Picture of an analog clock.
Temporary assignments are valuable — but the clock is ticking.

Three Key Questions To Ask Yourself Before Starting A Temporary Assignment

Can a 90 day or 120-day temporary assignment make a difference in your career? Can you accomplish enough or learn enough to make it more than just a break from your day job?

The answer to both questions is Yes! — but the clock is ticking.

Building Block Skills

When it comes to professional development for IT pros, I’m a believer in building blocks: modular skills you can re-use on a variety of product teams and projects.

A temporary assignment such as an internship, detail, fellowship, or rotational program can be a fantastic way to develop or solidify a building block skill. But time is short once you subtract onboarding, orientation, and off-boarding. So you need a plan to make the most of the time that remains.

Three Key Questions

Here are three questions to ask yourself as you prepare for an upcoming temporary assignment:

1. What will you learn?

This one seems pretty natural to most people going on a new assignment. If you use your time well, you won’t leave the assignment as the same person who went in. But it’s not enough to “get familiar” with something new. You want to develop building blocks: tangible skills that you bring back to the job. Real tools on your tool belt.

This requires planning ahead: arranging to work on certain tasks and working with the people who are using these skills.

Some things you can learn:

  • A new programming language or open-source library
  • A new architectural style (microservices, containers, etc.)
  • A new project management methodology
  • A new cloud platform

If you choose the right team or right mentor, you might also learn a few non-technical items like team culture, team attitudes, and personal qualities from people that you respect.

2. What will you deliver?

To have a truly impactful temporary assignment, you must deliver something. The best assignments have a major goal and one or two secondary goals.

Most formal programs finish with a presentation about what was accomplished. Informal ones may not require it, but you should still plan on giving a presentation both to the team you are assigned to, and to the group you return to. Knowing that this presentation is coming tends to focus the mind. You want to show everyone that the time was well spent.

At all costs, you must resist the inertia that will pull you into routine tasks of the team you are joining. If you’re asked to “fill in” for someone on a day-to-day task, you should ask if you can automate it, streamline it, or improve it. If the answer is no, then you’ll have to say “sorry, I have to focus on the deliverables I’ve committed to for my assignment”.

After all, do you really want to deliver a slide deck about “My 90 days of closing trouble tickets”?

3. What will you teach?

Your new team wants to learn and grow. It might surprise you that even in an internship or rotational role, you can teach the team you’re joining. On the digital team I lead, our interns have taught us about Human-Centered Design, machine learning cloud services, and OpenAPI specification files.

Plan your tasks around something that you can explore, develop, or push the envelope on. Then pass that learning on to your new team. You may have the freedom or head-space for next-level research that your team is too busy for (but they wish they could learn).

Develop white papers, prototypes, and presentations to share your new knowledge with the team. The team will be smarter, better-informed, and inspired by what you shared with them.

Originally published on LinkedIn here.

“Clock” by Dave Stokes is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Data scientist in Kansas City. The views expressed are mine alone.