Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

Self-Promotion for Those of Us Who Don’t

As I discussed in my previous post, self-promotion is an important skill in the tech industry. For many (me included) self-promotion is not at all natural making it hard to do well. It feels uncomfortable to promote myself or my work. Furthermore, we all have examples of those people who are good at self-promotion but without any substance to back it up. Personally, I want to be seen as someone who deserves to be where I’ve gotten, not someone who’s only where I am because I’ve convinced strategic people that I should be here. I think we would all agree that reporting results should always be okay — it’s even a key part of the scientific method.

Progress couldn’t be made without reporting those results. But where on the continuum between that and belligerent bragging should we strive to be? How do I make sure I fairly represent myself without going too far? How do I convince myself that self-promotion is okay?

Help out your manager and team

If you find yourself feeling like self-promotion is selfish, it’s useful to remember that self-promotion isn’t just about you. As backwards as that sounds, in many cases making sure those around me understand what I’m good at and what I’m working on helps out everyone. I’m going to start with a dirty secret.

When I was managing, I didn’t have a good grasp on exactly what everyone on my team was doing or what all of their strengths or weaknesses were. Especially when I started working with someone new. It took a while for me to figure out how that person fit into the team and where they could best bring value. Now if I had infinite time, I could figure out from external objective things exactly what everyone on my team was good at or not good at, but no manager has that.

If the people on my teams have a good sense of self-awareness and can explain to me what they’re good at and where they excel and even what skills they’re working on or want to improve, as a manager, I’m put in the best position possible to deploy those people effectively. I can also make sure that they get the opportunities to improve the things that they want to improve.

The better insight a manager has into the strengths of each member of the team, the better they can augment the team’s abilities with outside help to make sure that the team builds with the highest possible quality, but also so that the team as a whole can grow and learn new skills.

Sharing what I’m working on helps everyone

Sharing what I’m working on can help a lot more people than just myself. It brings visibility not only to me but to my team and at times even my company. If I give a well received internal tech talk about a project, it reflects well on the work of my team. Likewise, if I give an external talk, it can reflect positively on my company’s technical brand.

Representing myself well also represents those around me well. This is especially important if I’m a manager or lead on my team. If I don’t represent the team in the circles I have special access to, no one will.

Even apart from helping my team and company, sharing can also help those listening. By sharing discoveries I’ve made and some of the challenges I’ve overcome, others can avoid wasting time on similar problems. Others can build upon my work or help me to build on theirs allowing greater overall technical advances and progress.

Within my company, sharing allows us to identify where we may have overlap in team projects and avoid duplicated work. I can get the input from others about strategies to solving a problem that I may not have thought of or vise versa. None of this is really possible if people don’t know what I’m working on.

Know why you’re sharing

While it’s often helpful to share what you’re good at or what you’re working on, no one likes those people who have turned into human spam. Likewise, there’s also that slippery slope toward belligerent bragging that I mentioned before.

So how do I make sure that I don’t go too far and become one of those people?

If all of the things I’m sharing clearly have little value beyond my own self promotion, people will quickly learn to ignore me. It’s important to bring visibility to myself and my work, but I should also make sure what I’m sharing is helpful.

Try to think about things through the filter of what other people might get out of the things you share and make sure your tone and angle reflects that. Maybe I want to make sure that other people don’t repeat the 2 weeks I just spent debugging an issue. Maybe I want to connect with other people working on similar issues. Maybe I want to bounce around some ideas about something I’ve been thinking about with a few others. Make sure those things are clear.

All of this isn’t to say that everything you share needs to be gold, but even in self-promotion, it’s important to think about your audience and how your words and actions are useful to others.

Build a Brand

People often talk about building a personal brand in connection with self-promotion and it’s always slightly rubbed me the wrong way. Discussions about it often focus on thinking about your public image or making sure you’re effectively using social media. It always seemed both exhausting and a bit fake. However, when I was thinking about the topic recently I realized that building a brand doesn’t really have to be either.

At it’s heart, building a brand is about sharing a consistent message in your words and actions so that others quickly know what you stand for.

That still sounds a bit superficial even to me, but lets step back for a moment. It’s worth taking the time to think about what I care about. Forget everyone else. What is important to me? Where do I want to make a difference? How do I want to spend my time? What kind of person do I want to be?

The next step is to make sure I’m spending my time and energy in ways congruent with those goals. If bringing more women into software is important to me, what am I doing toward that? If nothing, what could I be doing? What do I enjoy doing and what are my strengths? How can I make use of those towards the things that matter to me? Focusing on the things I care about most best allows me to make progress in those areas.

If I’m making sure that my actions align with the things that are important to me, my words and actions will start to reinforce a certain image of who I am and what matters to me. Having a consistent image makes me more visible in the places I want to be and it also helps me become the person I want to be.

I will have built a brand by putting actions and words behind my beliefs, and what’s more genuine than that?

Find Some Allies

There’s been a popular topic recently about how women are over mentored but under sponsored, but the topic usually focuses on sponsors in senior positions. Those people are really important and I’m not trying to downplay that, but we can also make use of peers.

Building partnerships with peers can be infinitely valuable. It’s often easier to objectively promote a friend than to promote myself. I can find ways to celebrate the strengths of other people I know even when I find myself downplaying my own accomplishments.

Sometimes it’s helpful just to see and hear a friend’s view of me. They have some hard truths, but they also remind me how amazing some of the things I’m doing really are from an objective perspective. They can help me see which things I’m doing might be new or different or interesting to an external person.

The best part is that I can turn around and return the favor. We’re not in a vacuum, so we should make use of those around us. At the end of the day, it doesn’t much matter how my work gets recognized as long as it’s recognized, and what better way than through building up those around me in the process as well?

While self-promotion will never be easy for some of us, it’s still an important skill to try to improve. I find a few things useful including keeping in mind why it’s important to bring exposure to my abilities and work. Self-promotion isn’t just a selfish action but helps out my team, my manager, my company and the broader community. I can also make sure that I’m using methods of self-promotion that don’t cross into bragging and are completely genuine to who I am. Finally, when I’m really struggling with promoting myself, I can find a support network to help promote me and for me to help promote.