This blog post is a written version of a talk I did at Muses Hobart in December 2020.
If you've read anything of mine in the past you likely already know this: I used to be a pastry chef! I worked at a confectionery patisserie 🍬, and then later a chocolate company 🍫.
But now I work at an enterprise software company - and it's my dream company!
So how did I go from being a pastry chef to getting my dream job?
I taught myself very basic HTML and CSS when I was a kid and I always loved building websites. I had no idea that it was a career that I could have though. I wasn’t good at maths or science so I assumed STEM wasn’t for me.
But in 2018 I realised that I actually could learn to code if I wanted. I quit my job and did a 12-week coding bootcamp with General Assembly. Two weeks later I started a junior front-end developer role.
In 2020, I was referred to my current company and somehow managed to convince them that I had potential. They hired me. 🎉
Of course, I have worked hard over the past few years to get here. Aside from learning to code (and a lot of privilege - that's a post for another time), the biggest thing that helped me get to this point is my personal branding.
It’s a way of marketing yourself and your career as a brand. It’s your reputation. Except you have control over it! You can create it and maintain it, and share what you want people to know about you.
- It can help you network and make quality connections (and friends!)
- It can help you get noticed for job opportunities & promotions
- It can help you show your managers what you’re all about
- Recruiters, hiring managers, interviewers will usually research you
Work out your point of difference
It can be hard to figure out what your brand already is and what it should be. These are the main areas I like to think about:
- What am I good at?
- What do I know that others don’t?
- What am I passionate about, or what do I enjoy?
Don't fake your brand. You might be able to get away with it online but when people meet you in person they’ll be able to tell pretty fast. Don't position yourself as an expert in a topic unless you have the knowledge to back it up.
If you're a career changer, it can be hard to know what strengths could be relevant to your new career. Patisserie and candy making are so different from software engineering. There were still transferable skills though, and I'm sure there are for any career.
Figure out what skills & interests you have, and think about how they could apply to your new career. If you're not sure, ask people around you for help!
Ways to build your brand
Once you have an idea of what your brand should be, there are lots of ways you can create and work on your personal brand.
Portfolio / Personal site
This is a perfect place to start because you can share it everywhere. It’s sort of like a one-stop-shop where people can find everything they need to know about you. You have complete control over the content, what it looks like, the way you want to portray yourself. It's the perfect way to share what makes you different from every other developer out there at your level.
Social media is also a very good tool for this. For software engineering or web development in particular I recommend Twitter. The tech community on Twitter is huge and for the most part quite supportive. You can share your thoughts and your learnings and connect with all sorts of people. If you’re not so good at networking in real life, it can be much easier to make those connections online first.
I began tweeting when I was doing my bootcamp and shared my struggles and what I was learning. I interacted with local people in the community and ended up making some great friends. One of these friends interviewed me for my first dev role. I've received interview offers through Twitter. My referral for my current job came from a friend I’d made on Twitter as well. It can be very powerful!
I’m not saying you need to spend all day posting about your life. I’m not saying you need to be an influencer with hundreds of thousands of followers. I'm certainly not! For me, it’s all about building relationships with people. Quality over quantity.
Other content creation
Content creation such as blogging is another great way to build your brand. The format could be written, images (eg. Instagram), or even videos. It allows you to show your knowledge and position yourself as an expert in a topic. It can also open up new opportunities for you such as guest blogging or even technical writing roles.
In real life
Everything mentioned so far is online. There’s another aspect to personal branding though, and that’s the impact you have in person and at work. The impact you have on others and in your role is completely part of your brand. When I was in my first role I championed web accessibility. I became known as one of the go-to people when anyone had any accessibility questions. It became part of my brand.
Building a community
The best part of working on your personal brand is the community that you can create along the way. Focus on the relationships you’re building. Not on how people can help you, but how you can help others.
- Could you be a good mentor for someone starting out?
- Could you recommend someone for a role at your company?
- Can you motivate, support, inspire or teach people?
Provide value, build relationships, and be genuine about helping others. People will help you in return.
I’d dreamed of having my current job one day but thought it was well in the future. I would never have applied without the support of the friend I made through Twitter. Without her encouragement and her referral, I would never have had the courage to even try. Without my personal branding, I would never have met her.
The process of creating a personal brand, building on it, and creating a community around it, can take time. It can also open doors for you that you didn’t even know were available.