How to Market Yourself
without Being a Celebrity
Author’s Note: This is a free chapter from The Coding Career Handbook. If you liked this, come check out the rest of the topics!
I’ve also given several interviews on this topic:
- at DataTalks.club - Q&A and notes
- at React Europe
- at Production Ready
- at A Question of Code
Personal Brand + Domain + Coding Skills/Business Value => Market Yourself in Public + at Work
A nice summary is here. Related podcasts (like this and this and this).
When to Use This
Ideally you are constantly Marketing Yourself, but it’s understandable that you don’t want it to take over your whole life. So: pull up this tactic when:
- You have done something significant that you are proud of/enjoyed
- Just before some major professional move or project launch (hiring/promotion/idea)
For the rest of this essay I will primarily talk in terms of Marketing Yourself, but the tactics here also include marketing your ideas and your projects.
Marketing is important for your career. I don’t have to justify this; according to a recent survey I saw, 91% of you already agree.
The more common doubt people have is in their ability to market themselves well. They see “Tech Celebrities”, and then they look at themselves, and they say: “I’m not like that, when I put out a blogpost I don’t get a billion likes,” or “I don’t want to be like them, that seems hard.”
The mistake here is equating Marketing with Celebrity. It’s like saying your favorite restaurant shouldn’t bother trying because McDonald’s exists. They’re two different (but related) things!
You are a product. You work really hard on making yourself a great product. You owe it to yourself to spend some time on your Marketing even if you don’t want to be a “Celebrity”. Like it or not, people want to put you in a box. Help them put you in an expensive, high-sentimental-value, glittering, easy to reach box. Preferably at eye level, near Checkout, next to other nice looking boxes.
It’s not that hard to be better than 95% of devs at Marketing. The simple fact is that most devs don’t do the basic things that people tell them to do. I think this has two causes:
- It’s not code. Code is black and white. Marketing is shades of gray.
- A lot of advice is very generic. “Blog more”. Devs often need more help transpiling Business Talk to actionable instructions.
Let me try.
You Already Know What Good Personal Marketing Is
You may not feel confident in practicing good marketing, but you should realize you are being marketed at ALL. THE. TIME. Therefore you can be a world class expert in marketing that resonates with you. That’s the kind that you can practice - not that other scammy, sleazy, invasive, privacy destroying kind.
You’ve almost certainly already benefited from good marketing - by finding out about something from someone somewhere, that registered a hook in your mind, that eventually drove you to check it out, and now you cannot function without it.
And you certainly want to benefit in the other direction - you want to be that thing that others find out about from someone somewhere. You want to register hooks in people’s minds. You want to drive people to check you out. And you want people to prioritize working with you.
One constraint you have that other marketers wish they had, is that you don’t have to market to the whole world. You can target specifically the audiences you want to work for, and no more than that - meaning, as long as you are well-known in those circles, you don’t need a public presence at all. Your conversion rate will be higher, and your stress probably lower (as will be your luck surface area).
The topic of Marketing Yourself is pretty intertwined with Personal Branding. If you’re like me, you’ve never really thought about the difference until right now.
Think of yourself as a plain, unmarked can of soda. You’ve got awesome fizz inside. Branding would slap distinctive logo and colors on the can. And then Marketing is responsible for getting you, the freshly minted can of Coca Cola, in front of people.
Branding is the stuff that uniquely identifies you. Marketing just gets your awesome in front of people.
Of course, it helps marketing to have strong branding. This is why they are correlated. In fact, the strongest branding creates its own market. You don’t want a laptop, you want a Macbook. You don’t want an electric vehicle, you want a Tesla. I could list more examples, but I trust you understand.
It’s really easy to sell to a market in which you are the only seller. Almost literally shooting fish in the barrel. Nobody can compete with you at being you.
The other wonderful feature of personal branding is that it is entirely up to you to create stuff that uniquely identifies you. There’s no store somewhere from which you pick a brand off the shelf and put it on like a new coat. You create it from thin air, with the full dimensionality of all human diversity has to offer. 7 billion humans on Earth doesn’t even come close to exhausting the possible space of unique selling points you can pick.
