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Cover image for Getting noticed as a remote engineer – and why it matters
Triplebyte

Getting noticed as a remote engineer – and why it matters

danielwbean profile image Daniel Bean ・13 min read

This article first appeared on the Triplebyte blog and was written by Joseph Pacheco. Joseph is a software engineer who has conducted over 1,400 technical interviews for everything from back-end, to mobile, to low-level systems, and beyond. He’s seen every quirk, hiccup, and one-of-a-kind strength you can think of and wants to share what he’s learned to help engineers grow.

When you're a remote engineer, it's extremely easy to recede into the background. You don't share an office with your co-workers, so you can't rely on lunches and water-cooler chats to build relationships as normal.

And this can have serious consequences. Among them: It can lead to others seeing you as a cog in the machine — an avatar that spits out code — which isn't great for developing healthy working relationships.

Lucky for you, it doesn't have to be this way. There are tactics you can employ that will allow you to regularly reinforce your value, develop meaningful relationships, and gently remind everyone there's a human behind your Slack photo.

And this goes way beyond being more responsive to your email, from advanced social techniques to those specific to your role as an engineer. Take a look.

Related: How engineering salaries could get dinged by the remote work trend

Why 'getting noticed' matters‍

Experts say that the simplest forms of digital communication often lack the kind of empathy more prevalent in human, face-to-face interactions. (We’ve all seen this play out in contentious social media threads.) Unfortunately, this applies to remote work, as well: You’re just not going to be considered or treated the same as you would in person — which means you need to do actual work to mitigate your risks.

I’m not saying your coworkers are suddenly going to be nasty to you because you’re no longer in the office. I’m just saying it’s going to be harder for them to experience your full humanity if all they see of you is your deliverables and an occasional neutral comment represented by an avatar. Without an emoting face and personality attached, people tend to be more critical, less forgiving, and generally less human toward other humans whether they realize or not — and that’s not great for team cohesion (and your job security/advancement in particular).

On top of that, remote workers get lost in the shuffle all the time. They’re frequently passed up for promotions, judged as being less productive, and unfairly overlooked for high profile assignments simply because they’re out of their boss’s “line-of-sight." Fair? Nope. True? You bet.

“Getting noticed” is not about being an opportunistic attention seeker. It’s about putting yourself in the line of sight in circumstances that would otherwise be done for you if you weren’t remote. It’s about helping your team remember, despite the less savory aspects of human nature, that you’re a real person who’s regularly contributing meaningfully to the common good. And luckily, it’s easier to do than you might think.

Code your way to popularity

Beautiful code is important in any engineering setting, but it can really do wonders for your reputation as a remote engineer.

Imagine working on a tough problem. You come across some code that you need to rely on to get the job done. And. It's. Gorgeous. Methods are clearly named, comments are just long enough to be helpful but still concise, class hierarchy is nuanced but not over complicated. All in all, it's a joy to use, and most importantly, it makes your job materially easier.

You're going to notice the engineer who wrote that code. You might even develop a little "tech crush" or feel the slightest tinge of envy.

//
//  AClassThatWillGetYouNoticed.swift
//  TeamProject
//
//  Created by Engineer Worth Noticing  on 9/28/20.
//  Copyright © 2020 Your Company. All rights reserved.
//

/// A pithy yet enlightening class description
class AClassThatWillGetYouNoticed {

    /// A pithy yet enlightening bit of documentation
    func clearlyDefinedAction() -> EvenClearerOutput {
        /// Short yet readable implementation
                logicallyAbstractedHelper()
        ...
    }

    /// Feel free to git blame me for this!
    func logicallyAbstractedHelper() {
        let descriptiveVariableName: MostAppropriateType
        ...
    }
}
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Now imagine you are the engineer who wrote that code and someone else is working on that tough feature. Maybe it's a colleague at your same level, or a more senior engineer, or your boss! The pleasure of engaging with your code is going to make an impression. And the more clear code you write, the more these one-off impressions will turn into a reputation.

It's a way of getting noticed without directly saying a word to anyone, so crack out your clean code books and start taking this more seriously than ever!

Be a ticket master

Likewise, you can also make an indirect impact by being a master of your tickets. That is, every ticket on JIRA/Asana/Notion is an opportunity to add value to the rest of your team in a way that simply can't go unnoticed.

When assigned new tickets, many engineers do the bare minimum necessary to keep them up to date. They'll eventually change the status when they're ready, maybe add a comment on occasion, but there's so much potential that goes completely to waste.

Each ticket can be a powerful source of truth for every task. And not infrequently, having transparency into your tickets will benefit other engineers on your team. Maybe a colleague can't get started on one of his tasks until you finish some aspect of yours. Maybe your boss is trying to re-evaluate the timelines due to some newly introduced business pressure. The more clarity you add to your tickets as you go, the more you are empowering your team to make better decisions.

