Build your personal brand as a developer

Have you thought about the importance of building your personal brand as a developer? You may be a senior software engineer. Or someone looking to break into the software industry. Regardless of your technical abilities and current position, having an online footprint will help to differentiate you from other software engineers.

Why is personal branding important for a developer?

Before we answer this question, let's get to the same understanding of what personal branding is. Your personal brand is usually your online persona. It could be assessed through LinkedIn, blog, twitter or just any other relevant online platform. It is a bridge for the outside world to directly perceive your skills, personality and experiences.

  • Differentiate yourself from the competitiors. Even if you are a fully-employed developer, whenever you are looking for a job, the other candidates are your competitiors.

  • Open up opportunities. Be in the recruiters' radar for higher level job opportunities. Create a network of people who are aware of your capabilities.

  • Control your online reputation. Be recognised as a thought leadership.

I was listening to a podcast by Chris Do and Errol Gerson on contagious selling when the association of personal branding and developer pops into my mind. A brief introduction, Errol Gerson teaches entreprenuership and business skills to artists and designers. In this podcast, he recounts the stories of how he reframes the term sales to the creatives he teaches.

As you could have thought, when he mentions the term "sales", it invokes a series of negative conotation from the creatives. Most of us have the notion that if we are not in the sales department, we won't need to acquire selling skills. However, the truth is, the act of selling is consistent in our life.

For example, in a job interview, we are selling ourselves to the interviewer. At work, we are selling our ideas and suggestions to our colleagues and management.

So the act of personal branding is essentially, placing yourself in a strategic position to broadcast the value that you bring to the organisation as a developer.

Nowadays, being a developer is not just about coding. Regardless of your career aspiration, be it tech lead, software architect or business analyst, being a valuable developer goes beyond good software engineering. As with most roles in an organisation, being a developer is about communicating and addressing cross-functional concerns and employing technology as a tool for problem solving.

One thing that I learn is that your renumeration or the income that you generate is influenced by the impact that is perceived or measured by the organisation. This could be in terms of cutting cost, improving business work processes or generating revenue.

Seems straightforward enough. And if all these still seem a little far-fetched for you, just know that some employees will check your online presence before deciding to engage you in any meaningful manner.

How do I build my personal brand?

Chances are you are a unique blend of skillsets and experiences. As a React.js / frontend developer myself, people with my skillsets are a dime a dozen. The multitude of coding bootcamps ensure a consistent output of Javascript developers.

  • Figure out your value proposition: Soft skills and technical skills.

  • Showcaase your skillsets and establish credibility.

  • Be consistent and repeat.

Think value

This is where introspection comes into place. Even if you are a full-stack developer, you have a niche that you excel in. It could be front-end, back-end, a certain language or database. Or you may have the hybrid skills of design and development.

You can be a jack of all trades without any specialisation, in which, this might be preferable in startup scene. However, mastering the elements of your skill-sets with a broad general skills will make you more valuable. Even then, nowadays, a sizeable number of startups are moving towards hiring specialised roles with people of a broad knowledge base.

Build your online presence

The first step is important. You need to understand the niche that you want to be identified with. One thing I learn from running my own startup is that your target audience will not be everyone.

Catering for everyone is a bad business model, even if you have huge marketing budget. I have never heard of any product that is truly made for everyone.

Just look at the case of bottled water. According to wikipedia, you can have spring water, mineral water, ground water, sparkling water or distilled water. Do they really make a difference in countries in which tap water is potable? Apparently, or at least the marketers of the bottled water company want us to believe so.

The case is, it is okay to not appeal to everyone in your niche. In fact, I will argue it is better once you recgonise your target audience.

The purpose you hope to achieve through the blog will affect the way you build your online presence.

Just think about it, how will the personal branding strategy be like for each scenario:

  • A freelancer looking to connect to potential clients, with a budget of $3000 - $5000 for design and development of simple landing pages.
  • A backend developer looking to showcase his/her knowledge in order to boost his/her chances of being employed to a desirable company.
  • A frontend developer looking to move into a position that allows him/her to influence business decisions.

There are many tactics that you can employ to reach your goals. But the underlying principle is to:

  • Identify your objectives
  • Identify the target audiences who will satisfy your objectives. i.e. user persona, the platform they frequent and the "lingo" they speak.
  • Identify the pain point of your target audiences
  • Frame your objectives and offerings as a value proposition for the target audiences and don't be afraid to pivot to cater more to the pain point of your target audiences.

While I firmly believe in understanding the target audience and speaking to the pain point of your target audience, the first step is still to ask yourself what you could possibly give and gain out of the undertaking of your personal branding project.

We want to make it sustainable, so identifying your own extrinsic or instrinsic motivation is crucial to keep your momentum going. Most of the time, complete altruistic behavior is a fallacy.

Similarly, knowing your objectives upfront will narrow the scope of exploration for your personal branding.

The next step is critical to meet your goal. In order to attract people, you need to provide value. You talking about yourself all the time will not entice people. It's not about you, it's about What's In It For Them. Speak to their needs and they will response preferably to your presence. As usual, always think about giving value.

Deliver and repeat

Just like software iteration, we want to continuously deliver quality. We could pivot and correct ourselves in the process as this is all part of learning. However, if we make a standpoint today and change our viewpoint the next, and only to change it again, we risk confusing our audiences and losing them in the process. You will lose your credibility this way as well.


Personal branding processes will not change your life overnight. If you keep at it, it will create a trove of personal assets for you to grow your career and differentiate yourself from other developers. Be empower to define yourselves in your professional life.

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