Picking a Personal Brand
Your Personal Brand is how people talk about you when you’re not in the room.
So naturally, one way to start picking a brand is to listen to the one people naturally chose for you.
Caution: you may not like what you hear! That’s ok! That’s what we’re trying to fix.
Personal Anecdote Time!
If you can get a friend to tell it to you straight, good. If you can get some people on a podcast talking about you without you there, good. Or, like me, you can accidentally eavesdrop on a conversation.
I swear I did this unintentionally - the first time I found out I had established an incredibly strong personal brand was when I was at a house party with 20 friends and friends of friends. While in a small group, I overheard someone behind me talking about me. They introduced me as “that guy that preaches Learn In Public”. Then, at a later hour, I heard another person introduce me without me there. Then, again, when joining a new group, a third person introduced me the exact same way.
I don’t consider myself a personal branding expert. But I understood instantly that I had pulled off a very important feat. I had written so much about a topic that multiple people instantly associate me with that topic. It’s not critical that they say it in the exact same way, as that can be a bit creepy/culty, but it’s good enough to use the same terms.
Anything But Average
There are other aspects of my personal brand that don’t get as much attention. But I bring it up front and center when it is relevant. I changed careers at 30. I used to be in Finance. I served as a Combat Engineer in the Army. I am from Singapore. I speak Mandarin. I’ve written production Haskell code. I sing Acapella. I am a humongous Terry Pratchett fan (GNU Terry Pratchett). I love Svelte and React and TypeScript. I am passionate about Frontend/CLI tooling and developer experience. I listen to way too many podcasts. The list goes on.
But I have this list cold. I know exactly what parts of me spark interest and conversation. Therefore I can sustain interest and conversation longer, and people know when to call on me. You should keep a list too - know your strengths and unfair advantages.
What I do NOT consider my personal brand is the stuff that doesn’t differentiate me at all. For example, when asked about my hobbies, I deflect extremely quickly. I identify as a “Basic Bro” - I have my PS4, and Nintendo Switch, I like Marvel movies and watch the same Netflix shows you watch. Just like the million other Basic Bros like me.
Totally basic. Totally boring. NOT a personal brand.
In fact anything not “average” is a good candidate for inclusion. In particular: Diversity is strength. Adversity is strength. Weakness is strength. Nothing is off limits - the only requirements are that you be comfortable self identifying with your personal brand, AND that it evokes positive emotions as a result.
I’m serious about that second part - You don’t want trolling or outrage or cruel sarcasm to be your brand, nor do you want to bum people out all the time. Entertain, Educate, Inspire, Motivate instead.
Identity + Opinions
What I did accidentally, you can do intentionally.
A nice formula for a personal brand is
Identity + Opinions. A personal brand based solely on who you are, doesn’t really communicate what you’re about. A personal brand based solely on what you do, is quite… impersonal. People like knowing a bit of both, you should give it to them.
You can be:
- the Theater Nerd that loves Cloud Computing
- the Knitter that encourages Accessibility
- the Pianist that evangelizes State Machines (thanks to schwayse on my livestream for suggesting this one)
In the right circles, there are exactly 1 person for each of these I just listed. I don’t even have to say who they are.
Identity doesn’t have to be so personal if you’re uncomfortable with it. Professional affiliations work. You can be “That Applitools Gal that created Test Automation University” or “That Googler that maintains RxJS” or “That Coursera Guy that loves GraphQL”. It’s just a little awkward when you eventually leave.
I really want to give you more hints on this, but I’m afraid if I gave more examples I might limit your imagination. Don’t even take this formula as a given. It’s just one template.
Humans love consistency. Developers REALLLLY love consistency.
Here’s an idea of how much Humans love consistency. We often want people who are famous for doing a thing, to come on to OUR stage, and do the thing. Then they do the thing, and we cheer! Simple as that. There’s so much chaos in the world and having some cultural touchstones that never change is comfort and nostalgia and joy bundled up into one. Here’s Seth McFarlane being prodded to do the voice of Kermit the Frog and Stewie from Family GUy - something he’s done a billion times on a billion talk shows - but he does it anyway and we love it anyway. We LOVE when people Do The Thing!
