The Importance of Marketing Yourself
Who are you?
In your professional field, who are you? Do other professionals know who you are? If you were to go on an interview right now at another company in your local area, would they have at least heard of you beforehand?
Take a second and Google yourself. Now, search for your name plus what you do. Keep it kind of generic, like "seth valdetero developer". What do you see? If you don't see very much within your field, don't fret! We'll talk about different things that you can do to market yourself. The goal of marketing yourself isn't just to look good for an interview - it is to make you desirable. Not solely for new jobs but also at your own company. You want them to view you as an asset that they want to keep.
Who can you become?
Do you know who Scott Hanselman is? If you're a developer in the .NET ecosystem, you have probably heard of him. He is pretty much the example of marketing yourself (at least as a .NET developer) because he blogs, speaks internationally numerous times a year, has multiple podcasts, and has authored several books. If he went looking for a job, people would already know who he is; in fact, people seek him out. This is the power of making yourself known.
If you have ever used the Q&A site Stack Overflow, you have probably heard of Jon Skeet. He has the highest reputation of all of the millions of people that visit the Stack Exchange Q&A network. He has been unofficially referred to as the Chuck Norris of Stack Overflow. His constant contribution has led him to internet fame in the coding community. This was not his goal, but a side-effect of doing the kind of the things that market yourself.
Those are some wildly successful examples, and maybe you’ll never be internet famous, but there are serious, realistic gains to be had in your geographic, professional, and online zones.
How do I get there?
Most of the ways to market yourself are some form of communication. Whether it is written, verbal, or interpersonal - you're going to have to tell people who you are. Get ready to step out of your comfort zone and let's get our name out there!
Start writing a public blog. Write about solving a problem, do's and don'ts, best practices, or some new technology. If you are just starting out, don't feel like it has to be a super long post or overly technical (unless that is how you write). Choose a target audience. Is it fellow technicians like yourself? Is it newcomers to your field? Educators? Decision makers and influencers? Knowing your audience can shape the amount and depth of context you provide in your blog posts, and could also help inspire new post ideas.
Just write something. Then write another. The main thing is to keep it up - set a cadence and try to blog regularly.
Contribute to Sites/Open Source Projects
Start by contributing to your favorite open-source project or jump on Stack Exchange and start asking and answering questions. These are things that can help put your name out there to a larger geographical audience and are also easily searchable online. Also, any code that you write that isn't protected by your organization's intellectual property should be on Github (or similar public site). This is just as good (if not better) than live coding during an interview.
Lunch 'n Learns, user groups, and conferences, oh my! First time speakers should pick a topic they know very well (or give yourself enough time to learn it well). It is not a requirement by any means, but it will help your confidence. User groups are pretty welcoming and understanding to new speakers. An easy way to get your feet wet at speaking at a user group is to do a lightning talk (short ~15 minute presentation). The most important thing you can do when speaking is to practice/rehearse. If you practice enough, you reduce the chance of errors and make the presentation muscle memory. Start small and work your way up. Be sure to always upload your presentation to slide sharing sites like SlideShare or Speaker Deck that can be searchable.
Attending user groups and conferences are great to gain knowledge and learn something new but if you're not meeting new people and reconnecting with others, you are doing a disservice to yourself. When you're speaking at an event, you let people know that you are knowledgeable about a particular topic. When attending, you want the knowledgeable people to know who you are. Introduce yourself, discuss the topic/ask questions, and exchange business cards. At a user group, don't just sit in the corner, eat your pizza, and then leave as soon as it is over. As much as it may go against the nature of an introvert, shaking hands and introducing yourself can go a long way when done enough times.
Leading/Organizing a Group
No user group in your area? Organize one! If there already is one, then speak to the organizer about helping out and being part of the leadership. Speaking from experience, user group leadership is always welcoming people who actively want to help. We regularly announce who our leadership is and what they do. Regular attendees will learn who you are and associate you with leadership roles. If the first two options aren't really available, then schedule a one-time event like a hack-a-thon.
Podcasts work better if you already have a network that you can promote it through, but that shouldn't stop you from starting one. If you like to talk (but maybe not in front of people) then this would be right up your alley. Podcasts, like blogs, also don’t have to be about current events/news of the industry, though you can still talk about those. A long-lived and valuable podcast would have recurring segments dedicated to practical, applicable topics that the listener can take action on after/while listening. You may also want to provide interesting interviews or guest co-hosts to get some vocal variety. Also, like blogging, having a tight editor for your podcast is key! Make sure to spend time reducing dead air, uncomfortable pauses, and coughs from your recording, just like you’d remove grammar, run-on sentences, and unnecessary semicolons from your blog post. The most important thing about podcasts is the same as blogging - keep doing it. Set a schedule and stick to it. Before you start, have several episode topics already planned out. Create a list that you're always adding to.
Write a Book
Writing a book is a complex and involved task but can really be worth the work. If writing one solo is too daunting, then reach out to others in the community and see if you can co-author or at least contribute to someone else's work. There are significantly more mediums than there were years ago. You can write a self-published eBook on Amazon as a great entry before jumping into a hardcover book from a large publisher.
Who I am
When I first started my career, I didn't do any of the above things. I was the guy that occasionally attended tech events but I sat in the corner, ate my pizza, and didn't talk to anyone. With great help and mentorship from experienced colleagues and people in the community, I slowly started stepping out of my comfort zone and tackling the above items. I can honestly say that I have only progressed as much as I have because of doing these items. Writing and speaking has helped improve my skills technically and professionally. I'm not famous by any means, but other companies now know who I am and what I can do. Most importantly, right now, my current company values me. Marketing yourself is never finished. Keep growing, keep stepping out of your comfort zone, and get your name out there!
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