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Keep Your Portfolio Up-to-Date At All Times

I have a never-expiring calendar reminder for myself to update my portfolio. Otherwise I just won’t do it.

Make Yourself Do It

 

But it is surprisingly hard to make yourself do it even with a calendar reminder constantly dinging you. And unfortunately you only ever realize that you needed to do it – and didn’t – when you need your resume to be up to date when you are ready (or worse: when you aren’t ready) to move to the next gig.

resu1This added pressure means that you are now going to be under the gun to send out your resume in a not quite up to date form, or you will struggle to remember all the cool new things you have done in the past many months.

It won’t be your best showing. You won’t likely have all the detail you once had. And ultimately you are doing a disservice to yourself when thinking about this late in the game.

Use LinkedIn As Your Source of Truth

A long time ago I stopped maintaining a resume in document form.

Before there was a LinkedIn it made sense to constantly toil over the formatting of my resume. And it made since to keep a copy and several backups.

I needed a consistent place to go to for the source of truth for my work history as there wasn’t one clear winner on the internet for such things.  Back then I would keep a digital resume on Monster and various other job boards. It was a real hassle to keep them all up to date.

But now a days it is easy to keep your information in LinkedIn. It is now my source of truth.

I try to go there at least once a month to enter at least one cool thing I did that month. It might be something simple like solving a customer’s problem. Or something more complex like learning a new thing in a pinch prior to a sales call or speaking engagement.

sour1Similar to blogging, if you don’t pay attention to the every day details of your day job you will miss the really important parts that you can use later to sell yourself.

Additionally you are missing the opportunity of someone looking for that special talent that you just picked up. You may make good money doing a bang-up job with that 80% thing you do. You run up against some new fancy way of doing things. And that becomes your new norm.

But you never update your resume.

As far as recruiters and other hiring managers know you are only really good at that 80% thing. There is no mention of your new go-to-favorite skill – which is what they really need right now and can’t find anywhere.

This is a missed opportunity for you in a couple of ways. The recruiter won’t contact you to let you know that your new skill is in high demand. Which means you miss out on the possibility of shifting to a new gig. Or, if you really like your job, but want to earn more, you might miss the opportunity to bargain around your newly found skill. Either way, this is your loss in the here and now.

So what sorts of things might you keep track of on LinkedIn? When you have a job, you can use LinkedIn as a running log of interesting facts. When you don’t have a job you can scour through your profile and clean out the things that aren’t really relevant any more. Let’s look at what sorts of things are hand to keep track of:

Title and Responsibility Changes

There are a couple ways of tracking when your title changes and when your responsibility changes. The first is the easiest and doesn’t require much thought. Keep one entry per company you work at. Update the title. List the existing responsibilities.

promo1This is a great way to keep a short resume. And it is a great way to not tell your hiring manager about your history. This is where the difference between a traditional resume and a CV/Portfolio come in. When I am in the hiring manager role I like to see where a person has been and all the things at a high level they have done while at a company.

If you were a developer, then a team lead, then the architect, then the engineering director – list those out. They are very different jobs. They will have very different responsibilities. And being able to show that you have done them all is important to many hiring managers. It shows you are experienced.

We have interns at my current company. One of which we have had back three separate times. For a person like this it is very important to distinctly show that you came back at three different times. And detail out what you did on each occasion. This paints a different picture than someone who just worked somewhere with no timeline. It doesn’t show that we liked you so much that we kept hiring your back.

Business Goals Achieved

Business people, hiring managers, etc. – they don’t generally care that you learned the latest version of HTML. What they do care is that because of your mastery of this new version of HTML you were able to up the sales conversion of your check out process because more customers are able to complete the check out process on their phone and tablets.

roi1Geeks really care that you were able to write a mail sending tool in 100 lines of unreadable code. But business folks care that your tool took into account the bounce rate of certain domains and the rules around how you stay off of black lists so that your email penetration goes up 30% which effectively increased their over all penetration resulting in X number of new dollars for the month.

Now, don’t get me wrong. You need to swizzle this in a manner that you salt and pepper your business swizzle with some tech babble so that all audiences are made happy. If you just deliver the business numbers uber geeks may find your resume wanting. Add appropriate tech talk to sell that you know what you are talking about.

Use the Right Voice to Tell the Right Story

Equally important to what you did is how you tell the story. It is very off-putting to read about a guy that is singing the me-me-me-me-me-me-meeeee song! It is ok for you to say “I used tech X to achieve business Y” now and then. But equally important is how you enabled the team to achieve a goal. Or how you pulled bugs for a week to get to zero defects (sacrificed your enjoyment for the team). Tell a story of being a valuable team member.

If you are in a leadership role tell the story of how you are a shit-umbrella vs. a shit-funnel.  Give concrete examples of how you help you team get stuff done.

Bottom line: keep your portfolio up-to-date at all times. And LinkedIn is a great place to use for it.

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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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Level Up Your Programming Skills And Connections Through Volunteering

Do you feel stuck in your current job?

