brand buiding crossword puzzle

How to Build Your Brand As a Programmer

I am always fascinated by people give me a funny face when I ask them what their personal brand is. I know I had a funny face when someone first asked me that during an interview once. But ever since then I totally got it and now promote the idea daily.

Everyone in our industry know’s who at least one of these guys are: Linus Torvalds, Scott Hanselman, Uncle Bob Martin, or Martin Fowler (If you don’t know any of them, pick one and go research their contribution to our world immediately!). They have a big marketing engine behind them simply because they have contributed to our industry in great ways. They are natural givers.

Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success

I just finished reading the book Give and Take by Adam Grant. I highly suggest that you read this book at some point. It will change the way you view the world. And likely make you more successful in your day to day interactions with people.

It describes differences between givers, matchers, and takers. And tells you why one personality type is more successful than another. An example of this – who do you think is the least successful at work? Givers! They give too much of their own time and can’t deliver on their own tasks. Who do you think is the most successful at work? Givers again! Because they give selflessly of their time, they are more likely to get the troops moving in the right direction.

– Andy

But you and I don’t have the same big engine behind us – because we haven’t yet contributed in the same mammoth way to our industry.  We will talk about how to level up our game in a mammoth way in other posts: time management, passion, willingness to give to others, etc.  But in this post we need to look at how to get you on the path to being at least somewhat known by the people that matter most to you.

Manage your resume on LinkedIn

We all know that we need a resume. How else will I get a job. But gone are the days where I need a resume, and a “profile” on one of a hundred job sites. It would seem that these days I can have a resume built on LinkedIn and send either a link to my LinkedIn profile, or a generated resume from LinkedIn. I prefer to use the LinkedIn labs resume builder.

Now all you need to do is add your history to LinkedIn. And remember to add your major accomplishments that you achieve at work in real time.  Otherwise you will end up with a resume that states where you worked and what your title is. There is no way you will remember every little awesome thing you did along the way between this job and that job. Especially if you are under pressure of getting the next job.

I prefer to add the books I have written, all the jobs I have worked at, along with some highlights for each job. It is ok to repeat certain things like whether you did ASP.NET MVC at every single job. That shows that you are likely good at that skill.

Also, curate the tag cloud of skills people say you are known for. This doesn’t have to all be technical skills. Soft skills at work are equally important. If you are known for being awesome – put that on there. Perhaps you are a great leader. Put that on there. Then organize the tags that you have to show the ones you align with most or most want to promote. You don’t have to let these tags auto sort.

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Create a personal website

People are going to search for you. It is inevitable. So make sure that they find your voice and not someone else’s. Now-a-days you can do this in less than 5 minutes. Go over to bluehost and pay $5 for monthly hosting. Then stand up a free WordPress site. Pick the theme that you are most happy with.

Now spend another 5 minutes putting your pitch together about who you are. Don’t just include work stuff. Tell your story. Who you really are. What your passions are. How many kids do you have? Give a brief overview of the person you think you really are. This is your first marketing event for yourself – so really sale your personal value.

If you intend to write a blog, do some content here.  Post articles that are a mix of personal and work related.  We can point other web properties here to start building a web.

When setting up your blog, begin to capture emails immediately using AWeber. While you may not immediately have much you can tell your readers other than blog posts, the time will come when you build an audience with your niche and want to share it directly with the people who you most resonate with. These are the people who will be your biggest fans, the ones who will be sharing your work everywhere, the ones who will buy your courses one day that teach them valuable skills they need.

Blog somewhere that already has traffic

While I suggested that you create a blog on your personal site, you don’t yet have a brand and therefore you don’t yet have any personal traffic. Unless you plan to spend a bunch of time self promoting via twitter, facebook, linkedin, etc. – you should get started somewhere that can actively help you self promote.

I started by putting my first blog on geekswithblogs.net.  At the time I started with them they had a few hundred bloggers there. All tech oriented. Any traffic they had – I immediately got. This was great. My posts hit their homepage and I got some readers on day one.

They now have well over 1000 bloggers on that site. This means that you get the traffic from some of their top bloggers. But with all that traffic you may get some noise. Also, your post won’t hang around on their home page for as long. But I still suggest starting there over many other places.

Put your code on GitHub

Do you write code? Then make sure some of your code can be seen by others. I would rather see that you write lots of code, for yourself, for others, for open source projects – than see 5 files that you made the most awesome effort known to man. We all get that your skill set is an ever growing and ever changing thing. What you post today may be the best you have now. And that will change over time. Don’t worry about it.

Put something out there. Get some feedback from people. It will help you grow over time.

Jeffrey Palermo told me once “If you were going to hire someone to juggle at your kids birthday party, wouldn’t you want to be sure they could juggle?” This was in response to someone stating that they felt above taking a coding test to get a job. People want to see that you can at least perform what you say you can perform.

