“The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear” was said by Soccrates 2400 years ago to highlight the topic that we call today “Personal Branding” and it has never been more important.
Although long known and practiced, the idea of personal branding or self‐branding was popularized by Tom Peters in 1997 with the article “The Brand Called You”. In the article, Peters advised readers to take responsibility and action to make themselves stand out in the labor market. As Peters described it, “We are CEOs of our own companies: To be in business today, your most important job is to be the head marketer for the brand called You.” In the beginning, the self-marketing idea appeared to apply mainly to celebrities, politicians, and business leaders. Over time, it turned out to be of importance to many other groups, such as managers, scientists, teachers and knowledge workers like software engineers.
Developing a personal brand has a similar process to product branding. It might sound preposterous, but you should think of yourself as a product to be marketed to a broad audience in the hope of becoming more economically competitive. In that context, you should promote your strengths and uniqueness by consciously striving to differentiate yourself and create a unique online identity. A common strategy is sharing your knowledge and experiences through social media sites, thus creating a narrative, or sharing your professional story. Moreover, sharing recent developments and giving advice in your field of expertise supports your experience and skills. So the act of personal branding is essentially, placing yourself in a strategic position to broadcast the value that you bring to the organisation as a developer.
As Jeff Atwood, the co-founder of Stack Overflow, described in his blog post: “Mere competence in a technical discipline is not enough. That’s the minimum required to keep your head above water.” Nowadays, being a developer is not just about coding. Regardless of your career aspirations, be it tech lead, software architect or business analyst, being a valuable developer goes beyond good software engineering. As with most roles in an organisation, being a developer is about communicating and addressing cross-functional concerns and employing technology as a tool for problem solving.
Social media is a great channel for people to promote themselves as brands in a relatively cheap and efficient manner. Software Engineers that are interested in building their own personal brand have a wide range of social media tools in their arsenal. Tools like: LinkedIn, Github, Twitter, Blogs or Q&A sites such as StackOverflow and Quora are great places to start transforming your online identity into your own unique personal brand.
A tool that is particularly effective is Linkedin. LinkedIn allows you to showcase your skills and experiences, and at the same time expand your social network. Creating and, more importantly, actively updating your LinkedIn profile will increase the likelihood that you will be seen by relevant people that are e.g. searching for someone to hire or do business with. The regular addition of new contacts and updating content also adds to an individual’s SEO, as profile information on LinkedIn is available for search engines to index, and the site is highly ranked by Google. If you wish to strengthen the visibility of your profile in search engines, my advice is to use it in various places online, such as blogs. When commenting on a blog, include a link to your LinkedIn profile in the signature, to offer a chance for people, if they like what is being said, to click through and find out more.
However, do not make a mistake of having an incomplete profile. A ‘‘complete’’ profile includes a professional profile picture (as your picture is your virtual handshake), full details of employment, affiliations and educational background, and displays a minimum of three testimonials from past employers.
It might sound like too much, but it is a common human trait to be careful with whom we do business. Rather than taking a risk on a total stranger, people have always preferred to work with people who they, or their friends, know and trust. This is now transferred into the online space, where a ‘‘complete’’ LinkedIn profile is now becoming a prerequisite for collaboration. Not only that relevant people are connecting on LinkedIn only with individuals that have trustworthy profiles, nowadays many recruiters only consider to progress a candidate to the interview stage if he/she has a “complete’’ profile.
Similarly you can benefit from the detailed profiles in your connections. As a job applicant you can use the testimonial system to check out your prospective line manager, or even to track down someone who has held the particular job you are applying for. Something I highly suggest you use. In addition, I would advise to include appropriate keywords in your profile, in order to increase the chance of being found by recruiters.
Of course, face to face brand building elements should not be forgotten, as research by Harris and Rae (2009) have shown, self-branding is not a zero sum game, good online networkers also tend to be effective communicators offline. Therefore, clear body language, communication skills and charizma is something we all need to invest in.
As with everything else in life, also in personal branding, it is critical to be authentic. If personal branding is developed at only a superficial level it will not last. What drives online collaboration forward is a culture of trust – something that the conventional world does badly. The best long term strategy to build a brand influence is to be seen as a ‘‘giver’’ of good quality practical information. What seems to happen, over a period of time, is that successful individuals obtain a reputation and position based on a combination of their expertise and ‘‘connectedness’’, which makes them attractive to other players operating in the same space. An authentic personal brand therefore delivers both a track record and a promise of the ongoing delivery of value. As with all marketing communications, it is important to tailor the style and content to the needs of the audience.
To be honest, most developers are the least interested in building their online image and marketing themselves, they would rather immerse themselves in the code. While marketing yourself may not be the thing you have a natural affinity for, it is definitely something you should work on to differentiate yourself in the ultra-competitive tech world. It can help you open up a myriad of opportunities and benefits. Most mentioned benefit of a strong personal brand is that visible engineers earn more money, often a lot more. As it can be seen in the figure below, companies are willing to pay over 13 times more for a developer with a strong brand than for an average professional. The reason for that is that many companies are willing to pay a higher salary for experts they believe in, as they perceive that visible experts will bring more knowledge and experience. Other perks of a strong personal brand are that well-branded experts are able to secure valuable partnerships more easily, and with more desirable organizations. They attract better quality clients, too. Furthermore, developers with strong personal brands also benefit their firms. As a result of the halo effect, an expert’s reputation often spills over to the organization he or she works for. As I have mentioned previously getting on the recruiters’ radars and getting job offers is just the tip of the iceberg of opportunities that comes with your personal brand, it’s rather much more than that.
Of course, time and effort is required to develop and maintain online profiles, learn new tools and when best to integrate them into the mix. The results may not be immediate but persistence pays off. As Michelle Gander (2014) has described it in her research, everyone has a personal brand, but having it is not enough. A good and proactive management and a good promotion make a brand well-known by people. Personal branding requires consistency and engaging the right audience.
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