Similarly, when we market ourselves, we should be consistent. People love seeing the same names and faces pop up again (Caveat: you should mainly be associated with positive vibes when you do this).
I recommend taking consistency to an extreme level. We used to do this offline with business cards. Online, our profiles have become not only our business cards, but also our faces. The majority of people who see you online will never see you in person. In most platforms, your profile photo is “read” before your username. Your username is in turn read before your message. Your message is read more than any link you drop. And so on. Therefore I strongly recommend:
- Photo. Take a good photo and use the same photo everywhere. A professional photographer is worth it, but even better can be something with a good story, or an impressive venue. If possible, try to show your real face, and try to smile. This puts you ahead of ~50% of users already who don’t understand the value of this. Companies spend millions on their logos - why shouldn’t you spend some time on it? We are irrationally focused on faces, and we really like it when people smile at us. Thankfully, because it’s just a photo, it costs us nothing to smile at everybody all the time. It’s a really easy way to associate your face with positive emotions. And when we see you pop up on multiple different platforms with the same face, we light up! The emotion completely transfers, and the branding is nonverbal but immediate.
- Real Name. Show your real, professional name if possible, unless your username is your working name. This works especially well in anonymous platforms like Reddit and Hacker News, because you are taking an additional step of de-anonymizing yourself. People respect this.
- Username. Your username should be your name if possible (so people can guess it), or failing which, something you intimately identify with. You should probably have the same one on most platforms, so that people can find you/tag you easily. Some, like myself, will simply use their usernames as their working names for ever. This can be a branding opportunity as well, similar to how music artists adopt mononyms and how fighter pilots adopt callsigns.
- Words. You should consistently associate yourself with a small set of words. Where a bio is allowed, you should have those words prominently displayed. For example, it doesn’t take a lot to show up whenever SVG Animation or React and TypeScript are mentioned. You can set Google Alerts or Tweetdeck filters for this, and before long you’ll just get associated. When you have your own words, like a catchphrase or motto, and it catches on, that is yet another level of personal branding.
You will have made it when people start making fun of you. I’m not 100% serious, but I’m at least a little bit serious: Can people make memes of you? If so, that’s a personal brand.
All this personal branding will be 10x more effective when you have a Domain.
You Need a Domain
You Need a Domain.
I mean this in both ways:
- Set up a site at
yourname.comthat has all your best work
- Pick a field that you are About.
The first is hopefully obvious - instead of putting all your work on a platform somebody else owns, like Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn or other industry blog, have it primarily discoverable on your site/blog. This builds your site as a destination and lets you fully control your presentation and narrative - even off-site, on Google. Having a distinctive site design is yet another point of personal branding that, because you are a dev, costs basically nothing. People come to my site and they remember my scrollbars.
But the second meaning deserves more introspection: I am asking you to plant your flag. Put up your personal bat signal.
Planting Your Flag
I used to have a very crude, kinda sexist name for this idea: “Be The Guy”. This is because I noticed how many guys were doing this:
- The Points Guy is the Internet’s pre-eminent authority on travel perks (It is now also a 9-figure business - pandemic aside)
- The RideShare Guy is who Wall Street called upon when Uber and Lyft IPO’ed
- Science communicators have definitely caught on to this. Neil deGrasse Tyson always introduces himself as your Personal Astrophysicist. But he’s completely owned by Bill Nye - The Science Guy!
If you skim over “the Guy” as a gender neutral shorthand, the actually important thing about having “a Guy” is that you look better just by “Knowing a Guy”. Listen to Barney Stinson brag in How I Met Your Mother:
You know how I got a guy for everything?… My suit guy, my shoe guy, my ticket guy, my club guy, and if I don’t have a guy for something I have a Guy guy to get me a guy!
This effect is real and it is extraordinarily powerful.
