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22: Why Should Developers Build Their Own "Brand"?

Published 2/27/2015

In today's episode, I discuss even further why it's important to create a brand for yourself. Make sure you check out my interview with John Sonmez to hear more about why a developer might want to build their own brand!

Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone and welcome to Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell. I'm your host and today we're going to be talking about whether or not developers should have a personal brand. I want to apologize in advance. My voice is a little bit kind of weird because I've had a little bit of a cold. What do you think of when you hear the word brand? Maybe you think of a logo you might think of. First for me I think of Coca-Cola. It's one of the world's largest brands, most recognizable brands. When I went to Georgia Tech there was a huge Coca-Cola building right next to campus and anybody who lives in Atlanta has definitely seen this building. Otherwise you're not looking around huge building and that iconic Coca-Cola logo is at the top of that building. There's a conversation that goes around amongst devs pretty often about whether or not it makes sense for Developer To have their own brand. I think about whether or not I'm going to put my name at the top of a building like the Coca-Cola building and obviously I think I don't need that of course. But that's not what a brand really is in terms of branding a developer. I'm very quickly going to give away that I do think that developers need a brand. But before we get into that there's a qualifier here. For developers who may or may not need a brand the only ones that this really matters to is developers who are doing development to get paid, who are practicing programming in order to get paid. Maybe you aren't getting paid now but you're trying to develop this the skill of being a good programmer in order to get a different job than you currently have. So if that's you then yes absolutely this conversation applies to you too. So what is a brand? Well according to my in-depth Wikipedia research a brand is simply something that distinguishes one product from another. So okay well why would a developer need a brand then? Well you think about what a product is and honestly we could we could sub in the word there something that somebody buys. Sub out the word product and then just instead say something that distinguishes one thing that somebody buys from another or in the case of a developer a brand is something that distinguishes one developer from another. And that's pretty simple right? It seems like well obviously if I'm going to be competitive if I'm going to be in any kind of market then I need to be able to be distinguished from other people. We don't go to the store and blindly choose groceries. We choose things based on a number of things. What the label says we choose things based on what we trust. We choose things based on what we need but we wouldn't know all of those things without some level of branding and some level of information right information that is provided on the packaging of that particular thing. So you might buy something off brand certainly I buy off brand things all the time right? But ultimately it's about the information. I can't buy something that I know nothing about. So if you are looking to make money as a developer somebody is going to be buying your time or buying buying you is kind of the way that it's they're buying your energy they're buying what you have to offer. So the misconception is the branding is about putting on a fake show and it's about having a logo. It's about presenting yourself as something that you actually aren't. It's about trying to trick people and using a pretty face or a pretty graphics to do that. And that's just not what branding is. Good branding is actually about distilling the complexity of your full identity into a small of a space as possible or a small of a space as necessary in order to display the identity to a particular audience. In other words so let me say that again in a less complicated way. Good branding is about telling somebody who you are. Right? It's about telling someone who you are in as few words as necessary. Now the reason why we say as few words as necessary is because branding is not intended to be something that you do with your close friends necessarily. You don't need to have a brand to have friends because people spend enough time with you to learn about you and to learn about who you are. Branding is for if you were to line yourself up against everyone else that comes up when you search programmers for a higher in a particular area you get 30 results. How do you stand out or do you even show up in the list? That is what branding for developers is usually about. Now this doesn't always fit every case. I'm going to go ahead and address the fact that not every developer ends up in this particular situation. There's a lot of developers in education who will never need a brand because they're basically going on one relationship after another. They know a professor who knows another professor they send a letter and that's how a lot of the education system works. But I bet if you were to sit down and talk with some of the most successful educators or if you were to Google those successful educators you would find that they have presented themselves in such a way online that you can understand what they do and who they are. So it's not really about whether or not you want a brand is it? It's more about whether or not you want people to know who you are. So think about any of your heroes in computer science or any other field for that