Self-Marketing for Software Developers

SmartMoney.com interviewed me this week for their article Web Sites Find Security Seals a Boon for Business. The article talks about ways online merchants, specifically small businesses, can use security seals to legitimize their websites in the eyes of potential customers.

It occurred to me that displaying seals doesn’t change how a website operates; the seals are all about marketing. They’re all about playing the game of looking legitimate to potential customers.

In this case, standards and seals are a good thing: they allow people to quickly verify if a website uses SSL or is reasonably “hacker safe.” This is helpful when you’re shopping for that antique Platypus Beanie Baby and wind up on a site you’ve never heard of. Seeing the Verisign seal probably gives you a bit of warm fuzziness.

Standards
In high school you may have worked your butt off for grades or a good score on the SAT (a standardized test taken by high school seniors in the U.S.). The fact is, you were smart whether or not you did these things, but you had to do them to prove it. You may not have realized, but you were marketing yourself to colleges. And the best way to do this is to fit their mold of standardized tests and grades; to play the game.

When you go to a job interview you already know you can do the job. The entire process of creating a resume, making it look pretty, putting on a suit, using your best manners, and writing code on a white board is all packaging. It’s not really you; it’s the best possible view of you that you bring to the game.

I have a friend who is a fantastic developer (I mean it; he’s top-notch). But he has trouble finding contract work. All of the online marketplaces are filled with commodity development shops. The temp houses take a huge cut and are always trying to beat down his rate. So a guy who’s worth $100+/hour winds up making $70. He’s worth more, but he hasn’t figured out how to differentiate himself from every other developer in the universe.

Self-Marketing Rule #1: It’s a sad statement, but even from early on in your career, knowing how to market yourself will do more for your earnings and reputation than becoming better at what you do. This is not a license to be a crappy developer, but an imperative to become a better self-marketer.

The Basics
Self-marketing, also known by the more sinister name “self-promotion,” works wonders for both salaried employees and freelancers. In both cases the bigger your name, the more recognition you’ll receive from those around you, the more money you will make, and the more opportunities that will come your way.

I receive a lot of email asking how to get a raise, and how to get around the developer salary cap, and here’s the simple answer: set yourself apart.

Here are a few approaches to doing that; there are certainly more (please post a comment with your ideas):

  • Get Certified. A good first step.
  • Write technical articles. Print or online; it doesn’t matter. Scott Mitchell and Rocky Lhotka have built careers using this approach in the .NET world.
  • Speak. Start by speaking at local developer events.
  • Blog. Joel Spolsky is the poster child for making a name for yourself as a blogger.
  • Win Awards. Microsoft’s MVP and ASPInsider awards come to mind. I’m not sure if there are equivalents on the Java/PHP side.
  • Contribute to Open Source Projects. Nothing is more impressive than saying you implemented feature X in a popular blogging engine.
  • Release your own free applications or utilities. Have you heard of LINQPad or Reflector? Suffice to say these developers have earned major clout in their circles.

Self-Marketing Rule #2: Start now. It will take a long time to get going (think years, not months), and the sooner you start the sooner you’ll reap the rewards.

A New Game
The approaches I mentioned above are good to know when you’re starting out in the game of self-marketing. But some people don’t play the game at all. They re-write the rules to create a new one.

A girl from my high school didn’t get her diploma because she refused to take P.E. (Physical Education), but she was a science prodigy and was accepted to M.I.T. She knew how to market herself using her substantial accomplishments (inventions, awards, articles, etc…), and M.I.T. saw her as an exceptional candidate even though she didn’t meet the basic requirement every guidance counselor tells you about. She refused to play the grades/SAT/diploma game and decided to make up her own rules.

Fog Creek Software makes millions annually selling bug tracking software. Are they the best bug tracking application available? I don’t really know. But it isn’t about being the best, it’s about marketing. And Joel knows a lot about marketing (he doesn’t admit this, instead saying he stumbled into the popularity of his blog).

These days everyone has a blog to promote their software, but when he started Joel on Software back in March of 2000, Joel was inventing a new form of self-marketing. Intentional or not, writing his own rules has made Fog Creek an incredibly profitable company.

Self-Marketing Rule #3: If you have an exceptional talent, market yourself through exceptional means. Don’t play the game everyone else is playing.

Last time I checked, Fog Creek Software didn’t have a Verisign seal on their website.

Digg This!

