5 Lessons You Only Learn at Work and Not in School

1. Deadlines are loose and user-requirements are never well-defined

Jobs could be roughly divided into two categories, standardized jobs (e.g. in a manufacturing plant, front-line retail, etc.) and project-based jobs (e.g. consulting, software development, etc.), with the latter, of course, being more open-ended.

2. You need more than an end design, you need an action plan too

In coursework projects, you will often design or implement a solution, and that’s it. However, at work, you will often have to deal with legacy systems. New projects often have to work completely with all the other relevant systems in the business. This means that the end design has to be backwards compatible with these other systems, and larger projects often cannot be released overnight.

3. Be effective even when dealing with ineffective managers

There are some managers that are often not clear when describing project requirements, and sometimes even the root objectives. This then leads to task requests that appear random.

4. You will never have all the skills needed

There are different levels of proficiency in skills (e.g. programming languages).

  • The lowest of which is never having used such skill.
  • The next is having used it before, but needing to read up on it to use it further.
  • The highest is having used it enough to not need to reference external documents.

5. On the social side, your circle of friends will shrink to the team you work with

As you become occupied by work, all your friends will also be busy with work, and it will get more difficult to arrange time with groups of friends.


There are numerous challenges in the workplace that is simply not meant to appear in school. The lessons I have highlighted in this article are mostly soft-skills related (e.g. dealing with ambiguity, managers, relationships), but also have implications on the hard-skills that you focus on. In general, these problems can be addressed with the right mindset and patience, but it is also valuable to be prepared to face these challenges down the road.



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Justin San Juan

Justin San Juan

Award-Winning Software Engineer | Business and Web Consultant