matter. How do you know who they are? Have you personally met them or has some kind of story, some kind of perception from the public or some kind of message about that person preceded them? Maybe it's something that they made that fell into your hands and you wanted to learn more about the story of that thing. And so you you researched that particular thing and find out that it was made by that by that person. Whatever it is, all of those things are part of that person's brand because it's how you perceive that person through some kind of media, right? Through a anything other than sitting down with them and talking to them personally. So if I am hiring and I have two identical candidates, right? All their skill sets are the same. All of their education is the same. They have the same kind of background. Maybe they have the same previous job experience, whatever. I'm going to choose the one who has an active brand presence, specifically an active brand presence online, right? Now I'll tell you a couple of reasons why I would choose that person. First of all, that person cares about what he or she is doing enough to sell it. In other words, they care about their craft enough that they're willing to put it up for everyone to see and to buy. They're presenting themselves in such a way online that says, hey, this is what I'm doing and it's worthwhile. And if you want me to do the same thing for you, this is how it's going to go. This is what I do and this is what I do best. And so I'm going to present that in a way that attracts other people because I know that I have value. I know that I care about this thing enough that I'm doing it well enough that I can show it to the world. Okay. So another reason, managing a brand is in and of itself a valuable skill. When you hear managing managing a brand, you think of like, I don't know, a Coke can cut somebody's finger. And so somebody has to get on Twitter and make sure that they're responding to all the people who are tweeting about that person's cut finger and how Coca-Cola is the devil or whatever. That is not what we're talking about here. Most of the time, you aren't going to have some crazy crisis to deal with. It's more about learning how to present yourself, and I'm going to get ahead myself a little bit here, but present yourself in such a way that it's consistent and that shows the value that you have consistently online and has a unique and focused voice. That being able to do that is a valuable skill. Part of the reason it's valuable skill is if you're presenting an idea to a client, you're more likely to be trusted if you have experience and branding. And the reason you're more likely to be trusted is because branding is ultimately selling. Learning how to create a brand is showing people, hey, this is the thing that differentiates me from other things that you might want to buy. So here's why you should buy me. Or even here's why you shouldn't buy me. In either case, branding is necessary for people to understand who you are. I'm getting ready to give you a few steps that you can take that make it relatively easy. But remember, again, this is about presenting your identity, not trying to fabricate some false identity or false reality, or try to make yourself look better than you actually are. This is about you coming to terms with your own reality and coming to terms with your own skill set and saying, hey, this is what I do. And here is why I think it's worthwhile. Here's why I think you should hire me to do what I do best. Okay, so how do you build your brand without doing what you might would consider to be selling out without going down that path of faking it or creating some some crazy show out of what you're doing? How do you create a brand and stay authentic to who you are? Well, there's a few simple ways that you can do that. Number one, learn to speak and write in your own unique voice and then do that consistently. Right? So what this means is if you care about something really deeply or if you have particular interests or if you have, if you're a funny person, you need to own those particular parts of your personality, portray those particular pieces of your personality consistently, don't try to be somebody you're not. I've told you who previously on this show, I'm not a naturally funny person. I'm never going to try to turn this show into into developer comedy hour. It's just not going to happen because that would break with my brand. I am not intending to be funny because I'm just not naturally funny, right? So learn to speak and write in your own unique voice and do so consistently. Number two, write and publish on the internet preferably at a location that is unique to you. This is really basic stuff guys. You need to have a place where you're publishing your thoughts online. Now, if you don't want to go onto Facebook, I don't personally participate on Facebook hardly at all. If you don't want to be on Twitter, if you don't want to be on in all those places, that's fine. But guess what? You have this unique ability that most other professions don't get the opportunity to practice and that is you can create your own thing online. You don't have to go and participate on Twitter if you absolutely don't want to. You don't have to go and participate on Facebook if you absolutely don't want to. You don't have to do any of those things. You can create your own thing online and then publish there. And the reason why that is so important is because there are so many people who now see the world through the lens of a search engine. And that's how they're going to find out about who you are. I know that I am that way. I know that you probably are that way. So much of what we do is centered on research that