Job Shadowing Is for Everyone, Not Just Interns

Use this time-honored device at any point in your career to learn, grow and explore.
Lisa Bertagnoli
June 8, 2021
Updated: September 9, 2021
Lisa Bertagnoli
June 8, 2021
Updated: September 9, 2021

Casey Welch went to work for a large financial services company straight out of college. The company offered new hires a rotation program during which they spent six months in different divisions of the company. During those six months, Welch set aside time to follow a manager around and ask questions. “I got the opportunity to explore the company… to ask people how they got there, how they think and how they prepare,” said Welch. “They were invaluable experiences.”

After two years of rotating through four divisions, Welch and his class of new hires had to commit to a certain department at the company. The rotations helped Welch understand that a career in retail banking wasn’t his calling. “I realized that after a few years, I’d need to look elsewhere,” he said. “The pinnacle of [retail banking] was not what I wanted to do.” He left, and years later, Welch is CEO of Tallo, a web-based service that helps college students with scholarships, internships and college admissions.

Get the Most Out of Job Shadowing

  • Decide what you want from it.
  • Determine the ground rules before you start.
  • Arrive prepared with a notebook, pen, or whatever else you need.
  • Ask questions, but spend more time observing than talking.
  • Express gratitude with a note after the experience.
  • Pay it forward by allowing someone to shadow you.

Welch’s first employer offered him an experience known as job shadowing. It’s a way to learn — either about a company, a job, a process or a procedure — by observing and listening, and, on occasion, doing hands-on work. Job shadowing can be part of an internship, an element of onboarding into a new job, or even something tech professionals do on their own to explore new ideas and career paths. “It should be done throughout your entire life,” Welch said. “You should always be learning, you should always be exploring.”

Further ReadingHow 20 Women in Engineering Discovered Their Passion for Technology

 

Learning the Ropes

Interns at WEX Inc. have a lot to learn in their first week as they navigate the office, attend regular staff meetings and jump into the work. Plus, “we spend time with them trying to give them background on what it is we do and the processes and procedures that we’re following as we try to build software,” said Jamie Shaw, senior software engineer for web and mobile development at the Portland, Maine-based global fintech company. 

As a WEX intern, software developer Brendan McSweeney didn’t need to shadow anyone to learn how to do his job. He did, however, need to find his way, quite literally. 

“The first day, you’re invited to all these meetings and you’re in this building and you don’t know how to find your way to the meeting rooms,” said McSweeney, who interned at WEX in 2018 and joined the company full time in 2019. 

McSweeney followed his teammates around to get to know the building and get familiar with the company’s processes. He absorbed a lot about the company’s culture during standup meetings for the software development team. Each teammate spent two to five minutes discussing their projects and what they would need help with. 

“In a career path where much of your time is spent alone at your desk, staring into a screen and typing, this is an opportunity to put in issues or ideas in front of the group and get some input,” McSweeney said. “That’s a good thing.” McSweeney also observed that teammates quickly offered help to those who needed it and supported each other’s work. “Those are positive things to see, and they’re attractive when looking for a job,” he said. 

When McSweeney was interning, WEX was in the process of shifting its architecture to the cloud from on-premises. As an intern, he attended meetings with Amazon Web Services representatives training the team on the cloud. And now, he works daily with AWS: “The things I learned that day are very practical and very much still in use,” he said. 

WEX extends job shadowing to full-time employees for career and professional development. When a couple of its IT service desk employees were interested in cloud development and information security, their managers set up shadow “dates” for them with engineers and developers. 

Kazim Rzayev, an employee who shadowed WEX’s security apps team, got a mentor and ended up earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a master’s degree in information security. Yana Matkovskaia, another employee, went on to work in technical documentation to learn how operation and development teams work together, and now works in cloud operations as a co-op intern.

Further Reading Hack the Career Ladder by Landing a Mentor

 

Get Real Experience

Software engineer Luis Matos graduated from JPMorgan Chase’s apprenticeship program last year; he’s earning a degree in cybersecurity from the Illinois Institute of Technology. 

During his paid apprenticeship in the company’s Chicago office, where it employs north of 1,900 tech employees, Matos virtually job-shadowed three colleagues, all of whom worked in different parts of the world. “I had an opportunity to see how they worked and learn the processes,” said Matos, now an analyst-level software engineer at JPMorgan Chase. 

During some shadowing sessions, Matos watched and took notes. Others were more interactive, with him asking questions. “I learn a lot by observing,” he said. 

 

Find New Inspiration

Job shadowing helped Audrey Chen, a senior at Monroe Township (New Jersey) High School, figure out her path post high school. “I learned so much about many different careers, ranging from coding to marketing to hotel management,” said Chen, who participated in a Job Shadow Week presented by edtech companies Stride Learning, K12, Nepris and Tallo.

Speakers shared personal struggles, their journeys to success and advice for those interested in succeeding in the tech industry. “It was informative and inspiring to hear from people’s personal experiences,” Chen said. During the week, she also learned the importance of networking and mentoring, as well as how to find a mentor.

As shadows, Chen and other participants were expected to pay attention and show respect. “At the end of each presentation, we were given the opportunity to ask the speaker relevant questions, so it was important to stay focused,” she said. 

Chen’s experiences that week confirmed her interest in a STEM career. She plans to double major in mechanical and biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. While she’s unsure of her exact career path, “I hope to do something with robotics in the medical field,” she said. 

Shadowing also shed new light on what exactly a tech career can be. “Listening to the ‘Creative Careers in Tech’ presentation was especially helpful for me because it illustrated how art and engineering could be combined to make something incredible with UX and UI,” Chen said. “At the end of the week, I felt excited and motivated to learn more about the expansive world of STEM.”

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