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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Thou Shalt Blog

When I left my first programming job at almost fourteen years, I couldn’t take any of the code with me.

In fact, I couldn’t take anything I had done with me. Think about that: you worked for a place for a third of your entire career, and you own none of it.

When I went looking for another job, I had no public presence in the software world. No one knew who I was, nor could I point to a book or blog or even a twitter account that demonstrated I was passionate about software development. I was starting at ground zero in terms of looking for work, with only the skills in my head to help me find something.

Become a Blogger

Blogging establishes your presence. It puts a stake in the ground and declares “I care about the software craft.” Care enough to write stuff down about it to share with others.

Your blog is the key part of your overall platform, which may eventually include a facebook page and twitter account, a podcast, books and articles that you write, speaking and training that you do, and so on. But it starts with a website that is your home base on the internet. Here’s the cut-to-the-chase guide for programmer’s on how to start a blog.

1. Pick a theme

Back ten years ago, you could start a blog and ramble on randomly about all sorts of topics and still gain traction. Nowadays you are far better off choosing a specific niche or theme–even if it is a broad one–and clustering your posts and content around that theme.

Choose a niche that you are passionate about. Even if you think it would be valuable to write about optimizing SQL queries, and you have years of experience doing it, if you are bored to death by the topic, pick a different one.

One good way to find topics is by asking yourself what pain points you have hit in your software development in the past three years. Did NServiceBus’s awful documentation make using it a nightmare? Become the NServiceBus guy. Have you built several products that were all disasters because you didn’t really find out what the potential customers wanted? Become the Minimum Viable Product guy!

blogrunWhile writing on a theme is good, don’t feel you can’t veer off onto other programming topics from time to time. We are human beings with varied interests, even in the software space. You do not have to be slave to your particular theme. And you may end up finding that you thought that a particular niche was the most interesting to you, but as you started blogging you kept gravitating toward another niche. That’s okay: start a second blog or change the focus of you current one to that. You will lose some readers but gain new ones.

2. Sign up with a host

You need to host your blog somewhere. Do it at bluehost; it’s a fine low-cost hosting company that will serve you well until your blog launches into the stratosphere in popularity.

In the sign up process the main thing you need to choose is your domain. Brainstorm ideas by writing down different topics or words that you find catchy and that fit your blog’s overall theme. Check if the domain is available and then go with it.

3. Use WordPress

Bluehost (and all hosts today) have one-button-click ways of installing WordPress. You are using what’s called a “self-hosted wordpress” installation. That gives you the maximum amount of flexibility with customization, wordpress themes, widgets, and plugins.

If you have design skills, create yourself a logo and header image. If you don’t, hire someone to do it. Bribe a friend or pay a guy on fiverr a few bucks to make one.

Choose a wordpress theme that is workable, add your header to it, and do some tweaking. It does not have to look great yet–after all you have zero readers other than yourself–so just get it acceptable and move on. WordPress is endlessly extensible, and you will be customizing your blog in various ways on regular basis, learning about new plugins and trying new themes out.

4. Brainstorm Topics and Posting Schedule

Once you have your blog setup, spend an hour writing down any and every topic you can think of within your niche to post about.

No idea is dumb at this point. You are generating ideas that you will then pick and write blog posts about over the next few months. Think about programming experiences you have had and those pain points you’ve hit (and how you solved them). If you run out of ideas, go find other blogs on topics similar to yours and see what they are writing about. Take one of their ideas and write it in your own words.

Next, choose a posting schedule. I recommend once per week minimum, but if you can do twice per week that will be even better. Consistency helps people trust that they will get good content from you on a regular basis.

5. Spreading the Word

Now we’re getting to the fun part. You do not want to write into a void.

Begin to gain readers by first posting comments on other programmers’ blogs. Make them thoughtful and be sure that you include the link to your blog with your name and email address. But even better: if you have written a specific post that addresses something from their blog post or a comment on the post made by somebody, talk about the issue and link to your specific post. Careful not to come across as spammy here, but also don’t be afraid to do it.

This step presupposes of course that you are reading other programmers’ blogs. Do so! Find ones that are in your niche or in related ones and follow them via email or reader.

Share your blog posts on the facebook page you will be starting very soon, your programmer-related twitter account, google+, and even email it to friends who may be interested in the topic.

But the best way to ensure for the long run that you get visitors is by writing solid content on a regular basis. Write posts that solve a problem or give a guide on how to do something valuable. These are the posts that become authoritative or canonical and get linked to by other people and visited again and again. They have a long tail and get the SEO juices flowing in the organic way that never gets nullified by google changing its algorithms.

Originally long blog posts were the norm. Then the blogging wisdom changed and you were supposed to keep posts short and sweet. That is useful sometimes for sure, but the pendulum has swung back the other way and now medium-length (or longer), useful posts are valued highly.

After you set up your blog, create your most valuable asset: your email list. Sign up with AWeber to manage your list, adding people to your newsletter, and sending emails.

Blog Baby!

Blogging will establish your presence in the programmer world. No longer will you be faceless cubicle dude hoping that some company will pay you a salary so you don’t end up homeless on the street. You are now taking your career into your own hands and building a platform that is yours and extends beyond the company you currently work for.

Your blog will open up doors and opportunities for you. You can point people to it to instantly show them that you care so much about software that you write about it in your spare time. Congratulations, you just differentiated yourself above 99% of the programmer herd.

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