As such, it's valuable to think of your tickets as scratch paper. Include checklists that account for all the steps you need to take until it's complete. Use the notes section to list your assumptions and strategy for implementation.

This way, your tickets are valuable in a similar way as your code. If your boss needs to get a better sense of how things are going, they can do so without even interrupting your flow and have confidence that the ticket is up to date and reliable. Likewise, your co-worker might be evaluating whether it's worth the effort to tweak the performance of their ticket, which depends on how performant your work is expected to be, and being able to check that reliably transfers that sense of confidence onto you.

In other words, by having exquisite tickets, you gain a reputation for someone others want on their team, because your tickets alone make everyone's lives easier.

Use Slack as your water cooler

When you're remote, it's easy for your humanity to get lost behind your avatar on Slack (or MS Teams or whatever you use). That is, you risk feeling more like a robot to your coworkers than a real person.

But if you're proactive about sharing content that's actually meaningful to humans, you might just pass the Turing test.

One way to do this remotely is to drive into your head that Slack is your office’s virtual water cooler (inside the appropriate or designated channels, of course).

You know how work chatter operates: Did you recently read an interesting article about how ML could solve the pandemic? Are you working on a side project wherein you just discovered an obscure but super interesting feature of a popular web framework? Are you pissed AF about App Store rules and penned a blog post yourself? Though you’d ordinarily bring this stuff up to your desk neighbor or to a co-worker in the office kitchen, you now have to remember to:

👏Share 👏This 👏Stuff 👏On 👏Slack 👏

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And this will not only remind people that you exist, but that there's a real human behind that tiny photo who has interesting thoughts and opinions.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not encouraging you to be a show-off or to artificially come up with things to share for the sake of unbridled attention-seeking. That would be gross. I'm merely pointing out that, since you're not in an office, you need to be more proactive in your sharing in order for synergies with your coworkers to manifest organically.

So when you do genuinely find something interesting, and you think it would interest others on your team, put in that little added effort and share it. And make that into a habit that arises from time to time. And of course, engage naturally in any proceeding discussion that takes place. Put yourself out there!

Go the extra step through DMs and virtual coffees

Now, sharing your interests might convince your coworkers you're human, but you need more to establish yourself as a complex being they can see themselves having a deeper professional relationship with.

And for this, there are a few tactics.

First, periodically and privately ping your co-workers with a non-business-related, "How's it going?" For me, if I find I haven't connected one-on-one with a team member in a while, I'll just reach out on Slack and take a few minutes to get up to date. If they need help with something I can help with, I may offer my support if I can. If they mention an accomplishment, I'll offer my genuine congratulations. I may even complement someone on something awesome they did for the team. Anything is on the table so long as it comes from a place that's sincerely anchored in a desire for genuine human connection.

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Further, you can schedule real social time with select co-workers. That is, for those you think you might get along with, schedule a 30-minute Zoom, Teams, or Slack coffee (call or video chat) to get to know them a bit better. You can discuss your journey as engineers, your hobbies and other interests, or anything else that pops up especially if this is a co-worker on another team. This gives you both the opportunity to see each other through different lenses, which will lead to discovering healthier ways to actually get work done together and beyond.

Cron job your check-ins

Along similar lines, having regular, one-on-one work check-ins with the right people is critical for deepening your most important professional relationships and keeping you at the top of their minds as a reliable contributor who knows how to set expectations.

As an engineer, your check-in with your boss and/or team lead is the most important, and should ideally happen for an hour or so once per week. This is an opportunity to talk through some of your challenges honestly, share progress updates, ask questions, and bubble up technical discoveries and obstacles that might impact timelines and delivery. It's also an opportunity to self-advocate for your accomplishments (which we'll get to later).

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But your boss is not the only party you would benefit from having scheduled check-ins. Setting expectations with others who are impacted by your work can also add mutual value, and a face-to-face call is a great way to do that. For example, you might want to check in with your design lead every two weeks to get constructive feedback on how well you've implemented their designs. This allows them to give nuanced feedback that might not come up in bug reports while also establishing yourself as someone who cares about the product holistically. You might also be working with another team within engineering that your work directly impacts. Getting regular feedback from them on the clarity of your APIs and whether you're work fully meets their expectations will give strong team player vibes while also potentially avoiding sneaky setbacks that often come from missed opportunities for communication.

The point here is not to flood your calendar with meetings. It's to identify a very small number of key players and use short meetings to repeatedly reinforce your relationship by gathering data, providing data, setting expectations, and simply being human together. Doing so makes it possible for others to advocate for you because every meeting is an opportunity to reinforce your humanity and contributions in a way that would otherwise happen naturally in an office.

Embrace technical mentorship (in both directions)

Technical mentorship is also a great way to allow work relationships to flourish remotely, whether you're the mentor or a mentee. It adds a layer of agreed upon purpose and structure to a handful of your relationships that provides mutual value — and gives you a distinct presence on your team.