Putting your code out there for others to look at gives people some confidence in you. The fact that you put your code out there for others to see also tells folks about your person. You are willing to take feedback and criticism.  You are willing to put yourself out there. This makes you more hirable over those that keep everything close and private.

The importance of helping others

You might be a matcher. You might be a taker. But when building a brand – neither of those traits are going to help sell you. You need to show that you can help others without expecting anything in return.

The easiest way to do this is by contributing on stackoverflow.  Build a profile there. Set up some searches to be sent to you as new questions are posted to topics you are interested in. Spend 5-10 minutes a day helping people solve their problems. Over time you build up some reputation for being a person that can help others.

Contribute to community sources of information

Whether this is a paid or unpaid activity – writing an article for a community site (like dotnetslackers) or for a magazine (like CODE) – is an awesome feather in your hat. Do this often. Again, this an effort to exchange your personal time giving to others for just a touch more polish on your online brand.  Try to do this once a month if this is the main avenue you like for industry exposure.

There are many ways you can contribute to your community. Writing isn’t the only way. I like to create slide decks of information that others can then use to present with. I like to also use my slide decks to present at user groups or conferences with. Presentations can be shared via SlideDeck or similar. And can then be hosted back on your LinkedIn profile.

The key is spend a little bit if your time, frequently, giving back to the community.

Single page sites about you

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There are so many sites out there that do this now.  But sites like about.me/andrewsiemer allow you to build a small snapshot of who you are. I like to include this link in my presentations or on a business card. This is an information radiator that can point to all the other endeavors you have accumulated over time.

I like to say where I am. What my phone number is (a google voice number). My rough home address. My current role. A brief summary of who I am. Then you can link in all of your blogs to be summarized on that page.

Now you have a single place to point to that can then point the viewers to so many other locations.

With all of this (we will write in more detail on this topic later) you can really start to control the search results people find when looking into who you are. Make sure you live by the rule “never say about someone what you wouldn’t say to someone”.  Remember that everything you put on the internet has a forever life. Don’t believe any systems that says “this is private”.  Assume everything you do on the internet is public always.

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Writing Resumes That Work

Writing a resume is not an easy thing. Putting one together can be nerve-racking and cause us to question ourselves at every step. Should I include all of my work history? Should I include a section on skill set? What shouldn’t I include? How long is too long. All of these question are valid and can be difficult to answer.

When I first put together my resume, a really long time ago, I really didn’t put too much effort into it. I simply spewed out all of my work experience on paper. I was fortunate that this was during the dot com boom and employers were hiring up just about anyone that was available.

In fact, a lot of times, the interviewers didn’t even get my resume until I gave it to them…DURING THE INTERVIEW. This meant that I had the opportunity to speak to them in person about my qualifications and overcome the obvious holes and lack of focus in my resume.

– Miguel

In my nearly 20 years as a professional, I’ve interviewed for dozens of jobs. I’ve also interviewed somewhere close to 150 people. That means that I’ve reading through several hundred resumes. As you might imagine, I’ve come across some doozies, but I have seen some really good ones as well.

My experience writing and reading through resumes has helped me come up with a few pointers for creating a resume that is engaging, informative and get results. Unlike others, I’m not going to throw statistics or cite scientific research on the subject. These guidelines are based on my experience and the observations I’ve made when interviewing myself and interviewing others.

Consider Your Objective

First of all, you should consider what the purpose of writing a resume is. This isn’t always the same. There are a lot of different reasons for putting together a resume and each one of them can affect how you write it and what you include.

A resume’s sole purpose is for selling myself to a potential employer, right? Well, sometimes…OK, most of the time.

You might be thinking that I am a little off my rocker right now. A resume’s sole purpose is for selling myself to a potential employer, right? Well, sometimes…OK, most of the time. There are a few other use cases though. Are you selling yourself to a particular employer? Are you targeting a industry? Maybe you’re focused on a particular role. Are you writing a general purpose resume that you will be submitting to multiple, different, positions? Or are you writing a resume to serve as proof that you’ve been there, done that?

All of these reasons for writing a resume can, and should, affect how you write it and what you decide to include in it. So before you begin, take a few minutes to consider what the intent for putting the resume together. This will be valuable information that will guide you as you flesh out the details

Tailor It To the Audience

In addition to knowing the purpose of the resume, you should also be cognizant of the resume’s audience. This should have some impact on how you write your resume, what you include in it and what you highlight (more on this later).

research-researchIn most cases, you’ll want to target the resume to the particular job that you are applying for. Whenever possible, you should include information about other places that you have worked where you had the same role, were in the same industry, developed a similar product or worked with the same type or size of data. All of these things will help create a connection with the reader and can potentially make you stand out from the rest of the candidates.

