Why Even Successful Software Engineers Need Personal Branding

If you already have a successful career as a software engineer, you might think that there’s no real need for personal branding. Find out why it actually could make a big difference for you, and how to go about doing it! By Kave Bulambo.

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Many engineers believe that talking about themselves on professional networks is uncomfortable, sales-oriented and irrelevant to their career path. However, paying attention to your personal branding can open up unexpected opportunities like promotions or even entirely new careers.

Find out why branding yourself is important and how to use it to make a bigger name for yourself in your dev community.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • What personal branding is.
  • Why it’s crucial for your career growth.
  • The steps you’ll take to begin this journey.

To start, you’ll take a look at some of the objections software developers often have to spending time on personal branding.

Making a Case for Personal Branding’s Importance

Taking time out of your busy life to build your personal brand isn’t easy. When you think about doing it, you might have one of the following reactions:

  • Why would anyone need to know about me? Doesn’t my code say enough?
  • I have too many bugs to fix and security features to maintain to spend time talking about myself.
  • I am happier seeing the result of my work than talking about it.
  • I already have a great job. Why would I bother branding myself?

However, when you start showing the desire to move up the ranks in your tech career, the conversations you begin to have with your manager and other executives change. The future of your career becomes about more than just code; instead, potential hirers or promoters want to know who you are and what additional values you bring to the table.

And guess where that insight comes from? Your personal brand.

Why Personal Branding Is Crucial for Career Growth and Development

“If people like you, they’ll listen to you, but if they trust you, they’ll do business with you.” Zig Ziglar

In personal branding, this translates to: If people like you, they’ll hire you to join their team, but if they trust you, they will let you lead their teams.

As you begin to strategize your way into a leadership position, you’ll need more than just your expertise. The people around you need to really know who you are and why you care about the product you are building. Can you defend it or bring it out of difficult circumstances?

If you already communicate and share your views with the wider world, your values are easy to determine. By communicating your unique talents honestly and authentically, you’ll show the right opportunities how to locate you.

Many engineering teams prefer to hire Team Leaders internally because managers need to know the person pretty well, beyond code, before giving them that responsibility. In fact, many engineering leaders aren’t even coders by background; rather, they’re people who understand code and have a proven track record of valuable skills such as good communication, mentorship and interest in the industry.

Whenever you start to move toward leadership, your views about the world and your work become more important than daily tasks like coding. After all, you’re no longer simply doing your part; you’re now positioning yourself for influence. Leaders and executives need to trust you before they can hand over responsibilities to you.

To earn trust, you need to communicate who you are. Consistently.

Do you want to be sent to speak at a conference on behalf of your company? You need some proof that you’ve spoken at a meetup or that you lead team meetings. Do you want to step into team leadership? You need something that shows you’re a good mentor and handle difficult circumstances well.

Note: It’s fair to acknowledge that some organizations might not recognize your potential for many reasons. If your company refuses to acknowledge your potential despite making it as clear as you can, it might be time to look for opportunities outside your organization. At which point, your personal branding will be even more important.

So how do you go about building a personal brand as a software engineer?

Understanding Branding

Before you can start putting your personal brand to work for you, you need to understand what branding is. Branding is more traditionally used for marketing products.

Person reading a book on branding
Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Branding is a way of building a reputation for a product in the consumer’s mind. By building this brand, you “communicate the value a buyer will receive,” as Tom Peters, who is considered the father of branding, said. That is what stays at the top of your mind anytime you think about buying a particular product.

Think about the products you use and the companies you support. Apple, Toyota, Nike and other major companies use branding to create a narrative around the products they sell worldwide. They then communicate that narrative to their customers constantly, and sometimes in the most creative ways, until those customers buy in.

How Is Personal Branding Different?

Personal branding is very similar: It’s the art of creating a narrative around a person rather than a company. Unlike branding a product, personal branding does get very personal. It’s a way of making you stand out for who you are and what you stand for, as well as what you do in your profession.

Your brand comprises your mission, vision, values, and purpose. You can also go deep and add your strengths and weaknesses. This shows how unique you are — and how valuable.

Are your values known in the team or organization? For engineers, this may look like valuing clean code, ensuring an excellent testing process before launching new features, choosing to build certain software products and “paying it back” by contributing to tech communities.

These elements may seem like minor considerations in your job, but they are significant in helping people define who you are, what you stand for and, most importantly, the value you bring to the table.

At the core of personal branding is the belief that you are a unique individual who stands for specific values and ideas, and you want to bring that to the forefront of your work. You must make your skills, beliefs and values known to your team and your company if you plan to accelerate your career.