Just by “having a guy” for something, you suddenly feel no desire to overlap with that person’s domain. You can now focus on something else. And, to the extent you do that, you are now utterly dependent on “having a guy”. You’re also extremely invested in your “guy” (aka go-to person, the gender is not important) being as successful and prominent as possible, so that you look better by association.
It should strike you now that being someone’s go-to person is very valuable, and that this also scales pretty much infinitely.
You get there by planting a flag on your domain, and saying, this is what I do. People want expertise. People want to defer to authority. People don’t actually need it all the time, they just want the option just in case. People love hoarding options. You can satiate that latent insecurity indefinitely. Most people also define “expertise” simply as “someone who has spent more time on a thing than I have” (The bar is depressingly low, to be honest. People should have higher standards, but they just don’t. This is a systematic weakness you can - responsibly - exploit.)
Picking A Domain
Btw, are you chafing for career advancement, or want to be seen as a leader by your peers? My stock advice is, find an area that is important but under-owned and become everyone’s go-to expert on that topic. - Charity Majors
You don’t need to get too creative with this one. You want to connect yourself to something important:
- Maybe something people deal with daily but don’t really think about too much (especially if they know they are leaving something on the table, like airline points - it is easy to make money from helping people unlock free money).
- Maybe something people only deal with once in a blue moon, but when they do it REALLY hurts (so you gain unfair expertise by specializing in having repeated exposure to rare events across multiple customers).
There are a bunch of these, so to narrow down even more, look out for something you disproportionately love. Look for your own revealed preferences - search a topic in Slack or Twitter and see how often you talk about it. Look up your own YouTube watch history. An ideal domain for you is something that seems like work to others but you have fun digging into.
With everything you love, there are things to hate. Find something within what you love, that you are ABSURDLY unsatisfied with. That love-hate tension can fuel you for years.
For any important enough problem, there are plenty of experts. Do you feel like you haven’t narrowed enough? Shrink your world. Be an internal expert at your company for your domain. This also helps you focus on things that bring value to a company, and therefore your career. It’s also a very natural onramp to being an external expert when you leave.
Claiming Your Domain
Picking your domain is 90% of the journey. Most people don’t even get that far. To really clean up, be prolific around that domain. Show up. To every conversation. I kind of joke about this as “High Availability for Humans”.
By showing up consistently, you become part of the consideration set. Humans don’t have room for a very wide consideration set. It’s usually 2. If we make lists and try really hard, we can get up to 10 (see: the Oscars).
Think about the last time you purchased soap. You probably buy 1 of 2 brands of soap. But there are 100 on the shelves. They just weren’t in your consideration set. So they never stood a shot.
So your goal, as a brand, is to make it in. You do that by being Highly Available.
By the way, we also have huge Availability Bias when it comes to recall. We conflate “first to your lips” with “being the best”. We’re also really good at backwards justifying what we just called the “best” by pulling up a bunch of bullet point reasons that have nothing to do with being “first to your lips”. (Did I mention we like consistency?)
It’s your job to earn the right to be the best (and to define what that means), but also entirely within your control to be considered the best, which is what claiming your domain looks like.
Give Up Freedom - For Now
The flip side of planting your flag is you shouldn’t plant it anywhere else. People like to see commitment. It implies, and usually does mean, that you have no choice but to be a domain expert. You signal commitment by giving up optionality. This is 100% OK - what you lose in degrees of freedom you gain 10x in marketing ability.
Author’s note: 10x may be an understatement. Cory House saw a 15x increase in enquiries when he went from “general dev consulting” to “helping teams transition to React”. Same dev, different pitch, 15x opportunities.
The secret is - and don’t tell anyone - that if you pick a Domain and it doesn’t work out, you can still pivot if you need to. Nobody’s going to hold it against you, as long as you don’t pivot too often.
If you really aspire towards more general prominence, you will find a much easier time of it if you first prove yourself in a single Domain.
Blogging is usually mentioned prominently in the “Marketing for Developers” space - so I feel I must address the elephant in the room, despite it being a subset of the general mindset I want you to have.