I know there have been several cases where I read someone’s resume and it made an immediate impact because that person had either worked on a similar product, with the same technologies, or in the same industry. Every time, it had a positive impact on whether I would consider this person further. This is exactly what you want. You want to make a connection with the reader and provided them with reasons to continue considering you as they whittle down the group of people that they are looking at for the job.

…research will help you target your resume to the employer and help it seem more relevant to the reader, the company and the position.

In a previous post, I wrote about how researching the potential employer is one of the keys to a good interview. Well, that also applies writing a resume. All of that research will help you target your resume to the employer and help it seem more relevant to the reader, the company and the position. With a little effort, you can make a HUGE impact on the effectiveness of your resume and help increase your chances of getting the job.

Include “Enough” Information

resume-bookThere is a lot of debate about how much information you should include in a resume. There are some people that will tell you to keep it short and others that will urge to write a book. I tend to lean towards the longer resume myself, with one caveat:

Make sure to highlight things that are important in a way that can be easily interpreted by the reader.

My current resume is around 8 pages long. Yeah, I know, that’s pretty long. I’m OK with that though. I would rather include more information than less. That being said, I try to highlight important things at the top of my resume and throughout my work history. I start off with a clear objective and follow it with a list of the programming languages, tools, and process that I have worked with. Then, for every position, I include a list of the programming languages, tools, and process that I used while I was there. This is at the top of each entry in my employment history and is highlighted so that I stands out visually.

I do all of these things to make my resumes easy to skim through while still providing some detail for every company that I have worked for. This way, the reader can easily get a feel for the diversity of my experience, the things that I have worked on recently and can still dig a little deeper into each of them if they want to get some more details.

Highlight Your Strengths

Your resume is your first opportunity to wow a potential employer. You have a small window of opportunity to make an impact and stand out from the rest of the pack. Remember, the person reading your resume will probably be reading a ton of resumes all at once. You need to make sure that yours makes some sort of connection.

One way to do this is to really highlight your strengths. If you’ve been doing this for a while, you’ve probably identified what it is you are really good at. Your previous companies, managers, and peers have recognized you for being good at a handful of things. Showcase these things you’re awesome at in your resume. Make sure to sprinkle it thoughtout your work history, skill sets, and other sections of your resume.

If you’re awesome at something and everywhere you’ve been everyone has told you that you are, then let your potential employer in on the secret.

For example, if you’ve been told that you are great at leading teams of developers, you should include examples of how you’ve done that at your previous positions. If you’ve been told that you’re technically awesome, then make sure to highlight all of the languages, tools and processes that you’ve worked with.

If you’re awesome at something and everywhere you’ve been everyone has told you that you are, then let your potential employer in on the secret. Just be careful not to come across as arrogant or cocky. Always employ the right amount of humility when bragging about your awesome-sauce. That being said, I’ve always argued that a resume is one of the only cases where you should try to sell yourself…and maybe even brag a little. Just tread lightly.

Always Be Truthful

resume-liarThis last pointer is super freaking easy to do and extremely important…never, ever, ever, ever lie or embellish in your resume. You should only ever include things that you are 100% sure of. A quick rule of thumb for writing your resume is…If there is any doubt, leave it out. You want to make sure that you can speak intelligently, and without hesitation, to anything that is in your resume.

A quick rule of thumb for writing your resume is…If there is any doubt, leave it out.

You should also not to take credit for other people’s work. It really isn’t worth it. Our community is a small and tightly connected one. The odds that someone at the potential employer will know someone else that you have worked with in the past are really high. Being called out for something that you’ve claimed to have done but didn’t really do can be a deal breaker for an employer. Don’t be that guy. Don’t take that chance. Don’t do it.

You should also be careful about calling yourself an expert on anything. I’ve always been super sensitive to this issue. I never call myself an expert on anything…ever. You should leave that for others to judge. I know that the times I’ve come across resumes where the candidate calls themselves an expert on something I’ve always gone away questioning there sincerity and/or cockiness. It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth so I avoid it and I would suggest that you do as well.

The key takeaway from all of this is that you should really pay close attention to how you write your resume and what you include in it. I know it can be a little stressful, but if you follow the four guidelines that I’ve described here you’ll be off to a great start. Remember, a resume is a living document. You should expect to tweak it as you go. In addition to adding new skills and work experience, you’ll find things that work well and other that don’t and want to adjust your resume accordingly. Treat it as your personal billboard. You have a short amount of time and will be one of many so make it count, make it relevant and make an impact.

Need Professional Advice?

Still unsure about how to make your resume put your best foot forward?

