Meet Fiona, a Digital Marketing Manager in Acquisition Marketing at Scotiabank’s Digital Factory who recently completed BrainStation’s Online Live Digital Marketing Course.
If you’re just starting out as a Web Developer, it’s likely that you’re competing against people who can do many of the same things you can. Building a strong, unique personal brand is the first step to standing out from the crowd. If you can’t distinguish yourself as the only person who can do something, you’ll have to rely on your strengths and specialties.
What is Your Personal Brand?
Unfortunately, we can’t tell you that — you’ll have to figure that out for yourself. But your strengths are a good place to start building that brand.
Envision where you’d like to be in five years — what type of professional position you’d like to be in, and what kind of company you want to be working for.
With those goals in mind, you can start to focus on the skills that will get you there. Think of all your skills, not only your technical skills. Are you technically proficient but not much of a self-starter — better suited to a large, structured corporate environment? Or are you better suited to a startup (entrepreneurial, flexible, and proactive)? Are you more likely to rise above your peers based on your skills as a coder, or your leadership as a project manager?
Your answers will shape your career ambitions — which in turn will help determine the way you position your personal brand. Developing your brand is a marketing exercise, but it also helps you know what your strengths and goals are, and that’s going to affect the choices you make to develop your career.
Once you’ve figured out where you want to be, you’re ready to begin letting others know.
Consistency is Key
Think about the most successful brands. They’re identifiable because they feel the same every time you encounter them. You want your personal brand to achieve this as well.
First, develop a professional username and keep it the same across all the platforms you use: GitHub, Stack Exchange, Medium, Reddit, Twitter — the list goes on. Second, find an image to use as your avatar. Depending on how you’re positioning yourself, you may want to use a headshot or a logo; the risk with using a logo is corporatizing yourself — do you want people to know you’re a human being, looking for work? If yes, get a professional-looking headshot.
Some platforms let you take it a step further. For your personal website (more on this later), resume, LinkedIn page, or social media profile, you can also choose a personalized color and even a typeface that expresses your personality, and use in your banner images.
You may be thinking: this all sounds a bit superficial—shouldn’t my work stand out on its own merits? You’re not wrong. But if people are going to encounter you and your work across multiple platforms, a consistent handle and image are necessary to help people piece those disparate appearances into a cohesive impression of you—your brand.
Create a Portfolio
About that personal website: get your own URL. You’re going to need a portfolio that highlights what you’ve done and what you can do. This is your best chance to communicate your strengths in your own words, so take your time!
Don’t be afraid to develop a narrative here. Your career is growing — nobody is expecting you to show off dozens of finished projects. What they do want to see is progress in the right direction. So show your early work — but make sure you’re identifying it not just as examples of what you can do now, but as points along the way of your steady growth.
In some cases, you won’t be able to show your finished work due to ownership issues. Here, describe your accomplishments resume-style, emphasizing outcomes. Use numbers wherever possible to quantify your successes.
This portfolio is also where you can show off your passion projects. What do you care about? What are your special interests? Imagine making small-talk with someone who has a professional curiosity in you. The goal is to keep your presence professional while helping people imagine what it would be like to work with you every day.
GitHub and Stack Overflow are both excellent ways to put your expertise on display.
GitHub is a code repository where anyone can share their solutions to problems — source code for bug fixes, new features, and even tutorials. While many people use it as a project management platform, you can also think of GitHub as a place to show off your work — things you’ve created, even works in progress — to the kinds of people who can benefit from it. You can also contribute to large open-source projects, which is both a resume-builder and a networking opportunity.
Stack Overflow is an online forum where Developers can ask and answer questions. For example: “Can I store a function and its parameter values in a variable and call it later?” Answering questions is a great way to position yourself as an expert on a given topic (and a great way to develop new skills, too). Lean into your specialties. If you’re claiming that you’re the best at Swift or Python, this is the chance to prove your bona fides.
While GitHub and Stack Overflow are great places to show off the things you’ve figured out, they’re not necessarily set up to position you as you’d like to be seen.
Your personal website is a great place to publish a blog sharing your big-picture takes. What experiences have you learned from — not just coding skills, but all the skills it takes to get a job done? What are some efficiency-boosting tricks you’ve discovered? What tips have you picked up for motivating team members? What frameworks have you developed for conceptualizing your creative process? What observations have you made about where your industry is headed?
This is what people mean when they talk about “thought leadership” — demonstrating that you have your own valuable ideas and insights — and your blog is a great place to stand out not just for the code you can write, but for all the ways that you can be an asset to an organization.
Anything you post to your blog you can also publish to the online platform Medium — and share via Twitter. All these platforms cross-pollinate to drive traffic and boost your profile.
Social media is a useful stepping stone, but face-to-face interactions can yield surprising connections and make stronger impressions.
Virtually every area of development has its own events — chances to learn, to meet new people, and to let others know what you have to offer. Attend a conference (for that matter, why not speak at one?). Take part in a hackathon, or become a mentor at a coding camp for kids.
Websites like Meetup make it easier to find or organize networking events, but there’s no substitute for good, old-fashioned word of mouth.
Then there’s the way to build your network while developing your skills: take a class. BrainStation offers courses in Web Development, iOS Development, and many more that can complement your skill set.