I will always encourage you to blog - but don’t fool yourself that merely pushing a new post every month alone will do anything for you by itself. That’s just motivational shit people say to get you started. There’s a lot of generic, scattershot advice about how you should blog more. These are usually people trying to sell you a course on blogging. (Except Steve Yegge!)
The fact is Blogs gain extra power when they are focused on a Domain. CSS Tricks is a well known blog in the Frontend Dev space, and, as you might guess, for a long time it’s domain was entirely CSS tricks. (It’s expanded since then). Like everything else you follow, it’s all about Signal vs Noise.
Blogs let you get more juice out of that Domain Name you own, by constantly updating it with fresh content. You can also use it to feed that other most valuable online business asset: your email list! Overall, it is just a good general principle to own your own distribution.
Twitter is a form of microblogging. It lets you export data easily and your content shows up on Google without an auth wall. All good things. But you’re still subject to an algorithmic feed. Definitely not a distribution you own - but it can be worth it to make the Faustian bargain of growing faster on a platform (like Twitter) first, then pivoting that to your Blog/Mailing list when you have some reach. Growing a Blog/Mailing list from zero with no other presence is hard.
Marketing your Business Value vs Marketing your Coding Skills
A large genre of “Marketing for Developers” advice basically reduces you to an abstract Business Black Box where your only role and value to the company is to Grow Revenue or Reduce Cost (or Die Trying?). I call this Marketing Your Business Value. This is, of course, technically correct: Technology is a means to an end, and ultimately your employer has to make ends meet and justify your salary. It is especially in your interest to help them justify as high a salary as possible.
Have at your fingertips all the relevant statistics, data, quotes, and anecdotes for when you solve major product pain points, or contributed a major revenue generating/cost saving feature. Julia Evans calls this a Brag Document. You should be able to recite your big wins on demand, and frame it in terms of What’s In It For Them, because you will probably have to. Managers and Employers are well intentioned, and want to evaluate you fairly and objectively, but often the topic of your contributions comes up completely without warning and out of context, and you want to put yourself on the best footing every time.
Consider this Applied Personal Branding - success is when your boss is being able to repeat everything you say you’ve done to her boss, to advocate for you as fullthroatedly as you should do yourself. Make that easy. If you can, get it down to a concise elevator pitch - Patrick McKenzie is fond of citing a friend’s Business Value as ”wrote the backend billing code that 97% of Google’s revenue passes through.” Enough said.
Unfortunately, Market Business Value is not at all helpful advice for people who have yet to make attributable business impact through their work: Code Newbies and Junior Devs. Sometimes, even as a Senior Dev, you are still trying to market yourself to fellow Devs. These two situations call for a different kind of marketing that is underexamined: Marketing your Coding Skills.
To do this other kind of marketing, you basically have to understand the psyche of your target audience: Developers. What are they looking for?
There are explicit requirements (those bullet points that companies list on job descriptions) and implicit requirements (subconscious biases and unnamed requirements). You can make it very complicated if you want to, but I think at the core Developers generally care about one thing: that you Do Cool Shit. Some have an expansive definition of Coding Skills - even if you’ve done something totally unrelated, they’ll easily assume you can pick up what you need later. Others need something closer to home - that you’ve Done Cool Shit in a related tech stack.
If you’re marketing yourself for employment, then the Risk Averse will also want to know that you have also Covered Your Bases - That, alongside the upside potential of hiring you because you’ve Done Cool Shit, the downside risk of you being a bad hire is minimized. Do you know Git? Can you solve FizzBuzz? Is your code an unreadable, undocumented mess? This is covered if you have shepherded a nontrivial project from start to finish, and have people you can ask for references. If instead you’re just marketing your projects and ideas, then downside matters less - it’s easy to walk away.
The definition of Cool really depends on your taste, but people’s interests are broadly predictable in aggregate. If you look at tech sections of popular aggregator sites like Reddit and sort by, say, most upvoted posts in the past Year, you can see patterns in what is popular. In fact, I’ve done exactly that for /r/reactjs!