For $300, the Developer Springboard team will review your resume, ask you questions, and suggest or make edits to ensure your resume is presenting you and your skills in the most compelling possible light.

Your resume can mean the difference between getting the first interview versus getting passed over. It can mean the difference between finding a job at an amazing company where you level up quickly versus stagnating at a company with poor culture and even poorer pay.

We programmers have a way of down-playing our strengths and not wanting to sound like we’re bragging. We will help you accurately communicate your accomplishments and skills without coming off arrogantly.

Let Andrew, Miguel, and Devin make your resume stand out from the crowd and make you look as good as you really are.

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You Can’t *Not* Do Something

What do you do when you don’t know how to do something? Or you have something you want to do but don’t have the time to do it?

The answer is easy but difficult: you simply do it.

Everyone has twenty-four hours in the day. To accomplish your goals of leveling up with your skills, learning new technologies, or working on side projects that you want to turn into your main income, you must make the time to work on it.

Make Time Stop

Most of us have to work full-time, requiring at least nine hours per day when counting commute time and extra hours. If you have a family to care for, you also need to spend time with them, caring for your children and spending time with them.

kanbaIf you don’t carve out time to work on your projects, you will never make any progress. You must look at your schedule and what you spend your time on and find ways to make it happen.

Wake up an hour early twice per week, or two hours early. Stay up late an hour and work. Take a lunch break but work on your project then.

Cut down on watching videos and television series, on playing video games, on facebook, and be amazed at how much time you gain. Ask your spouse to support you taking an evening per week or a day per month to work on your project. Explain how doing so will “buy your freedom” from having to punch a clock everyday.

Tools to Help

Use tools to help you in your work: a kanban board like Trello or Kanban Flow where you can add and track tasks you want to work on. Use the pomodoro technique to focus your work periods and give yourself small breaks.

Learn to use email (like Inbox Zero), reminder tools, and automated systems to streamline your efforts. The more you automate your processes and make systems, the more you are freed up to work on the next big project.

You can learn so much now with free YouTube videos, online learning academies, and tutorials. Figure out what you want to learn and start a side project with it. We are all constrained in varying ways by time, but also most of us waste a lot of it.

So get off your “buts” and start on your project today!

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Be a portfolio manager not just an employee

This is just another way to say the same thing we say elsewhere. As soon as you do something log it on your resume.  It is easy to remove something from your resume when you need to send less to someone.  But it is very difficult to work on a project for a few years and then recall in a split second what it was you did when it is time to polish your resume.

But being a “portfolio manager” isn’t just about maintaining a resume is it?  If you watch the career of a successful movie star and compare it with a movie star that isn’t so successful – what is one of the key differences between them? Picking the right next film to act in. There are actors that take movies as they get them and do them all. This is a hit or miss strategy – but definitely not a plan. Other actors read through a script and are very choosy about the next film they take on. Even if the love the idea of a movie – they will actively turn a script down if it doesn’t align with their goals for their career.

Why don’t we do that? Why do we apply for 5 jobs and take the one that accepts us first? Why don’t we interview a company while they are interviewing us. Be patient as we collect offers. And then weigh the offers we get against our career goals. Weigh the offers with where we are and where we would like to go.  Its as if we have a stop watch over our head timing us for how long it takes to go from Job A to Job B. Isn’t it more important that we focus on getting the job that satisfy’s our career goals?  Shouldn’t it also satisfy our core value requirements?

Being a portfolio manager is more about being a project manager for your careers goal. If you are a programmer today working on pulling tickets. Perhaps your next step is to become a team lead. Or perhaps you would want to jump over to being a people manager. Or perhaps you are going the architect path instead. If you know where you want to go you can ask yourself “is this job just going to keep me in the programmer role?”. If yes, then say no!

The nice thing about our industry is that the more things you try the more likely you are to find your happy place. Be a programmer. Then be a team lead. Then be an architect. Then be a dev manager. Try being an engineering director. These varied activates will give you the insight you need to pick your permanent career goals. Or, if you are like me, you will find that you like all of these roles and will strive to find a place where you can wear a stack of hats.

But without the appropriate experience doing the “every-job” you won’t know what you are missing out on. You might miss your real calling.

Write all of your experiences down in a public tool so that people can see where you have been. They can see what you have done. If you don’t like it, you can say that. Be 100% honest and transparent. If people like what you are offering, and what you are offering is true, you are more likely to find a good match for you and your employer.

Being an employee of a company is needed to satisfy the relationship you have with an employer. And that is good to understand. But don’t forget that in our world it is very normal to not work at the same place for long periods of time. Be sure that you acknowledge the fact that you are the employee of your own company too. Make sure that your sales sheet is always up to date so that when you need a new employer or client you can clearly tell the next guy what your capabilities are.

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