There are a lot of stereotypes out there about developers—many of them untrue! But what is true is that generally as a developer, you start with a set of hard skills which you leverage into your career and professional development. You perform your work with a scientific skillset that is the perfect tool for specific tasks. While that skillset is extremely valuable and hireable, it might mean that it’s harder for you to launch the softer (yet equally crucial) skills that lead to a satisfying and fulfilling career… like building a personal brand.
But building a personal brand is a fulfilling and practical tactic in today’s industry. Far from a vanity move or unnecessary work, a personal brand:
Helps you stand out from the crowd: In a field where people have similar skillsets, you can differentiate yourself, and add an edge to your CV and portfolio.
Gives you credibility: As people in your industry become more familiar with your brand, it increases your chances to get the roles and promotions you want.
Provides the opportunity to network: Even in the process of building your brand, you’ll network more and connect with other developers, potential employers, and industry experts.
Puts your name on the map: If starting your own company, getting in at the ground level or rising to C-level is on your list of career goals, personal branding is a must!
A personal brand can help you in a myriad of crucial, career-defining ways. But how do you actually go about doing it? If you’re more comfortable showcasing your hard skills or if you’ve just never approached the idea of marketing (especially self-marketing), it might feel overwhelming or even impossible. The good news is, there are a lot of easy ways to take small steps into personal branding and build it naturally into your life. In this guide, we’ll break down some practical strategies!
Consider Your Own Ambitions and Comfort Level
Before launching into a massive project, take a step back to plan it in a way that makes sense for your particular career path and comfort level. This means asking yourself questions like: what would my dream position be in ten years? What do I want other people in my industry to associate with me?
Create a project plan for your own personal brand. If you’re more comfortable behind a screen, you might want to avoid in-person events and speaking opportunities, at least to start. If you know that you have trouble following through, you might want to plan out posts and activities several months in advance, so that you won’t stall a few weeks in.
You should also try to tailor your plan to your own specific goals. If you’re after a career in management, you could concentrate more on making yourself a thought leader in that particular space. If you’re more interested in becoming the leading expert in your coding language, start connecting with other experts in that same space so that you become a known and respected peer.
If you’re not exactly sure what you want, take time to focus on that now, before you start building a confused or muddled personal brand. A pivot later on, of course, is okay, but you’ll set yourself up better for success if you have a clear idea of what you want and how to go after it. To help, you might ask if you could have an informational interview with someone whose career path you admire. Or you could speak to your manager or even a career counselor to help you focus on your own professional goals.
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Embrace Your Own Passions and Knowledge
The secret key to making your personal brand inspiring, engaging, and completely unique? You.
Though research on other industry leaders is key, try not to lose sight of yourself—that’s what a personal brand is all about after all! Consider all of your favourite (and least favourite) things about your job. What do you love most? What do you find most frustrating? What are you best at? What can you see as an innovative new way of doing? What attracted you to your job in the first place? What are you most excited about for the future?
Think about all the opinions you have about your role; think about what you discuss with your industry friends or colleagues over lunch. Filter out the inappropriate topics (this is not the space to complain about your boss) and you’ve got a list of potential topics that you can make part of your brand! To formalize this process, you could try making a mind map or running list of topics that you find fascinating and want to share your expertise on.
It’s important to remember that creating a personal brand doesn’t mean being fake. In fact, authenticity will attract more people to your brand. You’re always going to be at your most engaging when you’re talking about something you actually care about. So embrace what makes you excited (or frustrated, or frightened, or hopeful) about your industry, and start talking about it!
Create an Online Presence
Good news, introverts! In today’s world, building a personal brand doesn’t mean you have to be out there shaking hands and taking the stage. You’ll be surprised at just how much you can achieve by building a strong online presence. In many ways, an online presence is more important than regularly attending industry events. After all, industry events happen irregularly, but you can put your content in front of people’s faces every day online.
There are lots of online spaces where you can make an impact. Here are a few to consider:
LinkedIn: Chances are, you already have a LinkedIn, so here’s your opportunity to buff it up. Ensure your page is up-to-date, catchy and presents you at your best (that means adding an interesting bio and highlights so people can easily understand your profile). And then update your LinkedIn regularly by posting and commenting on other people’s posts, to build an online community.
GitHub: If you’re a programmer, ensure that you maintain an active GitHub profile. Showcasing your open-source contributions and personal projects is a great way to make yourself known and show off your coding skills amongst your colleagues and peers in the industry… as well as attracting the interest of someone higher up!
Other social media platforms: Depending upon your expertise, interest and favourite platforms, you could also consider branching out on X (formerly known as Twitter), TikTok, YouTube, Medium and more. Again, follow your passion — if you already have a stake and a following in a social media platform, here’s the chance to invest in it.
Build your own website: You may have spent some time building other people’s websites — here’s your chance to build your own! A personal website is a great space to host a portfolio and blog. Design, developing choices and the copy on your website is also another way you can highlight your own skills, interests and brand. Ensure that your contact information is visible so potential employers and clients can reach out easily!
Build Offline Buzz
Good news, extroverts! Being a developer can be lonely work, but building a personal brand as a developer can be extremely social and fulfilling.
Whether you’re happiest in a spotlight or feel nervous about venturing beyond your comfort zone, it’s a good idea to venture into offline spaces and start making yourself known at industry events, conferences, workshops, hackathons and more. If you’re shy, you could start by simply attending — go to events on topics that particularly interest you, so you’re more likely to forget your nerves, or ask some friends or colleagues to come with you for support.
But as you build your confidence, or if you’re already happy speaking to audiences, it’s a great idea to aim for moments in the spotlight. Speaking at conferences, leading workshops or appearing on podcasts are great ways to make yourself more recognisable, reach new audiences and build authority in your industry. Later down the line, you might even consider starting your own podcast or other offline activities that offer you the chance to connect on your terms!
Working on your online presence by posting regularly on social media and sharing your portfolio is a great way to attract the attention of organizers for such events. But don’t wait to be asked! Start pitching yourself, reaching out to conferences, podcasts and other companies ahead of time. Share your credentials and give an idea of what you’d like to talk about, and you’ll be surprised at how many people leap at the chance to hear what you have to say.
Of course, you should also use these events as a chance to network. Introduce yourself to new people, thank speakers for their insights, and take the chance to connect wherever you can. Then add them on LinkedIn when you’re home so you don’t lose the connection!
Content for your soul and skill:
Measure and Adapt
As a developer, you’re likely a data-driven person. Now’s the chance to use those skills to help you build a personal brand. As you work on these new branding activities, ensure you keep a close eye on what’s working and what’s not. Use tools like Google Analytics to check the performance of your website and content, or check out social media platforms’ internal metrics to get a sense of your performance. You could also try collecting data about your offline networking efforts — for example, which people are now consistent parts of your life? What encounter led to something fruitful? A fun side project could be building your own metrics to analyse the success of your networking!
You’ll start to see interesting results. Perhaps that off-the-cuff meme you posted performed better than the blog posts you thought about for weeks. Perhaps people are connecting more with your personal stories than your professional thoughts, or vice versa. Perhaps that person that you met at the bar after a conference is commenting on a lot of your posts and boosting your engagement. Based on the data you collect, you can adapt your strategy to hone in on what will make your personal brand successful.
Building a personal brand is, ultimately, all about investing in yourself. Your ambitions, your skills, your personality — they all make you a unique asset. A personal brand is your testament to that! So be proud and build the future you want.