[tags]marketing, self-promotion, programming, consulting[/tags]

Start Small, Get Big
Growth Secrets for Self-Funded Startups. It'll Change Your Life.
What you get for signing up:
  • A 170-page ebook collecting my best startup articles from the past 5 years
  • Previously unpublished startup-related screencasts
  • Exclusive revenue-growing techniques I don't publish on this blog
"The ideas and information Rob provides should be required reading for anyone that wants to create a successful business on the web." ~ Jeff Lewis
Startups for the Rest of Us...
If you're trying to grow your startup you've come to the right place. I'm a serial web entrepreneur here to share what I've learned in my 11 years as a self-funded startup founder. Luckily several thousand people have decided to stick around and join the conversation.

For more on why you should read this blog, go here.

23 comments ↓

#1 JD Conley on 10.19.07 at 12:06 pm

It’s funny you should post this. I’ve been thinking a lot about this very subject. Even as an independent consultant it is very difficult to break out of the $100-200/hr range. Other professionals seem to have figured it out. High end lawyers regularly bill above $400/hr. For our industry, hot shots in that pay grade are few and far between (I’ve never met one). . . I’d love to talk to someone who’s made it that far as a software consultant.

#2 Brian on 10.19.07 at 3:30 pm

Another nice article Rob. You have given me inspiration to start my own blog. (Yeah just what this world needs right?)

I recently participated in two interviews within my organization for positions outside of my field. It was interesting how both candidates had blogs, which others on the interview panel had read. It seemed a useful tool for those giving the interview to have some background on the candidates technical knowledge and position on issues specific to the field.

In the end I doubt many will ever read my blog or care what I write. But there may come a time when someone will, and that person may actually give me a job or gain some insight from my blog.

#3 Thierry on 10.19.07 at 5:27 pm

It’s a real nice article that you put here.
Something I must apply as much as possible, or at least keep in mind.

Thank you for this very interesting read.

#4 Mark on 10.21.07 at 5:24 am

You can use SourceKibitzer Bio (www.sourcekibitzer.org) for self-marketing. See my Bio for example in the signature. But you have to be Open Source developer to be able to apply for this for free.

Mark
http://www.sourcekibitzer.org/Bio.ext?sp=l8

#5 Ronald on 10.22.07 at 11:11 am

Very nice article, Have been trying to do some of the stuff on the list, but it would be interesting to go for an interview which happens to have people that read and like you blog…..good post man

#6 George on 10.22.07 at 1:40 pm

Excellent article Rob. I agree with all your points.

Have you considered that marketing through your web site may actually be detrimental to a potential position or opportunity? What I mean is, the people doing the interviewing now have access to a lot more information about you (as a candidate) then they would if you walked in fresh from a agency placement or recommendation.

If someone doing the interviewing disagrees with one of your blog opinions, it may have an adverse affect. What criteria do you use when posting to help ensure this does not happen? Have you heard of this or seen it happen?

#7 Rob on 10.22.07 at 2:01 pm

@George – You can definitely do harm through your blog, like you can anytime you share information about yourself. The more you share the more likely you are to say something someone does not like. But then again, the more likely you are to say even more things they do like. In my opinion, the more information they have, especially from a conversational source like your blog, the better off you are.

If you share an opinion that a potential manager does not like and they don’t hire you, even though you are a good developer, it seems to me that manager is either caught up in politics, or doesn’t want anyone to disagree with him/her…neither of which are traits I would look for in a boss.

And if the manager disagrees with all of your opinions, then you really don’t want to work for him/her.

Not to oversimplify, but unless you are blogging about ridiculous things like how you drink alcohol while you code, or are heavily political and divisive, I don’t see how you could have a huge impact on your ability to get hired.

One of the questions I ask myself before clicking publish is: “Am I ok if my clients read this?”

I have never heard of someone not being hired because of something they said in their blog.

#8 George on 10.22.07 at 2:49 pm

Good point. I agree the benefits outweigh the negatives. Also, if the opinions clash to the point where they are not interested in hiring you, it does prempt the inevitable conflicts arising in the future.

I like your rule of asking: “Am I ok if my clients read this?”

Thanks again.

#9 The 3 Rules of Self-Marketing « Web Worker Daily on 10.24.07 at 9:59 am

[…] developer (and web worker) Rob Walling has published another take on the subject in his article Self-Marketing for Software Developers.  Based on his years in development and management, he offers 3 rules for marketing your own […]

#10 Peter Bell on 10.24.07 at 11:44 am

It’s also about building a brand. I may not be interested in your random musings about your everyday life with the occasional link to a cool project someone else wrote. Take a position and base what you do around it.

In the ColdFusion world, I’m “the application generation guy” as that is what I write on in the publications, lecture internationally on, and focused the blog on (it is the title of the blog). I got a million page views in my first year just from ColdFusion developers interested in code generation!

Now I’m presenting at ooPSLA, and code generation conferences, that brand is’t sufficiently distinct, so I’m focusing my research on evolution of DSLs which is a narrow enough, yet interesting enough topic to allow me to present academic papers on at top conferences.