Even if your project is less visual, and more abstract, you still need to explain to the average programmer why your project is Cool - it solves a common/difficult problem, or it uses a new technology, or it has desirable performance metrics. The best Cool Shit will be stuff you have been paid money for and put in production, and that people can go check out live. If you don’t have that yet, you can always Clone Well Known Apps (automatically Cool) - or win a Hackathon (check out Major League Hacking) - or Build Your Own X from Scratch, another popular developer genre.
Portfolios vs Proof of Work
Usually the advice is to assemble your Cool Shit in a Portfolio. Portfolios do 2 good things and 2 bad things:
- Portfolios display your work easily and spells out the quick takeaways per piece - You control your narrative!
- Portfolios help you diversify your appeal - if one project doesn’t spark interest, the next one might!
- In this sense it is most like a Stock Portfolio - you’re diversifying risk rather than adding upside.
- Portfolios look skimpy without quantity - meaning you can feel forced to Go Wide instead of Go Deep, Quantity over Quality.
- Portfolios overly bias toward flashy demos (which doesn’t really help if you’re not trying to focus on Frontend Dev/Design)
- You can and should buy designs if design isn’t a skill you’re trying to market - it gives your projects an instant facelift which is generally worth multiples of the <\$100 that a premium design probably costs.
Some people plan their projects by how it will look on a Portfolio - the dreaded “Portfolio Driven Development”. That lacks heart and it’ll show when you have to talk about your projects at interviews and talks. Instead, just pursue projects that seem most interesting to you, and then figure out how to present it later.
The simple fact is that there are a wide variety of devs and dev careers for whom Portfolios make no sense at all. Your humble author is one of them. You can market your coding skills through any number of more relevant ways, from doing major contributions to Open Source, to being Highly Available surrounding a Domain, to Blogging. The most general, default marketing skill is definitely Blogging. You can write about any kind of technical topic in your blog.
Marketing Yourself In Public
The better you have a handle on your Personal Brand, your Domain, your Business Value or your Coding Skills, the easier time you will have marketing in public. Everything we’ve discussed up to this point is useful in public, so I’ll just leave you with a few more pointers to consider whenever you engage and want to promote yourself online.
Pick a Channel. The best marketing channels are the ones you’re already on. You have a natural affinity for it for whatever reason. For me, it was Reddit, and then Twitter. Dev communities like Dev.to are great too, as are the ones you build on your own (aka your mailing list). Just be aware that some platforms are less rewarding than others - e.g. Facebook charges you to reach your own subscribers, LinkedIn is full of spam, Reddit and Hacker News don’t show an avatar so you don’t get to imprint your personal brand. I think Instagram and YouTube are huge areas of opportunity for developers. Just pick one or two, and go all in. A lot of people use social media tools like Buffer to crosspost - this is misguided because you end up underinvesting in every platform and everyone can always tell you just aren’t sincere.
Don’t Lie. Most things are taken at face value online, and this is wonderful for getting your message out there. But if you misrepresent what you were responsible for, or straight up fabricate something, you will eventually get found out. We like to think that things live forever online, but I think it’s actually easier to erase something from Google than it is to undo the reputational damage caused by a stupid lie. People will hold it against you for years, and you will not have a chance to defend yourself or atone for your sins. Stephen Covey calls this the Speed of Trust. Once you lose trust, everything you say gets run against a suspicion check, and you have to put up more proof points to be taken seriously. This also applies to promises of future commitment too - if you simply do what you say you were going to do, you will stand out.
Don’t Share Secrets. You will gain more privileged information over time as you grow in your career. This is advantageous to you, and you should do everything you can to demonstrate you are a trustworthy guardian of that information. People might flatter you to get that information, or offer an information swap. But the only way to encourage more information flow to you is to show that you can keep a secret. If it helps, I’ve started flatly saying “that’s not my info to discuss” and people usually get the hint. I always think about Christopher Lee, who fought in the British Special Forces in World War 2 before his legendary acting career. When pried for information about what he did in the War, he would say: ”Can you keep a secret? Well, so can I.”
