17 Branding Yourself “Even if you don’t think you have a brand, you do. It is what people think of you and the work you do… Your brand is the conver- sation going on about you while you are not in the room. The question is: do you know what your brand is and are you man- aging it?” Andria Corso, workitdaily.com What is branding? It is the story you are selling about yourself. It is curating the information that exists about you to align with your values and goals. It is all about being crisp, uniform, and crystal clear. How you come across to people is important as you break into the software industry and look for your first job. Your message should be easy to understand and consistent across every platform where people might find you (including in-person). You are a professional and your branding should convey that to people. For what do you want to be known? What do you want people to see when they search for you online? You should carefully con- sider the answers to these questions as you develop your personal brand as a software engineer. Creating Your Brand Figuring out what your brand is should not be a difficult task, do not overcomplicate it. A good way to get started is to write out a list of what you are looking for in a job, what types of coding you are focusing on, and what makes you unique as a software developer and a person. Write down a list of these words or phrases, draw pictures or symbols, etc. Once you have this list, combine synonyms and then circle the items that most closely align with your goals. Does everything you circled reflect not only who you are, but also who you want to be? Good! Now you are ready to move on. You will need to create a summary of your brand. Start by writing out a few sentences about yourself using the keywords (or pic- tures, etc.) you chose on your list. These sentences should answer the questions of who you are (e.g. ”A software developer”, ”entre- preneur”, etc.), what you are doing (e.g. ’focusing on React.js and front-end’), and your goal (e.g. ‘Looking for job opportunities’). Remember to avoid platitudes or nebulous terms; people can sense if it is not genuine. Once you have these keywords and sen- tences, ask yourself if the brand distinguishes you and showcases your uniqueness: Does it stand out? Does it highlight your skills and what you are trying to accomplish? Does it sound professional? Does it showcase your personality? On your blog and other platforms, you will probably be writing about how you are learning to code and all of your struggles, etc. That’s fine to present yourself as someone who’s new and eager to learn and make mistakes. However, when you have studied for at least a few months, or a minimum of 250 hours, you really have to start branding and pitching yourself as a professional or it will be hard for companies to take you seriously. The key is to be open about your learning process while still showing that you are a profes- sional problem solver. Be very vigilant of the language you are using to refer to yourself. Important: You should call yourself a software developer or engineer. You should not include the words ”junior”, ”aspiring”, “hopeful”, or anything of the kind in your personal brand. You have put in the sweat equity to learn and build your portfolio and now you need to brand yourself as the professional that you are. People almost never want to hire someone who isn’t confident or who conveys they ”might” be able to do something in the future. You need to exude confidence and sell yourself. Remember that you are just as good and as dedicated as anyone else in the industry, just with less experience. Logo An important part of branding is consistency. It is important to have a consistent message across your social media, portfolio website, blog, and business cards. A great way to do that is by having a consistent logo. It doesn’t have to be fancy; you can just cre- ate something simple like your name or initials with a background behind it. Canva is a great online tool that will let you create a de- cent quality, simple logo for free. Another option is to pay someone to make one that looks a bit nicer for you. Fiverr.com is a free- lance marketplace where people from all over the world sell design and other services, and you can have a logo created within a few days for about $10-$25. If you go this route, make sure you have a friend look it over for you to get a second opinion before you ac- cept the final design in case you need to ask for revisions. Creating or commissioning a logo should not take you more than an hour or two. This is not the most important part of your learning and you should not sweat about it being perfect. A decent logo is a great start; you can always update it later when you have landed a sweet job and are looking for the next step. Profile Photo Your photo is usually the first thing people see on any of your online profiles. I suggest using a professional-looking image of your head and shoulders. Smiling also helps people feel more comfortable with you. Fair or not, humans make categorical judge- ments about others within milliseconds. If you look professional and friendly, that will go a long way. People will also start to recognize you more easily if you use the same picture across all of your platforms. Humans also naturally put more trust in people they recognize, so that can give you a leg up. Business Cards Once you are dedicated to learning to code and pursuing programming as a career, you should really consider getting your own business cards. There are websites like Vistaprint.com and Moo.com that allow you choose between hundreds of templates, plug in your information, and then order hundreds of business cards for a low cost – $20 gets you 500 cards on Vistaprint. Of course, the main point of a business card is the contact information, so that should be easy to read, front and center. It is also a nice touch to include your profile photo as long as it is recent and professional. This photo usually looks nice next to your contact information on one side of the card, with your logo on the other side. Using a template will help you with getting the layout correctly formatted and making the card look professional. If you do not have a logo, and you have a good eye for design, you can also use some kind of sharp-looking clip art on one side; I have been using a stylized smiley face on the front of my business cards and have gotten a substantial amount of compliments from it. If we ever meet in person, I will be happy to give you one of my cards so you can see. Online Check every platform you are on – Twitter, LinkedIn, Github, your portfolio site, etc. – and update your info to include your brand summary. You may have to make it shorter on sites like Twitter where most people describe themselves in 25 words or less. Remem- ber to update your profile photos to match as much as possible and look professional. You should also include a call to action at the end of your brand summary like, ”check out my portfolio at example.com and get in touch with me.” Another good touch is to include your logo in your banner or somewhere else on each of your profiles. You can also generate awareness for your brand through networking and creating content. Your blog posts, tweets, and every- thing you post online should align with your brand and how you want other people to see you. Make sure your blog posts are proof- read and everything you do comes across as crisp and professional. Simple mistakes like typos can make a big difference in how peo- ple perceive you, even if your content is great. Your Pitch You have to be able to sell yourself when you meet people or converse electronically via LinkedIn, email, etc. In politics, they tell candidates to have a 30-second ”elevator pitch” that clearly describes their platform. As a job candidate, you should do the same thing; craft a short pitch that describes who you are and what you want to do. It doesn’t have to use eloquent language, but it should be easy to understand and to the point about your goals. Look through everything you wrote down previously and tweak your sentences so they sound natural when spoken aloud. You may be able to use exactly what you wrote earlier for your brand summary in your pitch, and the primary goal is to sell yourself and be confident. Practice makes perfect and breeds confidence. Every time you meet someone, have lunch with a recruiter, or give a technical talk, you should be ready with your polished pitch. Ask your mentor, friends, or family to listen to your spiel and give you feedback. You should have it down so you will be able to deliver it even when you are nervous or caught off guard. Conclusion Do not be afraid to brand yourself as a professional. Many people do not like the idea of marketing themselves and end up selling their abilities short. You have to start viewing and presenting yourself as a confident professional who can overcome challenges to reach your goals. Action Steps: 1.Brainstorm and write about who you are and your goals. 2.Come up with a brand summary. 3.Review your social media to make sure it fits with your brand and make changes as necessary. 4.Create a logo. 5.Prepare a professional photo of yourself. 6.Buy business cards. 7.Create a pitch, then practice and refine it.