colleagues.

The typical ones are:

  • Stand up
  • Backlog refinement
  • Sprint planning
  • Sprint review/demo
  • Sprint retrospective

For many introverts, these scrum meetings will seem like pointless, draining time sinks. They would much rather be getting on with the work than talking about it.

If planned poorly, these meetings can often drag on. If you are responsible for conducting these meetings, you need to keep them as short as possible. Not only to save time, but to respect the mental energy of your introverted engineers.

If you are considering a career as a software engineer as an introvert, then you need to be aware that not all your work will be done in your “den of solitude”.

Succeeding as an Introvert

To succeed as an introvert in a software engineering career, you must accept your limitations and work around them.

Reduce noise

If you are working in an open-plan office, then I would recommend getting some noise-cancelling headphones (the Sony WH-1000XM4 are a good choice).

Over the ear headphones work best not just to reduce noise, but also as a deterrent if people try to disturb you while you are working. It is easy for in-ear headphones to go unnoticed.

Nothing says do not disturb like a big pair of headphones.

Pick when to be social

Introverts find social gathers draining. If you want to be able to do your best work, then you need to pick which social engagements you go to.

You don’t need to go to drinks every Friday, maybe only go if there is a special occasion.

I am not suggesting you live like a hermit and never talk to people, but there are ways to interact that don’t need to be so noisy.

I never understood why in the evenings they turn the music up so loud in pubs and bars that you have to shout to the person sitting next to you.

Meet your colleagues for lunch instead of after work, it is more likely to be a quieter atmosphere.

If your office gives you flexible hours, try coming in earlier when the office is quiet to allow yourself more quiet time to get your work done.

Choose remote over in office

When you come to find a new job, it might be worth choosing a fully remote job instead of one that requires in office work.

There are plenty of companies, especially now after the pandemic, who hire fully remotely. Check out job sites such as remoteok to find them.

Beware of adverts on other job sites. One tactic recruiters use is to advertise a job as remote to get more candidates but then reveal, once you have invested time in the interview process, that it is not fully remote after all. Be sure to check early in the process and that it is written in your contract as well.

Learn to sell yourself to get ahead

Unfortunately, extroverts often get promoted above introverts simply because they have learnt to sell themselves.

You don’t need to be like a salesman to do this. It can be as simple as letting your manager know what you have done this week in an email.

When it comes to review time, half the battle is remembering what you have been doing for the last 6 months. Keep track of your accomplishments and don’t be afraid to celebrate them with your colleagues.

If you can push yourself out of your comfort zone and even do a technical presentation, it can do wonders for your self-confidence and your career.

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