Maybe you are working on Line of Business desktop apps but you really want to be doing native iOS or Android work? Perhaps you are working for a large corporation–and have been for years–attending a lot more meetings than you used to, and you keep hearing about the good life at small startups.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret I accidently discovered just a few years into my career. I’ve pivoted multiple times, by choice, and last year landed my dream job as the technical co-founder of a local startup in downtown Austin. So what’s the secret?

Volunteering.

That’s it!

Now, don’t click away just yet. Thar be some powerful concepts at work behind the gift I just handed you, matey! Stick with me so we can unpack this box.

First Volunteer Work: Sys Admin

First, let me explain how I figured this out.

Active Directory Users and Computers
About 15 years ago I setup a 25 PC, Windows 2000 network for a women’s crisis center for free. It’s a long story but the point is that at the time I didn’t really understand the value of what I did. I just needed
the experience because I thought my dream job was to be a Windows NT systems admin and I was studying for my MCSE at the time. (I aced the tests btw). I completed that project and landed a paying NT Admin job later that year while feeling good about helping a good cause.

Since that experience I’ve successfully voluteered my time to nonprofits, startups, and friends with small businesses. The project size and scope is really up to you to define just as long as it’s valuable to everyone involved.

Forget About Money (For Now)

First off, too many people I know won’t take this advice because they are stuck and failing at earning “market rates” for their work. Your compensation is going to be real world experience that deserves a prominent spot on your resume.

io1Or maybe they don’t have the time. Heck, it’s midnight, and I didn’t start writing this until after I put the kids to bed. I wanted to help a friend by guest posting and sharing some of my best ideas though. I happen to like writing and sharing knowledge with others. (Side note, guest posting is a great way to volunteer your time.) Look for projects which have a very defined scope that you think you can pull of in the time you used to spend power watching random two-star sitcoms on Netflix.

Trust in the fact that it will pay off in the long run. Good deeds don’t go unnoticed.

Problem Solving IRL

In addition to experience, there is something about listening to a client explain their problem forcing you to come up with the solution. That’s the type of knowledge that won’t appear in a textbook and that’s exactly the type of real world problem-solving ability that future employers are looking for.

Volunteering sends a message about the type of person you are. Explaining the project work you did for a nonprofit is interesting. Knowing that you did it to level up your game says a lot.

References Matter

You are also going to walk away with a solid reference if you are successful. Go check my LinkedIn recommendations that others have written.

I received a glowing comment by Kent Odland for volunteering my time to his young startup last summer after having coffee with him once. It was an interesting startup concept and I wanted to learn a specific skill he needed. He didn’t believe me at first. I think he thought I was trying to steal his IP or email list because he asked me to sign about 5 pages of legal documents saying I would be liable for missing deadlines, etc. I didn’t end up signing anything other than an NDA. I simply had the time and wanted to help him.

Do you think Kent would bend over backwards to get me an interview at his employer if I asked him to? I’m pretty sure he would!

Be Of Service To Others

As engineers we typically think of learning as a solo activity. We go buy a book, read through every search result on google and stack overflow, then maybe we create yet another Todo list project on Github, etc. Trust me, I’ve been there too and I still have to resist the urge to rely solely on this method of learning.

Thread Co-Founders
The Thread founding team

What’s interesting is the mental shift that happens when you are working for someone rather than simply working on something. The former requires accountability and relationship building, while the latter often lacks direction and purpose. I’m willing to bet you will learn more at a faster pace by working for someone or some cause than if you go it alone.

When I say “working for someone” I’m talking in the noblest sense that you are being of service to another person. Which is a very humanizing thing. People inherently care about people they know. Working side-by-side in the trenches is such a powerful mechanism. You simply cannot get to know a person by meeting for coffees alone. Work for them, work with them, in order to get to know them.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

Engineering work can be isolating, while career building is a team sport.

Don’t Overthink It

Don’t be tempted to try to identify projects only for people or companies where you believe they could directly help you in some way. If you read about my journey to becoming the technical co-founder of Thread, you might think I had some master plan at work.

The truth is that I didn’t have a plan other than trusting in the process. In hindsight it’s easy to line up all the events that took place and draw a straight line between points A and B. However, that’s not the whole story. I volunteered to help four different organizations last year and three of them didn’t directly lead to my current opportunity. But I do have a stronger network filled with people who would love to help me if I called on them.

Takeaway: Volunteer To Learn Specific Skills

The final lesson I want to leave you with is that my only “plan” was to be of service to others while developing some very specific skills.

In this case, my thesis was that iOS development was in high demand and my enterprise mobile background was already a good foundation for this pivot. I made a ton of connections along the way and many of those relationships will just continue to grow. I never knew where it was going to lead me but I was always confident that I would find something interesting if I kept going.

I hope you consider volunteering time as a valuable career building strategy and a great way to help those around you.

Be hungry and trust in the process my friend.

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Setting clear goals to help guide your career decisions

For the sake of argument, let’s say that you’ve been working as a software developer for a while and you’ve been able to advance in your career. You’ve gotten a few raises and maybe a promotion or two. If someone were to ask you how your career is going, what would you answer? Better yet, how would you answer? You might say that it’s going well considering that you’ve been able to advance financially and have been promoted to a more senior position. Is this a good enough answer? Are promotions and raises the only measures of success and failure for our careers. If you’ve been following the DREAM principles and have taken the time to DISCOVER who you are and REFINE your goals, then you have a lot more data points at your disposal to answer these kind of questions. Most importantly, you have the career goals that you’ve established and can use to quantify your success and measure how much progress you have, or have not, made towards them.

