A Programmer’s Guide to Online Personal Branding
Creating a personal brand online is a hot topic for all kinds of professionals—which isn’t a surprise, since the internet is a major source of exposure and promotion. Programmers are no exception, and as a programmer, you should know how to effectively create your online personal brand.
But before I show you how to create a personal brand online, you first need to understand what a personal brand really is.
If I were to explain it in a single sentence, I would say that “Personal branding is the process of acting in a way that makes you known for what you want to be known for.”
Clear as mud? Let’s get more developer-specific.
What do programmers/developers want to be known for? Their programming skill. You can even say that being perceived as competent is just as important as being competent.
In order to excel in your career as a developer, you should have control of how you are perceived online. Most of the skilled developers I’ve met seem opposed to the idea of self-promotion. They like to code and code only, spending very little time on self-promotion.
This is a mistake. You may be skilled at what you do, but if you are not perceived as skilled, and no one knows about your abilities, then you will never achieve your full potential. You will never be offered that job you really want, and you won’t get to contribute to that software project you really believe in.
In this post, I provide you with pointers on how to build a personal brand online that will keep you gainfully employed, that you will have fun developing, and that will be an asset to you for the rest of your professional life.
Online vs In-Person Branding
In order to understand online personal branding, we must first understand the difference between online personal branding and in-person branding.
In-person branding is about how you project yourself face-to-face. For example, your appearance, the way you dress, the way you speak, the way you smell, and even your ethnicity and nationality are all part of your in-person brand. This article is not about in-person branding but about online personal branding.
Your online personal brand consists of your online personality and how you let it shine through on the internet. In person (whether you like it or not) you are judged on outward characteristics like the ones mentioned above. Online, you are judged by the content you post, the conversations you engage in, and the code you write.
Your online personal brand should be a microcosm of what you are like in person. When people see you online, they should get a glimpse of you in real life.
Think of it this way: If a person who does not know you at all and has never met you finds you online and only sees your online presence, what will they see?
You want them to get a short glimpse, a taste of what you are like in real life. If you are passionate about something, it should reflect in your online presence. If you are skilled at something, you should be showcasing it online. If you are quick-witted, then you should be making people laugh online.
You must let your personality shine through in your online profiles. And as we’ll see in the next section, the first step to developing a personal brand (online or offline) is the tagline or elevator pitch.
The Tagline or Personal Elevator Pitch
Every online professional needs a tagline or what is sometimes called a personal elevator pitch. You can think of an elevator pitch as the one sentence you would say to someone you met on an elevator.
If they asked you “What do you do?” and you’re almost at their floor, what would you respond with? My personal tagline is “I teach people software.” That’s it. It is that simple and short. If you look at my profiles, you will see this message woven through all of them.
Sure, my current job title is not that of instructor, but teaching and learning software is one of my passions and my YouTube channel, my Tweets, and my LinkedIn profile all point to that one singular thread. You will weave your own singular thread into your online presence, so define it first.
The way you should think about your personal tagline is “in an ideal version of your current career, what would you be doing?” The answer to me is simple. If my career were perfect, I would constantly be learning new software and teaching said software to others.
There is just something about that idea that really sets me on fire. Now, teaching may not be for you, and that is fine. Each person must answer this question for themselves. So go ahead, think about your elevator pitch. What would you be doing if your career were perfect?
One of my friends recently told me that if his career were perfect, he would be coding constantly. Even if the project required writing device drivers or using old languages like Pascal, he would be on his laptop coding it. His tagline would simply be “I code EVERYTHING,” and he really means it.
He would be happy sitting alone writing binary code, which I can’t imagine doing, being slightly more extroverted than he is. This just goes to show that to each his own, so make sure you develop your own unique tagline or elevator pitch.
Maintaining Online Profiles
As part of your online personal brand, you will have to maintain multiple online profiles and presences such as Twitter, LinkedIn, GitHub, and YouTube. For the purpose of this article, let me define an online profile as a place where you can create or post content under your name.
But before you begin your online branding journey, you should keep one thing in mind: Don’t start creating and maintaining a profile just because I said so. This is a very personal journey, and you should only maintain an online profile if you know you can be consistent with it.
If you are better at short text content, then Twitter is your friend. If you are better at writing long-form content, then you should start a blog. If you enjoy creating videos, you should consider YouTube or Instagram, but you must make the process fit your personality. Remember, this is about you.
In the next few sections, I will list some personal online profiles that I maintain, what each profile is good for, and some tips and tricks for maintaining said profile. It is not lost on me that how to manage each of these profiles deserves an article in its own right, but I will give you a quick primer for each.
The very first online profile that any good developer should maintain and perhaps the only one on this list that I consider mandatory for developers is GitHub.
This is your code repository, and it should contain a showcase of code you have written. As a developer, you are probably pushing code to GitHub already, so put your picture there, update your tagline, turn on two-factor authentication, and maintain your GitHub profile.
This is probably the first place a potential employer will look, so push code to GitHub frequently.
Moreover, maintain a repository on your GitHub profile called “Project Showcase.” In this repository, you should highlight code you’ve written, projects you’ve done, and other interesting code activities you’ve participated in. For developers, GitHub has become the defacto online portfolio, so take care to maintain it.
If you are starting out or are still a student, share your projects on GitHub. Share any interesting homework assignments or any free work you’ve done. The only real proof that you can code is code that you have written—not a resume but the actual code, and GitHub is the place to highlight that.
Are you still using resumes? You are doing it wrong. There is almost no use for resumes these days, especially for developers, as LinkedIn and GitHub = resume for developers.
There are lots of articles online on how to maintain your LinkedIn profile and how to write each section, but suffice it say that you should not ignore LinkedIn as a source of potential leads for new work and new job opportunities.
Even as recently as two weeks ago, someone asked me to come work for them without ever having interviewed me because of how active I am on LinkedIn.
Post any certifications/credentials and course certificates you have. Keep all sections in your LinkedIn profile updated, and ask current and former colleagues to recommend you. An overlooked section on LinkedIn is the skills section. Take skills assessments. Any assessments you pass will be highlighted.
Remember the point about building a consistent message across all your online profiles? Well, LinkedIn is a great place to place that message in front of your current and former colleagues. Let your network know what you are up to. Post about the code you are writing and about the project you are working on. Post a video about it, or share an article about something you learned recently. Interact with your colleagues on LinkedIn, and post frequently about your professional journey.
Blogging is not for everyone, and you should only start blogging if you enjoy writing and know that you can maintain a schedule of consistent content. And no, you don’t have to try to make a six-figure income from blogging.
The posting frequency will depend entirely on you, and the types of posts will also vary from person to person. So you want to be known for Python? Go ahead and write a post about Python and your learning experience with it. Write about what was simple and what was challenging.
Write about a problem you solved recently that someone else might be struggling with. Write a how-to article or tips and tricks. Write about whatever you choose to write about, but remember, you want to project a single consistent message throughout all your online profiles, and that is your tagline.
If your tagline is “I help artists become developers,” then write about art, write about development, write about the needs for creative professionals in the gaming industry or marketing, but do write.
Twitter is a great place to engage in conversation with your fellow developers and even potential employers. Some of the main ways you should engage with people on Twitter are as follows: Retweet other people’s tweets, reply to other people’s tweets with thoughtful and thought-provoking answers, participate in a conversation, and keep the conversation cordial.
Furthermore, be sure to post content about what you are interested in. For example, I post frequently about courses I take and articles I read online, and I engage in conversations with people about code, learning to code, and developing lifelong learning habits.
So go ahead, create a Twitter profile if you don’t have one, and start engaging in a conversation. I know this goes without saying, but don’t be rude online. Everything you write online stays there forever, and no, deleting a tweet won’t help, so think before you tweet.
I have run multiple YouTube channels, including one of personal interest with 14,000 subscribers that I created a while ago. I started my current channel a few weeks ago, and I have some work to do on it.
However, I would not recommend that everyone start a YouTube channel. Only start a YouTube channel if you know you can create well-edited long form video content that will provide value to others.
One thing to keep in mind is that if you do choose YouTube as a content platform, you must engage with your audience and create content on a consistent basis.
Running a YouTube channel can be a very rewarding experience that opens doors for you. But remember, keep your tagline in mind, and create content across all your platforms with a single consistent message.
TikTok and Instagram
I am highlighting these two platforms as a way to emphasize that you should not be afraid to experiment. I honestly don’t know if I will find an audience on these platforms and how I will utilize them, but I am currently experimenting with different videos.
I am not yet sure how far I will go, but TikTok seems to mostly be a fun place to post short witty videos. I personally don’t use Instagram much, but if you go to a conference, meet someone interesting, or see something intriguing relating to your field, post a picture on Instagram.
You will also find lots of articles on how to generate a following on TikTok and Instagram, so do engage on these platforms, but keep one thing in mind: your tagline.
Finally, an email signature is a great way to get eyes on your profiles. You send your email signature with every email you write, so why not use it to promote yourself? Here is what my email signature looks like.
It contains links to all my online profiles, my job title, my blog, and a picture. You should use an email signature to highlight your profiles and promote your online presence.
It’s About Consistency
Now let’s bring this all back full circle. What is the point of all this? Think about it this way: As a result of all this effort, what is a person likely to discover about you online if they don’t know you?
They go to your LinkedIn profile, what do they see? What impression will they get if they open your Twitter feed? What will you be perceived as if someone reads your blog?
First, imagine if all your profiles were a random amalgamation of content, like most online profiles are. Now imagine if you took control of these profiles and presented a consistent message across all of them. Do you think it would have a positive impact on your career?
I can say from personal experience that it definitely does. So what are you waiting for? Get to it!