By Alberto Varela Posted 07 September 2016

My Point Of View About Personal Branding For Developers

My Point Of View About Personal Branding For Developers

I work at Ve’s Development Center in Bilbao. It’s a little city in the north of Spain where the people are usually infected by the special Basque shyness and this is why I’m not absolutely sure whether this post will be useful for everyone or just something that is totally obvious, but I hope that you can at least find parts of it enlightening or mildly entertaining. I’ll write about my personal experience because, even though I’m quite far from being a superstar and you’ve probably never heard about me before, I have been employed since I finished my studies and I’m quite happy about how my career has grown.

One of the things that I love about being a developer is that I only need a laptop and a good text editor to do my job. Can you imagine a surgeon practicing at home? Or a bricklayer sharpening their craft at Starbucks? Learning and improving technical skills is an easy task for a developer as well as building web/apps/libraries/whatever on a small scale, therefore, it’s hard to believe that someone loves app development if they can’t show you an app they’ve created.

The aim of this post is to encourage every developer who has passion for what they do, especially the young ones, to show people who they are and to not leave them guessing about it. Nowadays, I’m sometimes the one doing interviews instead of the interviewee, and I can assure that it’s easier to take decisions when you don’t need to worry about trust.

Replacing lack of experience with love for what you do

Getting your first job and attending the first job interviews could be a pain in the neck if you go there with just the same schooling as most candidates but with less experience. You can go there and try to convince the interviewer about your great desire to learn and your promising skills but… What do you think the rest of candidates are doing?

One of the first things that my interviewer asked me before getting my first steady job in 2007 was about the domain of my email. WTF! I was trying to start as a web developer… Was it so weird to own a domain name, to maintain my own website and to have my personalized email address? The answer was yes, it seems that in those days it was not common to find a recent graduate in Spain with their own domain and a customized email address. During the interview I showed them also the little open source CMS for blogging that I created with PHP and some horrible PHP-Nuke themes made by me that were being used in a few web portals.

Don’t get me wrong, those were just a few buggy lines of code and I’m pretty sure that they didn’t judge the quality, they wouldn’t have hired me if they did. At that point I had never heard about personal branding, but now, this is what I think that our personal brand should do: remove the uncertainties by demonstrating who we are in order to not need to be trusted by the interviewers. I like to believe that what I did on that day was to demonstrate my passion for web development and the open source software, and due to this fact, the interview was not focused on my lack of professional experience.

Being young only happens once in a lifetime, and after that, your responsibilities will increase and your spare time will decrease (you know: family, children,…), so you need to take advantage of the moment. Build stuff. It doesn’t matter if your code isn’t very successful, nobody expects magic from a newbie, but the companies are trying to get developers not future-developers, so, don’t wait until you get your first job to start being one and, please, don’t be shy about showing the work that you do at home, at least, if you don’t have anything better.

In the future, your experience and your contacts will probably support you, but anyway, don’t stop building stuff, showing it and letting your career keep growing.

Don’t forget about face to face relationships

It’s so easy to get involved in communities through Slack, distribution lists, IRC,… or to attend streaming events, that sometimes we forget the advantages of attending physical events and having face to face conversations.

There are some skills that are difficult to show in a paper, through some lines of code or in a 30 min interview. For example, I’m talking about conversation skills, being a team player or just being a friendly guy. Even if you know that someone has really good tech skills, for some positions, you want to ensure also that you will find someone with a minimum amount of personal skills.

Tech events are a good place to start showing them. There is no need to attend conferences on the other side of the world, you should probably start knowing about and attending local events around you, especially if you are not looking for moving out from your city. If you do so, don’t just sit there! Attending an event without interacting with other people is like doing it by streaming, break your shyness and start meeting people. I like the events that force me to talk: hackathons, dinners,… Yes, I’m also affected by the Basque shyness, and I know that I need some help to start a conversation which is why I try to attend this kind of events.

In fact, I found my second job because of a meetup-dinner about SEO. There, I knew some people and I had a casual chat with some of them. Some days later one of them called me to have a coffee, and while I was not looking for a job at that moment, after a couple of conversations with him I liked what they were doing at their company and finally I decided to switch.

Of course, it’s also good to have good relationships with your co-workers and to keep them once they become former co-workers. Trustworthiness is usually hierarchical, if you trust someone and this guy trusts a third person, you will probably also trust this third person without knowing them. Don’t let good relationships die, they will probably inform you about offers in their respective companies or, maybe, say some good words about you to other people. That is pure gold.

Your Social Networks are different

When you start reading about personal branding, you’ll find a lot of people encouraging you about avoiding rude tweets or about removing that photo that someone takes of you after that crazy party. These are probably good tips, but your focus should be far from those networks. Github, StackOverflow, CodePen,… these are your networks.

Showing your code to the whole world seems to be shameful for some people, but I absolutely disagree. I have been open sourcing my own code since I started in this profession, and it has helped me in countless ways. For example, one of the benefits was to start getting freelance work that increased my income. Another rewarding effect could be to see that the company that is trying to hire you is already using your code in production. Isn’t that good branding?

Now, I know that it should be easy for you to find some horrible code crafted by me in the Internet. I’m proud about some things that I did, but others are just rubbish. But, if you don’t feel awkward when you see code written by yourself a couple of years ago… What would it mean? The answer for me is clear, you didn’t improve yourself.

Just one last thing, if your company has a tech blog don’t miss the opportunity of writing a post there ;)

PS: If you come here looking for how to become a Rock Star Developer, sorry about that, I’ll tell you once I achieve it. In the meantime, you can have  a good read about it.

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Alberto Varela
Alberto Varela
Software Engineer