If someone were to ask you how your career is going, what would you answer? Better yet, how would you answer?

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, when I came out of college I didn’t really have an idea of what I was going to do with my career.  I was not really prepared to be a professional software developer at all. Nothing in my youth or schooling had gotten me ready for the real world. In fact, for the first few years after school, I just did whatever was in front of me and took every opportunity I was presented with without much regard to career path or any other personal goals.

At first glance, you could say that this was working well for me. I was progressing rather quickly at work and I had become pretty good at my job. In the first 5 years or so, I had switched jobs once, gotten several raises and had already been promoted into a management position. To a certain extent, these minor successes had blinded me to the shortsightedness of my career choices. It took me a while to realize that although I was advancing, I wasn’t really doing well in terms of my career.

You see, the first job I took after college consisted mostly of writing backend applications in Perl. Then, I switched over to a job working at a small Cold Fusion shop.  Neither of these programming languages were what I considered cutting edge and, in fact, I could see that there was no future in them for me. Yes, I was gainfully employed, but I was losing a lot of ground with respect to the changes that were happening in the software development industry. There were new programming languages, tools, technologies and process that were taking off and I wasn’t getting any exposure to them. This realization hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew that if I didn’t do something about it quickly I would soon become pigeon holed into the niche programmer that I was becoming and it would be really difficult to regain all the ground that I had already lost.

I realized that if I did not set these goals for my career I ran the risk of digging myself into a hole that I would not be able to climb out of.

So, what happened? How did I get to this point? How could I have gone for so long without realizing that I was falling behind and coding myself into irrelevance? After thinking about this for a while, I realized that I had never really set any career goals for myself. Up until then, I had been reactive. I would only ever consider the opportunities that fell into my lap. I wasn’t proactively looking to take the next step to better my career or progress towards a goal. This was a HUGE eye opener for me. I realized that if I did not set these goals for my career I ran the risk of digging myself into a hole that I would not be able to climb out of.

goals-signI immediately pivoted and started working towards what I felt were more appropriate career goals. I decided that I would go back to working in the C# .NET programming language that I had started looking into a few years before. I would use that to try to get my career back on track. After realizing that this was not going to be possible at my existing position, I decided to leave my management role and take a developer position with a different company that was using C# and other leading edge technologies, tools and processes. I knew that it was a very risky move. I was essentially giving myself a demotion but I also knew that it was the right move for me in the long run. I was banking heavily on my ability to learn and excel at anything that I set my mind to. In hindsight, I know I was very fortunate that my gamble paid off in the end.

At this point, you might be thinking “Wait, what’s so wrong with being a Perl or Cold Fusion programmer?” Well, nothing really. I could have stayed at the same job or even gone somewhere else and continued working in either of those programming languages. Maybe I would still be working somewhere in that space today. In fact, I have a couple of friends that are still doing really well as Cold Fusion developers. The problem wasn’t that I didn’t think I could make a career out of Cold Fusion or Perl. The problem was that I didn’t want to…and I had never intended to. I had ended up there because I had not been focused on my career and had made decision without setting or considering my long term goals.  I knew there were other things out there that I wanted to do and I realized that the only thing keeping me from doing them was myself. I had never really focused on my career or set any goals that I could work towards. So I just took what was available and didn’t really consider where I wanted to be in 5, 10 or 15 years.

Things that I didn’t think I was interested in when I was in my 20’s have become a lot more appealing to me now that I’m in my late 30’s

successAfter having refocused and refined my career goals, I took the necessary steps to align my career with them and start making progress in that direction. Soon, I was advancing just as I had at the onset of my career but this time it was more in sync with my long term goals. As it turns out, this wasn’t the only time I had to reset goals for myself. In fact, I’ve found that I have to do this fairly frequently. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We are all growing every day – changing as developers and human beings. Things that I didn’t think I was interested in when I was in my 20’s have become a lot more appealing to me now that I’m in my late 30’s. At the same time, our young industry is changing at an extremely rapid pace. New technologies, tools and processes are being developed every day that might make us reconsider our goals from time to time.

The key takeaway from all of this is that we should always be working towards some goal. That goal might change over time, but it’s crucial that we always have one to help guide us as we navigate through our careers. How can we really quantify our progress if we don’t know what we’re supposed to be progressing towards?

Without [goals], it is difficult to determine if you are heading in the right direction or not. In fact, goals are what will determine that direction.

In order to know whether you’re making progress in your career, you need to establish the goals that you are attempting to reach. Without them, it is difficult to determine if you are heading in the right direction or not. In fact, goals are what will determine that direction. Setting goals is not an exact science, so don’t expect to get it right the first time around. The key is to always have a goal that you’re working towards so that you can remain focused and make career decisions based on whether the outcome gets you closer to achieving these goals. So remember to stay focused on your career and frequently reevaluate your goals so that you are always working towards something.

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