It’s important to note that there is a difference between your brand and the implementation of your brand messaging, which is what you see when people share on social media. A brand without a mission and vision will not survive; similarly, a person with great values and beliefs that no one knows about will not be top-of-mind when it comes to new opportunities.

How to Build Your Personal Brand

Creating a brand for yourself might feel like a lot of work. Work which, quite frankly, you don’t have time for. However, creating your own personal brand doesn’t have to take a ton of time. The best way forward is just to start where you are by answering these simple questions:

  • Who are you?
  • Where do you come from?
  • What are your values?
  • Why do you do the work that you do?
  • What are some of your strongest job-related beliefs?
  • Can technology be a force for change in the world?
  • What inspired you to pursue a career in tech?

There are no right or wrong answers. You want to end up with everything that feels right on that piece of paper. Then think about how that sets you apart from other developers. What on that list makes you particularly suited for your next opportunity? And how can you communicate that to others?

After this evaluation, you can move to the next step, which is your communication strategy.

Communicating Your Personal Brand

Once you know what your brand is, it’s time to spread the word. Luckily, the tech industry offers many tools that help you make a name for yourself among your peers. Here are some ideas:

Person reading a book on branding
Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash
  • GitHub: Take some time creating a GitHub page that highlights you and your work. Be sure to make your contributions visible. If you have time, contributing to open-source projects is a great way to show how community-minded you are.
  • LinkedIn: Complete your LinkedIn profile with current and relevant work experiences. Follow people in your industry and comment on their posts. Share news and your thoughts on industry-related topics to make your viewpoint public.
  • Twitter: Use Twitter and other social media sites to spread the word about your accomplishments, ask and give help about tricky programming issues, connect with other people in your industry and share interesting posts on relevant topics.
  • Personal Website: Create a simple website with your bio and your expertise. Highlight why and for what reasons people should reach out to you. Your future colleagues will be impressed to find their future leader online with an overview of what they believe in and the projects they contribute to.
  • Blog: Start your own blog or Medium column — or contribute to well-known tech blogs in your industry.
  • Speak at Conferences: Submit papers to calls for proposals to see if you are chosen to lead a talk or workshop at an industry conference. This is a great way to make a name for yourself while also bringing in extra income — or at least free travel.
  • Network at Conferences: Improve your skills while meeting influential people in your industry. If you find this daunting, an alternative could be attending a hard-core tech event such as hackathons, where there’s less talking there and more working together in small teams.
  • Podcasting: Look for an industry podcast where you can volunteer as a guest speaker and share your talents with an audience. You can even consider starting your own podcast!
  • YouTube: Create your own YouTube channel where you talk about the industry or teach concepts you understand well. If you’re not ready to start your own channel, consider joining another channel as a guest.
  • Kodeco: Apply to write books and articles or create videos for Kodeco. You can share your knowledge with the development community while making a name for yourself.

Remember, the key to your strategy is to remain authentic and truthful to who you are. In the process, you formulate a story or narrative that will make people believe you know what you’re talking about and are the right person for the job.

When to Start Your Personal Branding Journey

Building your personal brand is vital to growing in your career and establishing a thought leadership presence. To build a successful personal brand, you must understand the background of the concept of branding and how it has influenced many of the purchasing, investing and vetting decisions you have made.

That understanding will enable you to relate to the idea of your brand, which is an invaluable way to communicate who you are and what added value you bring to the table.

This critical discovery process becomes more succinct and authentic the more you repeat it to yourself and, most importantly, to those around you. Make sure that you create this narrative with a vision to growing and accelerating your career.

It’s never too early to start, so go ahead and begin that journey now, wherever you are on your career path.

Key Points

  • Even if you have a successful career now, personal branding is vital to opening doors for future opportunities.
  • Personal branding is the art of creating a narrative around yourself that shows your values surrounding your career, then communicating that narrative to your team, your managers and to others who might offer important opportunities for you to pursue.
  • A personal brand consists of:
    • The Person (You): The things that make up who you are in a professional context. Your mission, vision, values, strengths and weaknesses.
    • The Brand: This is made up of a unique name (yours), your image (how you present yourself), your marking campaigns (activities you take part in and share publicly) and your consistency in communicating who you are and what you do.
  • There are many tools that allow you to showcase your talent, ranging from a well-written resume on LinkedIn to a mentoring channel on YouTube. Which tools are right for you depends on what you’re trying to showcase and what you feel most comfortable with.
  • Whether you are just starting in your development career or you are already a successful senior dev, now is the right time to start your personal branding journey.

Additional Resources

If you’d like to go even deeper into this subject, here are some additional resources for you: