Ask Auntie Pattern: upskilling and undervaluing

Our agony aunt fixes your snafus

Here’s a fresh batch of advice from our Tech Agony Aunt, Auntie Pattern (aka Jessica Rose). Offering infrequent but loving advice in response to your letters on technology, the tech industry or whatever has been on your mind.

1. Upskilling for software grads

As a software graduate (i.e. Computer Science or Engineering) about to start their new job, what would you say are the top 3 things that they should focus on (during work or out of work) to improve their technical skills?

The first thing I would encourage new software engineers to do is slow down and relax. You’re going to learn so much in coming weeks, months and years. Don’t be in such a hurry to know everything that you burn yourself out. Learning and exploring takes time. Celebrate your expanding knowledge and go easy on yourself. You’re in for what I hope is a long and exciting ride.

1. Find technical mentors both in and out of your workplace. You’ll want to have someone internal you can turn to in the office you can turn for with technical questions and to support your line manager’s guidance as you deepen your skillset. You’ll want another technical mentor who can give you advice that reaches beyond your current company’s scope, both in terms of tech stack and future opportunities.

2. Track your learning and progress. Keep a journal of your accomplishments, a Trello board of your goals or a document with links to your work and learnings. It’s easy to lose track of all the new things you’re learning. Recording and tracking your expanding skillset won’t just give you more reasons to celebrate, it will also help show you areas you can further grow from.

3. Maintain a good work/life balance. It sounds counterintuitive to tell newbies thirsty for expertise to take breaks, but TAKE BREAKS! You’ll learn best and progress in your technical knowledge when you’re well rested. You’ll also have an overall better quality of life. You want to be a well rounded, well grounded person, not just a great engineer 💖

2. Dream job lowballed me and won’t budge

I was just offered an engineering position at an org that I am really interested in. Their vision, values, and their mission are all a total match. I am also experienced in their stack and specific technologies used.

I was offered the job at a very low rate. I tried to negotiate, but they will not budge. During negotiation, I sent over some of the research I did on market value, including the salaries recorded for the same job title on their Glassdoor profile (all higher than mine). Additionally, a (male, I’m a lady) friend of a friend with similar skills is on the team and I know they came in at a higher salary.

When talking to the role’s line manager and HR, they said they couldn’t move my pay because that would put me at Senior Software Engineer, and “they’re not looking to hire that position right now.” I would really love to work there, but I’m already feeling really undervalued. Should I just accept it, or continue to look? Or should I accept it * and * continue to look? 

You’ve presented me with three different routes to advise you on, none of which seem to involve burning this place down to the foundations and picnicking in the resulting ash.

If this was just an issue with HR, I would advise you to take this role (and keep looking!) and bring this issue to your new line manager to have him advocate for you. But your new line manager knows about this issue and seems to be pretty 🤷‍♂️ about the whole thing. This manager knows your skills, wants you on their team and is willing to stand by an offer they know doesn’t properly value you. This means that this job isn’t a total match. Because this job would put you in a company that doesn’t value you, under a manager that doesn’t respect you enough to advocate for you.

If you have other leads start chasing them down. You’re better than this manager, this HR team and this company. Put your time and energy into looking for a company that will treat you with respect. And if you need an alibi to vouch for your whereabouts during the fire, just give me a call.

Want Auntie Pattern to answer your question? Email her here.

Auntie Pattern is written by Jessica Rose, a technologist obsessed with fostering more equal access to meaningful, less miserable work in tech. You can also listen to her advice on the Pursuit Podcast, find her online at or argue with her on Twitter.

Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

Holly Brockwell
About Holly Brockwell 291 Articles
Tech addict Holly founded Gadgette in 2015, and won Woman of the Year for it. She's firmly #TeamAndroid, has ambitions to become a robot, and beat all other Hollies to her awesome Twitter handle.