We often misinterpret “standing out” as having exceptional coding skills. This statement is a common misconception among software engineers who want to land their first salary increase.
People operations or HR managers look far beyond your technical skills. Think about interpersonal skills, such as communication skills, cultural fit, actively sharing knowledge, or helping fellow developers. You can be a star developer but not good at interpersonal skills.
This article guides you on standing out as a software engineer. You’ll learn about the value of being a team player, the importance of actively sharing knowledge, showing involvement in the company’s direction, or being an organizational talent. Let’s get started as there’s more to discover!
Tip #1: Pick a specialization
In the introduction, we’ve mentioned that you don’t have to be a star developer. Yet, I recommend picking one or two technical specializations. Pick those specializations wisely depending on your team’s capabilities.
For example, you are part of a small backend team that also takes care of the DevOps aspects. Unfortunately, your teammates don’t have a keen interest in designing continuous integration (CI) pipelines. Therefore, it’s a choking point for your backend team as they don’t have the required knowledge to efficiently solve CI problems.
It presents a valuable opportunity to learn more about CI pipelines and the specific CI tool you are using. By doing so, you show your commitment to push the team further and improve the company’s efficiency.
In conclusion, evaluate choking points for your team where more expertise is required. By filling those knowledge gaps, you can strengthen your team and improve its efficiency.
Tip #2: Be a team player
I can’t stress this enough. Be a team player!
You can double your team’s efficiency by actively helping each other, prioritizing important tasks, and providing feedback. Let me give an example. Most developers develop functionality in sprints, assigning them a particular number of story points. This system often leads to added pressure to prioritize your tasks over others. Therefore, it leads to an ecosystem where developers focus on their work, neglecting others' pull requests (PR), or other essential tasks. While you might finish your work, you aren’t helping your team forward.
I’ve experienced a similar situation where awaiting reviews block PRs and stall progress. Why? Developers tried to finish their PRs before spending time on their colleague’s work.
In short, set your ego aside and help each other. You’ll get more work done. Provide feedback and be accountable. Pair programming is often a great solution to ease teams into shared accountability, solving the PR-clutter problem.
Tip #3: Be involved with the company’s direction
Showing an interest in the company’s direction is a great way to stand out as a software engineer. You do not only care about the code but also the product or service behind the code. As a software engineer, you often know the pain points of a company. Why not use this information to your advantage?
In many cases, this can help you to land your first salary increase. Show commitment to the company and product you’re building.
Tip #4: Be an organizational talent
I still remember the first time when my team lead asked me to guide the retrospective meeting. After having attended plenty of retrospective meetings, it’s still scary to guide a meeting as a software engineer. Yet, being an organizational talent will make you stand out as a software engineer. To repeat what I’ve said at the beginning of this article, soft skills matter!
Learn about different meeting types and ask your team lead if you can lead one of such meetings. Here’s a list of typical meeting types for agile teams:
Daily standup meeting
Tip #5: Foster knowledge sharing
When you’ve learned something new, share it! There’s nothing more fun than educating your teammates and sharing your learnings.
Try to make it a fun event! For instance, my past company organized bi-weekly developer meetings on Friday evenings. Here, teammates share their learnings, we reflect on our progress and share fun stories from the past two weeks. These meetings were often quite entertaining, adding a beer when appropriate.
These meetings are great for building a strong bond. Moreover, junior developers are often afraid to share knowledge in front of a team as they believe senior developers will criticize them for not knowing something. This statement is a common misconception. While juniors can learn from seniors, the opposite is also true.
It’s a great opportunity for developers to stand out by contributing knowledge to the team. I bet this won’t go unnoticed by the HR team or your team lead.
Technical vs. Soft skills - Both matter!
I’ve talked about the importance of developing your soft skills besides your technical skills. That being said, it’s still worth spending time refining your technical skills. Pick one or two specializations to fill knowledge gaps for your team. Doing so, you show your dedication to the team and company wanting to improve efficiency.
On top of that, soft skills matter. Work on your organizational skills, learn about different meeting types, and organize particular meetings yourself. It helps you overcome the fear of public speaking, and you position yourself as an authoritative developer within your team. It’s an excellent way of standing out as a software engineer to land your first salary increase.
Even without the prospects of a salary increase, focus on your soft skills as they are equally important. You’ll be surprised about the opportunities that might arise.
In short, actively share knowledge, help teammates where possible, and avoid the developer ego from focusing on your work first.