Inbound vs Outbound Personal Marketing. Borrowing from Hubspot’s Inbound marketing and Seth Godin’s Permission marketing. Outbound Personal Marketing is what most people do what they look for jobs - only when they need it, and trawling through reams of job listings and putting their CV in the pile with everyone else. Inbound Personal Marketing is what you’ll end up doing if you do everything here right - people (prospective bosses and coworkers, not recruiters) knowing your work and your interests, and hitting you up on exactly the things you love to do.
Market Like Nobody’s Watching. Because probably nobody is, when you’re just starting out. It’s OK, this is your time to experiment, screw up, find your voice. Because normal comfort zones are not set up to market yourself, you should try to do a little more than you’re comfortable with. An aggressive form of this advice? If you’re not getting complaints about how you’re showing up everywhere, you’re not doing it enough. This makes sense to some people, and is way too upfront and annoying for others. We all have to find our balance - it’s your name on the line after all.
Market Like One Person’s Watching. Marketing is more effective when it is targeted at a specific someone instead of just everyone. Customize your message to audience. Focus on what’s in it for them, tell them why they care. People often don’t know what they want or why they care - quote their prior selves if possible.
Market for the Job You Want. This is a variant of “Careful what you wish for… You just might get it.” You’ll probably end up getting what you market yourself for… make sure it’s something you want!
Marketing Yourself At Work
It’s both easier and harder to market yourself at work. It’s easier, because it’s a smaller pond, and your coworkers have no choice but to listen to you. It’s harder, because while you have people’s attention, abuse will not be tolerated.
If you are obnoxious online, people can mute you and carry on with their lives. If you are obnoxious at work, it can backfire pretty directly on you. In particular - always share credit where due and never take credit for something that wasn’t yours. Of course this applies in public too, but enough people do it at work that I feel the need to remind you.
Basics aside - you probably agree that it’s important to ensure you get visibility for the work that you have done. Here are some ideas:
- Log your own metrics for significant projects. Before-after latencies. Increase in signups. Reduced cloud spend. Uptime improvement. Increased session time. I’m sure your company has an expensive, comprehensive and well instrumented metrics logging system (this is a joke - one does not exist). Don’t trust it. It will fail you when you need it most, or be unable to tell the story you want told. Hand collect metrics, links, press coverage. Take screenshots. Collect qualitative anecdotes, quotes, shoutouts. The best time to do this is right after you see a good result - you will never have time in future to go back for it. Stick it in a special place somewhere for a special occasion - like, say, a performance review. If you use Slack, it can be helpful to make your own Slack channel and Slack yourself your own notable achievements. This gives you a nice chronological log of work.
- Awesome Status Updates. Status Updates are a humdrum routine at most workplaces. Most people put no effort into them. You can buck the trend by making them awesome with just a little more effort. I’ve seen this “flip the bits” in team morale, where people realize they can either continue being boring or join in the effort to do the best work of their lives, due to one person doing this.
- Unprompted Status Updates. Sometimes a project is disorganized enough that there aren’t even regular updates scheduled. Management probably vaguely knows what is going on, but is too busy to ask for more. You can take leadership in a vacuum simply by doing your own regular status updates.
- Do Demos. Offer to do them every time. This is an internal marketing opportunity that people regularly turn down because of the stress of public speaking or that it is more work. You don’t even have to wait for an assigned time for demos - since most workplaces are now at least partially remote and asynchronous, you can simply put up a short recording of your own demo! Good demos will spread virally - and so will you. Caveat: make sure you have the stakeholder approvals you need before you do this - don’t demo work that isn’t ready for a demo.
For more ideas on becoming indispensable at work, check out Seth Godin’s Linchpin. You can find a decent summary here.
Things That DO NOT MATTER
- Appealing to Everybody.
- Short term Optimizations.
