It is too easy to communicate with potential employers through your personal branding in ways that pretty much ensure they will not move forward with you in the hiring process. Whether you’re communicating in a cover letter, resume, or in-person interview, the result is the same. In this article, we’ll run you through:

  • The 4 epic failures 99% of developers make before landing a job.
  • Storytelling: the most important skill you’ll need in the job hunting process.
  • 3 case studies about how to strengthen your personal branding as web developer.

Let’s get started.

Mistake #1: Nobody Hires Aspiring Developers, People Hire Developers

This is a subtle point, but it’s important. Nobody hires aspiring developers, employers hire people who are currently developers.

Imagine you’re in the market for a haircut. Two people offer to give you a haircut. One person tells you:

“I’ll cut your hair, I am a hairdresser.”

And the other person tells you:

“I’ll cut your hair, I want to become a hairdresser someday.”

Most people would completely dismiss the second person, with the expectation that the second person would give a terrible haircut because they likely don’t know what they’re doing.

If you send the message that you are an “aspiring developer” rather than a “developer,” employers will immediately consider you to be unqualified for the position.

Starting today, you are a web developer first. Even if you have a different job, your identity is a full-time web developer, and your second job is what you use to pay your bills. In every interaction about web development, speak from the perspective of someone who is currently a web developer, not someone who maybe someday will be one.

Mistake #2: Not Letting Your Personality Shine Through

There are many successful career paths you can take. Startups need help with marketing, sales, business development, customer service, and many other areas that can make for an exciting and rewarding career. What makes development an interesting field for you?

Becoming a web developer isn’t easy. There are ups and downs in the process. What’s gotten you through the process? Passion is contagious, so take some time to recognize exactly what makes you passionate about programming.

Employers are selfish! In general, when working in web development, there isn’t a clock to punch or hours to log. Some employees work a 9-5 shift. Many companies have rockstars who work from 9AM-8PM – because they genuinely love their work and are striving to make the biggest impact possible.

Most developers have worked with one of these rare, so-called 10x developers. These developers are often early in their career and eager to prove themselves to the world. Their passion for web development drives them to impact their product as much as they can.

Even if you don’t believe in the 10x developer, people generally agree that employees who genuinely love what they’re doing will work longer hours and be more productive than the ones who are working principally for the paycheck.

Since the best developers are passionate about what they’re doing, having passion is a trait you should express rather than hide. Luckily, there are a lot of good reasons to be passionate about web development.

First, there are very few other crafts where you can build something real with only a text editor and time. There is something really satisfying about starting a project from scratch and building it into something that someone else can use.

Second, it’s not easy! The fact that there will always be additional challenges, more things to learn, and new technologies means that every single day, you can learn and grow as a developer. If you’re embarking on a career as a web developer, you’ll never be bored.

web developers never get bored

Finally, programming can be fun! The satisfaction of solving complicated problems is real. The experience is incredibly rewarding, which is why many programmers suffer from a programming addiction.

Authentically loving the act of programming will most definitely help you get the job. This may sound like a wishy-washy soft skill, but it’s what hiring managers care about. Take the StackOverflow post that asks: how to recognize a good programmer. The top answer, upvoted 114 times, is the following:

Get them to talk about what they’re interested in. I have yet to meet a developer who is really passionate when talking about programming but can’t actually code. They may well exist, of course – and your interview should check for competency as well – but passion is a good indicator in my experience. (Note that that’s not the same as being able to “talk the talk” in terms of buzzwords.)

Ask them what they don’t like about their favourite language or platform. How would they fix things? What would they like to see in the next version? Do they have hobby projects? If they’ve got a blog, read it. Check their general online presence.

A similar StackOverflow post: choosing between two programmers: experience vs. passion. Here’s the top-voted answer:

Hire the inexperienced programmer with a passion for the craft. A passionate programmer will learn quickly, care about his work and enjoy doing it. I’ve worked with both types of programmers and I would always hire the passionate type over the experienced.

People who don’t care about their work eventually lead to problems in quality as well as in meeting deadlines.

Since you explicitly state that you have the resources to train someone, this is a no brainer. Hire the passionate programmer.

If you’re just starting out and you don’t have experience, your love of programming will need to shine through to counterbalance your lack of experience. Your personality is your greatest asset. Not letting it shine through is the biggest mistake you can make.

Mistake #3: Omitting Relevant Details

Many people have had exposure to programming for longer than they take credit for. A college class, a hobby as a child, or even automating repetitive tasks with the service IFTTT (the If This Then That service).

Find things you’ve done in previous roles and find ways for those tasks to connect to development. Web development is all about:

  • Analyzing problems and building systems and processes to solve them.
  • Automating processes and making sure they execute flawlessly.
  • Using technology to solve problems efficiently.

When talking about your prior experiences, highlight the ones in which you’ve done tasks similar to these. If you look hard enough, you can probably find examples of when you acted in a role that was similar to that of a web developer.

There are a number of ways you can add credibility to your claim that you are a developer. Use any tool in your tool belt to do so. Someone who has rekindled an old passion has more credibility as a developer than someone who started 2 weeks ago.

Take any credit you can, and make sure to include any instance in which you’ve used technology, automated processes, or built systems on your resume. Whether you used code to make it happen or not.

Mistake #4: Trying to Know Everything and Not Being Open to Learn

Rather than trying to seem like you know everything, be honest and authentic about what you aren’t an expert in. In general, people don’t trust know-it-alls, and trying to trick your way into a position won’t get you anywhere. Here’s why:

One of the best qualities in a developer is a strong desire to continue to learn and be mentored by more senior developers. This is especially true for the position of a junior engineer who is hired based on an investment in their long-term potential.