I run a website development company, so I’m not sure how much ROI I get from the self-marketing with the code generation world, but it’s fun, so who cares!

My take away: find something your passionate about that just enough other people will be interested in, and focus your blog around your brand. If people who don’t know you can’t describe you in 3-4 words, they won’t describe you at all, and that isn’t good for your brand.

Multiple brands are allowable. Now I’m established in the code gen world, I’m working up a new brand around web marketing and will be presenting to BMA conferences and the like. Who knows, THAT brand may even bring in a little money, as our core business actually sells to marketing managers :->

Best Wishes,
Peter

#11 Rob on 10.24.07 at 12:14 pm

@Peter – Basing your self-marketing around a single “theme” (aka your Brand) is the way to go; I couldn’t have said it better myself. Thanks for the insight.

#12 The 3 Rules of Self-Marketing « Web Worker Daily on 10.24.07 at 1:00 pm

[…] developer (and web worker) Rob Walling has published another take on the subject in his article Self-Marketing for Software Developers. Based on his years in development and management, he offers 3 rules for marketing your own skills […]

#13 Donal on 10.24.07 at 11:08 pm

In the land of Java there is a “Java Champion” award which is similar to .net’s MVP

#14 Internet Marketing & Web Design » Blog Archive » You Inc. The Notion of Self Branding on 10.25.07 at 8:21 pm

[…] (and web worker) Rob Walling has published his take on the subject in his article Self-Marketing for Software Developers. Based on his years in development and management, he offers 3 rules for marketing your own skills […]

#15 Peter Cooper on 11.21.07 at 12:07 pm

Not just writing technical articles, but writing a BOOK that’s published by a technical publisher people are aware of (O’Reilly, New Riders, Apress, etc.) will do wonders also, especially if it sells reasonably well.

#16 The Five Minute Guide to Becoming a Freelance Software Developer | Software by Rob on 01.18.08 at 11:01 am

[…] you invest in self-marketing this rate will rise as people come to you instead of the other way around. The first time this […]

#17 Q & A: What Should I Put on My Programming Resume? | Software by Rob on 03.27.08 at 10:27 am

[…] on How to Become a Programmer Nailing Your Technical Interview Self-Marketing for Software […]

#18 A Non-traditional Resume, Web Service Studio on CodePlex, Official Shotgun Rules, and Win a MacBook Air | Software by Rob on 05.29.08 at 9:47 am

[…] creating a one-of-a-kind resume when applying for an internship with Seth Godin. He read my post on self-marketing for software developers and thought it embodied an approach to marketing yourself through “exceptional […]

#19 RickK on 05.29.08 at 11:28 am

@JD – While Lawyers have figured out how to charge and get $400/hr for their work they are also covering a lot of overhead under that amount. Office space, legal assistants, secretaries, etc. Also figure in that Lawyers have undergrad and graduate degrees and have to pass the State Bar to practice. Compare that with some of the talented and not so talented highschool dropouts I’ve worked with on development projects. When I don’t have to be onsite at a client I work out of my house, using equipment and software I last purchased over a year ago. I don’t have to charge $100’s per hour to cover expenses and make a decent living which means my competition doesn’t either. So I have a hard time charging even $100/hr when there are 10 other people after the same contract, with varying experience and qualifications charging $45.

#20 JD on 05.29.08 at 1:43 pm

@RickK – Awww, Rick, that sounds like a cop out. I think Rob and I need to pump you full of some youthful ignorance! 🙂 There has to be some way to make it happen. I do know people making $200-$300 per hour every day, doing vendor specific consulting (SAP, Documentum, etc). Of course, they have overhead flying around and buying expensive suits so they can meet with bankers… It’s also about marketing yourself (hey, back on topic to the article!) and creating scarcity and demand for YOU, to the point where people wouldn’t even want to look at your competition. But I digress, the real money — and IMHO the real fun — is in owning businesses and creating products, not pimping yourself out.

#21 Self-Marketing for Software Developers | Software by Rob Software Rss on 09.15.09 at 9:34 am

[…] Self-Marketing for Software Developers | Software by Rob By admin | category: for software | tags: announced-the-creation, creation, […]

#22 Nyceane on 10.27.10 at 2:48 pm

You can start charging per project and hire other people for $45/hr. Majority of the time it’s not really about the code you write, but it’s more about how valuable the business plan is.

#23 Sven on 10.28.10 at 3:34 am

Hi,
I wrote a little post about how Open Source is used in marketing purposes, especially for self marketing, you might me interested in reading it.

http://sven.webiny.com/open-source-as-self-marketing/