Now, you may be wondering how anyone can mentor anyone else when everyone has their own work to do. But this is not as incompatible with your responsibilities as it may seem.

That is, when a junior engineer comes to you for help, you don't need to stop what you're doing and spend hours working through problems with them. But you can take 10 minutes, hear them out, and see if you can nudge them in the right direction. Perhaps you know something off the top of your head that they don't, or see they are falling into a common pitfall that is common for engineers with their level of experience. Ten or 20 minutes of your time could save hours of theirs.

On the flip side, seeking out mentorship and asking questions is a great way to grow as an engineer while also demonstrating to a more senior team member your particular style of and thirst for growth. It can reveal inherent strengths that others might talk about as well as ideas for addressing weakness that will increase your overall performance in the long term.

Regardless of which side you're on, your presence will grow in the consciousness of your team members and actually add business value to your team in terms of actually helping others succeed. It's a win win.

Be vocal during group meetings (or follow up after)

A lot of us engineers are not exactly charismatic extroverts that garner lots of attention during meetings. There are exceptions, of course, but we generally have other strengths that tend to correlate with less vocal personalities in these kinds of settings.

Sadly, this can put us at a disadvantage — especially when working remotely.

The problem is that lack of engagement in meetings is often interpreted as apathy or a general lack of engagement in your work, even in cases where that's the furthest thing from the truth.

The good news is you don't have to be Steve Jobs to get noticed in meetings. You just need to regularly give signals that you're engaged. All you have to do is ask a few questions and perhaps share thoughts and opinions relevant to the topic at hand. Perhaps you need clarity from product about the business requirements for a ticket. Perhaps you want to alert your boss of an unexpected rate limit for an API your team is depending on. You don't need to put on a show, and you don't need say anything clever or especially interesting, you're just better served resisting the urge to be silent and say nothing at all — as can be so tempting to do especially in large, awkward meetings.

With that said, however, you might just not be the type of person who's comfortable being vocal, and that's totally OK. The next best option is to follow up with your team after the meeting is over. Add your questions and thoughts to a note, then ping the relevant parties on Slack right after. While you may not contact every meeting participant in every meeting, you may eventually become known as a person who prefers to follow-up later.

Self-advocate across the board

Regardless of which of the above tactics you choose to implement, something you should do across the board might take some getting used to: self-advocacy.

To be an advocate for yourself means to actively communicate the value you are adding at strategic times — without even the slightest hint of arrogance or entitlement. This might not seem easy, and many of us are pretty uncomfortable receiving compliments, let alone pointing out value we've created. But it's actually a lot less painful than it seems.

Let's say you're in a weekly check-in with your boss. They ask for an update on some mobile UI you're building. You could say something like this:

It's going well and should be done on time. No issues so far.

That would technically address her query, and it's generally positive so why bother saying anything else? Because it leaves out a whole bunch of detail that's relevant to her evaluation of your performance. So instead you might say:

It's going well and should be done on time. I was actually able to finish on-device search sooner than expected which allowed me to more thoroughly test my logic. I also used the new diffable data source API which simplified my implementation for updating the list UI dramatically, which allowed me to add some gorgeous animations that feel really fluid and natural. It looks delicious!

This is better for a million reasons. Not only does it communicate that you're ahead of schedule, but also that you used your extra time to refine your work both reducing QA time and showing care in your work. It also communicates that you were forward-thinking enough to experiment with the latest technologies but in a way that actually led somewhere. That is, your choice of using diffable data sources rather than the traditional approach simplified your logic which allowed you to add even more polish by way of sexy animations. And to top that all off, you punctuated your update with an enthusiastic account of how delicious the end result works, which further communicates you have pride in your work.

In other words, by providing transparency and relevant detail, you were able to tell a much more nuanced story about the level of value you actually offered while demonstrating even a bit of passion. It gives your boss a thorough account of how you're spending your time, eliminating mystery and open questions about whether your time was well spent. And you did all of this in a way that is completely absent of bragging. It's simply business factual.

The goal, therefore, is to use this level of nuance when communicating about your work in general. Of course, with each opportunity you should personally evaluate whether a given piece of detail is relevant, but if you determine it is, don't hesitate to go the extra mile and explain yourself. Once you get in the habit of doing so, you'll be self-advocating without even thinking about it and reap the benefits of radical transparency.
When you're a remote engineer, it's extremely easy to recede into the background. You don't share an office with your co-workers, so you can't rely on lunches and water-cooler chats to build relationships as normal.

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Discussion

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harshanas profile image
Harshana Serasinghe

This is great.Thank you for sharing :)

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programmerbyda1 profile image
ProgrammerByDay

Great notes. Thanks.
I’d say the most important one is to be Vocal.
It’s always vital for self improvement and even self confidence to express your opinions and even let yourself to ask stupid questions (like I don’t know what that abbreviation means)