- Day of the week and Time of Day that you post
- Short term analytics (e.g. weekly traffic)
- It’s not really that they don’t matter, it’s just that you should be working on more evergreen things that make short term nonsense irrelevant.
- Being a Celebrity.
- Better to be rich and unknown than poor and famous. If you can build a successful tech career without being a celebrity, then absolutely do that - unless you just crave attention anyway.
- I haven’t mentioned followers once in this entire essay. You can buy followers and everyone can tell. It looks sad.
- Building real relationships with peers and mentors you respect is way more fulfilling than raw numerical mass appeal.
That was a LOT of high level marketing concepts. Do take a while to digest them. The last section is going to be a grab bag of tactical ideas for marketing yourself - after you get the important details in place.
Assemble your Personal Brand, your Domain, and your Coding Skills/Business Value, then Market Yourself in Public + at Work.
Appendix: Marketing Hacks
Welcome back. Here’s a list of “hacks” that can get you quick wins with Marketing Yourself. Try them out and let me know how it goes!
- Help Others Market. This is so simple as to feel “dumb” even pointing it out, but it works. You want practice in marketing, but don’t want to take the full plunge yourself, or don’t feel like you have something to offer yet. You can find others who are brilliant but uninterested in marketing, and offer free marketing help!
- Crosspost on Industry Blogs. A nice way to get attention for your work is to do great work on someone else’s platform. Industry blogs (and newsletters) are pretty much always looking for quality content. For Frontend Dev, the ones with rigorous editing are CSS Tricks, Smashing Magazine, and A List Apart.
- Collaborations. Related to crossposting and helping others - basically you can raise your profile by working with others who already have very high profiles. Justin Mares bootstrapped his own profile by coauthoring a book with Gabe Weinberg, Founder of DuckDuckGo. Same for Blake Masters with Peter Thiel. Basically if you can work out a non exploitative deal where you do a bunch of legwork but learn a lot, and then copublish with the author, take it. That’s a rare deal; most often you will just be Picking Up What They Put Down and working your way to become a peer the slow way. If they have a meetup, forum, podcast, or whatever platform, show up on theirs, and then get them to show up on yours.
- Industry Awards. Some people set a lot of weight by awards and certifications. Well regarded programs include Microsoft MVP, Google GDE, AWS Heroes. As a pure signaling mechanism, it works like anything else works - an unhappy mix of credible, gamified, and incomplete. But having a bunch of logos on your site/slides generally help you, so long as they are not your biggest claim to fame.
- Memorable words/catch phrase/motto. This is used by companies and reality stars alike, and can be a bit tacky if you try to, well, make fetch happen, but if you strike a nerve and capture the zeitgeist you can really carry your message far. Nike spends billions to make sure that every time you think of the words “Just Do It”, they come up. You can do that too.
- Friendcatchers. Make them.
- Visualize your work. If you draw, you can be WORLD BEATING at marketing. Draw everything you can. Even the invisible stuff. ESPECIALLY the invisible stuff.
- If you say you cannot draw, that’s a lie. Use Excalidraw.
- Elevator Pitch. In the old days, this pitch was literally for when you ran into the decisionmaker in a 30 second elevator ride. A typical template goes something like “if you’re a
<point of view>, I/my thing
<what it does>in
<some eyepopping metric>”. In this day of both TikTok and podcasts, attention spans are both shorter and longer than that. You need to tailor your elevator pitch accordingly. Be able to sell yourself/your idea/project in:
- 1 hour
- 15 minutes
- 5 minutes
- 30 seconds
- 280 characters (a tweet)
- (stretch goal) 2 words
- Summarize the top 3 books in your field for your blog. This idea is often attributed to Tim Ferriss, but I’m sure multiple people have come up with it. The idea is you don’t have to be original to have a great blog - it’s easy to bootstrap your web presence - and your own expertise - by covering existing ground. If you do it very well you can rise to prominence purely because of it - Shane Parrish and Mike Dariano built Farnam Street and The Waiter’s Pad purely off summaries. Then practice marketing your summaries - Syndicate on Twitter. Make talks out of it at work and on YouTube.