This blog post is all about why you don't keep your best code in a drawer :), what does it mean to discount your work, why sometimes you have to be a bit "selfish" (and that it's not against the teamplay), that you're both brand and product, there's no excuse for staying shy (and not doing anything about it) and that even if the job market situation doesn't require it (now), you should think more long-term when it comes to "selling" out yourself.
Disclaimer: potentially surprisingly - this IS a blog post for software engineering professionals of all levels & positions, not for their business counterparts. Keep reading ;)
It was 2012. Or 2013. I was working in a small team (while supporting few other ones ...) on some incredible stuff none of us tried before. What was the most interesting, we were not executors of someone else's vision: we've come up with & incepted the concept ourselves, built a "business case" around it, arranged the founding, etc. Everyday challenges were far beyond implementation - keeping the stakeholders' interest, fighting for high places on other teams' priority lists (we had dependencies), continuously proving to people who've bet on us, that they did make a correct choice.
That's when one of my colleagues told me during one of the casual conversations (& this will stay with me for many more years):
"You know ... I respect you for tech skills, experience with design, architectural knowledge, management-fu ... But, and don't get me wrong here ... the greatest value (by far) you provide to the team is ... thanks to your MARKETING skills. Without you, we could get only a tiny fraction of the effect you're having."
Quite a few years have passed, so these are not the exact words (I didn't write those down), but the essence is (hopefully) kept.
Anyway, it's an odd thing to hear while being an engineering manager & a senior technical architect, isn't it? :) However - I've appreciated them, thanked for them & they made me very proud (until this very day). Because ...
We are all sales(wo)men
Knowing (the theory) is a necessary foundation.
Executing it effectively is even better (far better).
But every achievement HAS to be discounted - without it ... it doesn't really matter.
Like a masterpiece manuscript kept forever in a drawer or Ferrari 488 GTB dusting in a forgotten garage ...
Top notch work has to be accentuated, emphasised, put in the front row as an example to follow. And doing that is ON YOU (as the one who did the work). Even if you're doing terrific, it's very naive to think that there will always be someone else who'll do it for you:
- your leader/supervisor may have too many things on her/his plate
- some things may not be that visible from everyone's perspective
- sometimes more direct (but less valuable) benefits of other topics may be far more striking for observers (so the value of your work may be questionable or at least not obvious)
I'm not asking you to boast or spend half of the time on building "propaganda apparatus" to sell out some bullshit buzzwords - that's totally not the point here.
What I mean is that each time you (& your team) accomplish something, it's on YOU to make it clear (by "radiating" the information about it) for everyone interested:
- what has been achieved (& what's the value in it)
- what kind of obstacles have been overcome, where did you have to act in a non-standard way, think out-of-the-box, take the initiative & act pro-actively
- what did you learn on the way - in terms of knowledge that is now present in the organisation & can be used from now on (not only technical knowledge, but e.g. identified risks or opportunities)
1st rule of standing out
To truly stand out (in a meaningful way) you need to stand out in the eyes of others, not only in your own opinion.
You may like it or not, this is how it works. There are no medals for "moral winners".
There's very little point in being personally convinced you're doing a tremendous work while no-one else knows (/cares) about what you're really doing. And this is where transparency helps:
- keep your priorities and nearest plans open & transparent for others
- if you're doing OKRs, publish them as well
- associate yourself with project/goal/initiative - people who are just "resources" being constantly allocated & re-allocated (according to someone else's will) are ... expendable, nameless "working mass", quantified in devkg/h ;P
- make sure your input in these initiatives is visible -> not only when doing a final summary, but also on the way
You are a brand (& a product)
But doesn't it stand against the spirit of a teamwork? Doesn't it look like selfish and self-centered boasting aimed to put yourself solo on a pedestal?
You're a brand. You're a product. And you're "selling yourself" to all the people around you - depending on how well you do that, they will or will not ...
- want to work with you in future
- rely on you (have the trust in you) - awarding you with more fascinating challenges & more critical topics
- award or promote you
- ... and in the end, just pay more attention to you
I know it sounds cruel, but didn't we consider it already from self-development's standpoint (in some previous blog posts)? You need to develop yourself (your skills & knowledge) to remain market-relevant, to adopt to ever-changing technology trends : this is (using slightly different words) developing yourself ... as a product. And now we're covering discounting the value of this product.
About being shy
What about the ones who lack self-confidence or are just shy?
Being shy is a flaw, a personal deficiency. Products can have flaws. In some cases flaws are more & in some less meaningful - this particular flaw may be a thorn in the ass for your whole life, so it's definitely something to work on (yes, of course it can be "fixed"). Some (stubborn) people stick to the statement:
"That's how I am. It won't change. Live with that."
I've kept hearing such statements from chronic introverts (developers who don't want to communicate with the world & believe they can work solo) and people with foreign language allergy (ones who don't want to learn English) - fortunately both groups are getting marginalised more & more these days.
Learn from their lesson.
There's one final issue with poor sales(wo)men in software industry (or engineering in general) - if you don't recognise value you're providing (or just can't communicate it further), how will you justify the raise you want? Your paycheck value in the end (in healthy organisations) doesn't come out of the blue - it's an equivalent for the value you bring into the organisation.
Let's consider a typical one-liner that is frequently heard in this context:
"Hey, I'm here for 12 months already, so it's the great moment to have my salary increased."
Read this again. Twice. Where does it make sense? In which part? Where's the causation? Because I don't freaking see it.
That's what I've learned in big consulting company I've worked for - you want more money? It's ON YOU to justify it with sheer facts - WHY does the company have any reason to give you more money?
- you've gained more skills? which? are they market-relevant? what is the value harvested out thanks to these skills?
- do you do anything more efficient? faster? better? what kind of new opportunities have you enabled?
- have you developed someone else? how did you contribute to the whole team? whole organisation?
- what were the initiatives you've participated in? how did you make the difference? what was the benefit out of it?
I'm not naive, I know what's happening on the job market these days. Plainly speaking - it's common to demand a raise "because of market" - high disproportion between demand & supply, rates being pumped up by the chains of intermediaries, etc.
But this is a short-sighted strategy (even if it appears beneficial for you). It makes you more lazy, it kills the commercial (entre- & intrapreneurial) instincts, it makes you indifferent (wipes out the "care level" ...), overconfident & over-secure. And in the end, it may be very detrimental to your career as it makes you bet your future pretty much solely on the job market situation.
Be a sales(wo)man, even if only to pump up your self-esteem.