Take the opportunity to show a willingness to learn new things. This isn’t the same as expressing a willingness to take any offer you can get – in doing so, you’ll likely end up among the people who struggle to land a job as a developer. The developers who get multiple offers are the ones who indicate a few traits:

  • A desire to grow and continuously learn the craft of engineering.
  • Wanting to not just “get things done,” but to desire to do things the right way. The buzzword best practices is something that will interest senior developers quite a bit.
  • Knowledge, experience, and willingness to write code in a test-driven manner, keeping the red/green/refactor tight.
  • A desire to have a senior developer take you under their wing as a mentor to pair program and learn from the best.
  • A genuine interest in the company, its particular size, and engineering culture.

Part of your core web developer identity should be a strong willingness to learn, humbleness, and an open mind to new, better, or different approaches to engineering.

Personal Branding 101: Hone Your Storytelling Ability

In every interaction, whether it’s a cover letter, resume, phone screen, or interview, the employer is looking to answer the question:

Who are you?

Take the time to figure out who you are before communicating it to other people. The first time someone asks you to “tell me about yourself,” you might have no idea how to reply. Later, we’ll give you a trick that will allow you to figure out exactly how to respond, rather than coming up with something on the fly.

Your answer to this simple question will likely drive the success of the interview process. Using the rules of thumb above, you’ll want to ensure the following is true in your answer:

  • You are a web developer. You are not an aspiring web developer, you are not refocusing your career, and you are not hoping to start a career in web development.
  • Showcase your passion for the craft. What makes you live, breathe, and sleep code? Weave this into your identity.
  • Bring it together. Figure out a way to explain that “you’ve been a web developer your whole life, even though you only got serious about it recently.”
  • Feature a single project you’re working on. Be ready to explain why you’re working on it, why it makes you excited, and what the next features you’re planning to build are.

Case Studies: Three Junior Developers With Strong Personal Brands

Now that you know what not to do and you’ve given some thought to who you are as a web developer, let’s talk about how to transition what you have into a killer personal brand. Here are three “web developer brands” that we’ll give a makeover.

Person #1

After many years as a high school math teacher, I am refocusing my career path towards web development. I am looking for a full-time job as a junior full-stack web developer and improving my skills as a programmer.

I am a web developer with experience primarily in Ruby on Rails, but with an interest in JavaScript and the front-end of applications. In a previous career, I was an 8th grade high school math teacher. When I started, the students didn’t have a grasp on the fundamentals they needed, but after uncovering the problem, I developed the curriculum and process to help my students master linear algebra. I have been programming as a hobby since childhood, and I recently rekindled this passion. I seek a role as a web developer at a company where I can learn, grow, and continue to master the craft.

There are a few key takeaways from this slight change in perspective.

  • The first sentence focuses specifically on web development and dives right into technology and coding experience.
  • Since web development is all about problem solving, use opportunities to explain situations in which you’ve uncovered solutions and fixed them through implementing processes or technologies.
  • Finally, the new perspective shows a willingness to learn and grow as a developer.

Person #2

I am an aspiring web developer who is looking to start a career building web applications. My previous career was as a designer, where I led a small team.

I am a software engineer that has skills in both the back-end of web applications and the front-end. My previous career as a designer brought me close to my true passion: building web applications. I wasn’t satisfied with only being involved in the visual aspect, and wanted a deeper involvement in building out applications. In the next phase of my career, I not only want to use my design skills to make the application look beautiful, but I also want to work on the technically challenging facets of the application too. At my ideal company, I would work on a small team (5-8 people) that follows best practices like Test Driven Development and pair programming to help me learn and grow as a developer.

Here are the key takeaways:

  • Again, the first sentence presents the person as a software engineer first, in the present tense, and without back-peddling.
  • There are a number of professions with which web developers interact on a regular basis: product managers, designers, customer service, and even sales teams. If you happened to work in one of these fields, talking about “looking from the outside in” is a neat trick to boost your credibility as a web developer.
  • If you have a skill set that most developers don’t bring to the table, and it could be relevant, mention it. An eye for design is something that is highly relevant to building beautiful, modern web applications.

Person #3

After graduating college with a Master’s in philosophy, I am starting a career as a web developer. I’m a hard worker with a positive attitude.

I am a programmer with strong skills in ruby and rails, and have an interest in solving algorithmically complex problems. I have a passion for problem solving. Currently, I am building a web application that is a marketplace where people can subscribe to other users to get access to video content they produce. The application currently has 25 active users.

  • Again, programming skills are mentioned up front.
  • You might have a compelling way to tie in your previous experiences and how they’re relevant to a job as a web developer. When this happens, focus on the things you can control: projects you’ve built. If the product you’re building is impressive, if you have any active users, or if it’s polished and looks slick, people will know you’re passionate about development.

Don’t Fall Prey to the Biggest Mistake of All

Before you start communicating with different companies, you should take a moment to really think through what your web developer identity is.

  • How can you make your background in a different field relevant for the current field?
  • What are situations in which you’ve problem solved by developing processes or automation to remove obstacles?
  • What excites you about whatever project you’re currently working on?

Once you figure out the answers to these questions, everything else will come naturally.

What defines your personal brand? If you found this post helpful, share it on Twitter using the button below, and hashtag the word or phrase you would use to describe your personal brand.

AuthorKen Mazaika

Ken Mazaika is the CTO and co-founder at Firehose. Previously, he was a tech lead at (acquired by PayPal) and a member of the PayPal/eBay development team in Boston.

One thought on “Personal Branding as a Software Developer

  1. Good advice! Passion is definitely very important. One year ago, when I started learning web development (after a long stint of trying to find something I was passionate about) I began considering myself to be a web developer. That mind set really does help. And I can definitely agree that web development never gets boring!

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