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Victor Cassone
Victor Cassone

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What self-taught developers can learn from peacocks

Have you ever wondered why male peacocks have such large and colorful tails?

You’d think their tails would make them more visible to predators and increase their chances of getting eaten.

A male peacock's tail actually plays an important part in his survival.

Female peacocks can’t focus on every trait of a male. They need to selectively find features in their counterpart that will convey important information about their fitness. For whatever reason, the tail became that feature.

Male peacocks are at the mercy of the preferences of the female. If a male wants to be selected by a female, he needs to be able to signal his value through his large and colorful tail.

I believe applying for a job is similar to a male peacock trying to impress a mate. It might feel awkward thinking about in these terms but I find it a useful framework.

Programmers are competing with each other for jobs, but it isn't a direct competition like fighting. Job applicants try to display their value through information signals and employers make a decision based on the qualities they observe.

Just like a peacock, self-taught developers need to focus on creating their own colorful tails to signal their value to potential employers.

Self-taught developers can’t rely on 4-year universities or code schools to boost their signals. A hiring manager can’t rely on the authority of a university when making a decision (or blame the university if the employee doesn’t work out).

Programs like freeCodeCamp have done a great job helping self-taught developers in this respect. But more will need to be done.

In a way, self-taught developers need to be their own marketers.

Marketing oneself can sometimes feel slimy. I personally don’t enjoy doing it.

However, marketing is necessary because both sides don’t have access to the same information.

Imagine a car company that’s recently developed an awesome new feature. Everyone at the company is aware of how great the new feature is but the general public has no idea.

The car company needs to come up with a way to spread this important information and help consumers understand what the car company already knows. Marketing allows this uneven information distribution to be flattened.

The same logic applies to marketing oneself as a programmer.

You might know you are a competent programmer. However, the only way an employer will know this fact is through the information you signal to them.

The important thing to remember is that there are two sides to any signal. The sender and the receiver. Both sides need to be in sync for a signal to be effective. Different types of companies will have different signals they are listening for.

It’s the responsibility of the self-taught developer to figure out what employers prefer and create information signals that will honestly convey their value.

The internet has made it easier for people to create and amplify their signals. You can boost your signal through blogging, contributing to open source projects, developing portfolio projects, and completing online courses(among other things).

Moving forward, make sure your signal is strong so future employers can know how great you are.

A peacock flaunting its tail is not wasted effort if it keeps its genes in the gene pool. Similarly, spending time on your own signal will only help you in the indirect competition of finding a job.

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