we do in just a split second through Google. And so people are going to learn about you by googling your name. So take it on as a practice that you need to go on to Google every once in a while. Google your name and do it in an incognito window so that Google at least doesn't know everything about who you are for that particular session. Google yourself and see what comes up. I think you'll probably be surprised if you haven't been paying attention to your presence online. You'll be surprised what comes up, especially if you if you were a part of sites like live journal forever ago, that might be the way the people see who you are. Right. So if you don't want people seeing a false representation of who you are, the answer isn't just to be passive. The answer isn't just to not participate online. You should be aware that so many people who might would be looking for who you are as a developer are going to find who you were as a 16 year old writing in your live journal blog. So it's important to manage those things if you care about what people perceive you as through the lens of a search engine. And the best way to do that is to write and publish your thoughts on the internet. Be very vocal about what you're doing if you can't. If you're like working on an NDA project, obviously you don't want to share that with the world. But be vocal about the things, especially the things in your career that you're doing. If you're writing a personal project, share what you're writing with the world. You don't have to share the code necessarily even. You can just say, Hey, I thought this was an interesting problem. I decided to start writing something writing an app around this idea and share that idea with the world so that people can see that you care about your craft and that you care about their perception of you on the internet. Number three, intentionally participate in conversations online that are naturally places that you would go. So this means go and participate in comment threads on the latest Ruby patch release. That's very simple. Don't fake it again. Be completely authentic. Don't do it if you otherwise wouldn't do it unless you are just now realizing, Hey, maybe I need to be a little bit more vocal about what I think. If you have strong thoughts about something, you should be sharing those thoughts quite often. So the reason why that's so important is because people care about people's opinions, right? They care about other developers opinions. I know I care about your opinion. I would love to see 50 comments on developertea.com with people who disagree with me. You know, why? Because opinions shape the world around us. Opinions are what make us better. Opinions are what we create things around. We come up with an opinion and that is what we design our applications and our code around. Opinionated design is so important in adding opinions to the conversation, whether that's on a comment feed or through an email, whatever, intentionally participate in those conversations online, especially in places that are already natural for you. So like if you're on Twitter and you're already tweeting, then go every once in a while and respond to somebody else's tweet. It's pretty simple, but it makes a huge difference because people actually hear your voice. They actually see you participating online as a human being with opinions with a voice. Now the last one is one that I think sums up a lot and that is never be afraid of your own name. This is so important for developers because we are prone to imposter syndrome. We're prone to think that we don't belong here, that we aren't good enough for this industry. Branding is about being able to sell yourself and not just sell yourself in such a way that you feel like you're cheating someone. That's not what it's about. It's about selling yourself because you actually believe that what you're doing is worth it. It's about selling something that if you were in that person's shoes, you would buy. Don't be afraid of your own name. Don't be afraid of owning your own abilities. Don't get arrogant, but become confident. There's a big difference in arrogance and confidence and cultivating a sense of confidence is absolutely essential to being able to create a brand for yourself. Again, you need a brand because if you're afraid of your own name, then guess what? Nobody's going to pay you for it. If you can't buy what you're selling, then why would somebody else buy it? If you can't buy what you're selling, why would an employer? Your own confidence precedes an employer's confidence in you. Having confidence is absolutely essential to being able to sell yourself or to be being able to sell anything for that matter. And therefore, it's absolutely essential that you have confidence that you aren't afraid of your own name when you're branding yourself. Carrying about your craft is not enough. You have to prove that you care. Showing a brand online, cultivating a brand online that proves that your identity is that you care about your craft deeply. That is something that is worth spending your time on. That is something that is worth cultivating. That is why I think that every developer should develop their own brand. Thanks so much for listening to the show. I know you could be doing a lot of different things with your time and I appreciate the minutes that you spend with me listening to Developer Tea. If you'd like to contact me, you can get at me on Twitter at at Developer Tea, or you can email me at developertea@gmail.com. There's also a contact form on developertea.com, as well as show notes. If you'd like to support the show, you can go to developertea.com from Slash Donate. Thanks again for your time and until next time, enjoy your tea.