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How to build a personal brand as a software engineer

Sep 03, 2020 - 13 min read
Amanda Fawcett

As a freelance developer, a strong personal brand may be the key to unlocking new, dedicated clients.

Building a personal brand can help anyone: from freelance developers to entrepreneurs to engineers on the job hunt. Especially at a time when jobs are scarce, you need to stand out from the competition. Building a brand that positions you as an expert will attract potential clients or employers.

Simply put, personal branding is a strategy to market your professional self to potential clients and employers. Anyone with access to the internet can build a personal brand.

This can feel like a muddy adventure to embark upon. So, today, we want to walk you through the ins and outs of personal branding. We’ll teach you how to leverage your programming skills and explain some unique ways to get the lasting recognition you deserve.

In this article, we’ll cover:

Position yourself as an industry-expert

Contribute to your personal brand by authoring an Educative course or Edpresso shot.

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What is a personal brand?

A personal brand is a widely-recognized impression or opinion of an individual based on their expertise and achievements within a particular industry. This is the magnet that attracts you to lasting employment opportunities. Just as any company builds out their brand, so can any individual develop a brand. This is done by leveraging skills, authentically marking yourself, and gaining visibility on social media.

In simple terms, a personal brand is the strategic image that you’ve created about your professional skills. It represents what is unique about you, i.e. your skills, experiences, and personal story.

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When you think of a tech company, what comes to mind? It might be the vibe you get from that company, their business story, or what differentiates them from competitors. This impression is not random; it is a cultivated, intentional strategy that has been fleshed out by their teams through PR, website design, storytelling, etc.

Many big companies use consistent storytelling to differentiate themselves. For example, Amazon’s brand is built around its customer-centric approach and Jeff Bezos’ success story.

All of Amazon’s marketing and product development pull on these threads. This is their brand, and it is essential to Amazon’s success. Anyone can sell books online, but people trust Amazon because they have strategically branded themselves.

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The goal with personal branding is no different. The people that you think of as experts in their fields didn’t get there by accident. They strategized a personal brand that generated that impression.

You too should build an impression or a story about yourself that becomes rooted in the tech industry. A personal brand determines what people will say about you. Anyone with web dev skills can design a great website, so why should a client hire you? That’s up to you to explain.

For some inspiration, check out Robby Leonardi’s Interactive Resume

What is the value of a personal brand?

A personal brand brings a lot of value to you as a developer, whether you are looking for employment, starting a company, or working as a freelance developer. Think of your personal brand as the thing that connects you to other people. This connection, when done well, can bring all sorts of benefits:

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People will trust you more

Evidence shows that people buy because they understand the “why” of a product or company, not necessarily the “what”. In other words, people buy and invest with their emotions and instinct. A personal brand is how to communicate this “why”, i.e. your motivations and intentions.

People who understand a human-centric motivation are more likely to trust you. They feel that they understand your investments and can predict how you will act. Trust is essential to good business, and a personal brand is how you get there.

You’ll build a lasting network

A personal brand invites potential clients and followers to become invested in your work and values for the long haul. Being visible, relevant, and known means that you are building an expansive network of people who feel they can relate to you and trust you.

Personal branding and networking are deeply related. The key here is to align your business with your network, and the two will grow simultaneously. Networking through your personal brand is a great way to get featured on social media and orient yourself as an expert.

You’ll attract clients or employers

Since a personal brand is rooted in your skills, values, and motivations, it will attract potential clients and employers with similar goals. This encourages potential employers to connect to you on a higher level, beyond just what is on your resume.

Employers and clients are drawn to developers who are reliable and consistent. If you can present yourself behind a particular brand promise, a customer is more likely to engage with you, become loyal to your work, or even suggest you to other clients.

You will have a higher perceived value

An effective personal brand is a credibility booster. It allows people to connect to you beyond your job title or list of skills alone, which, let’s face it, anyone can have. A personal brand adds a unique value to you as a developer.

This could mean marketing yourself as an expert in the field or standing out as an ethically driven worker. The deeper people can connect to you, beyond the purely intellectual level, the more value you bring, so the more you can charge for your services. With a personal brand, you work less and make more.

You stand out from the competition

These days, just about anyone can learn software development skills, so you need to stand out when looking for jobs. A personal brand gives you that competitive edge, separating you from those who have the skills but don’t have the trust or credibility. This could look a lot of different ways.

A personal brand means you won’t have to convince employers or clients that you can do the job. You’ll stand out as uniquely trustworthy, skilled, and motivated to get the job done.

6 steps for building a personal brand

So, we know what a personal brand is and the value it can bring to you as a developer. But how do you actually build a brand? Where do you start? Let’s walk through 10 basic steps and actionable advice to get a jumpstart.

Note: This won’t happen overnight. Building a personal brand is a slow process because it is human oriented and requires gaining peoples’ trust. You need the patience to build a network and foundation.

1. Build your foundation

Before you can develop a personal brand, you need to have a solid foundation that you can build upon. The key to personal branding is consistency and authenticity. Your personal brand cannot be an inauthentic persona but a true reflection of your skills, values, and story.

So, you need to brainstorm this foundation and define the following four elements:

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To develop this foundation, begin by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What is your position in the industry?
    • Examples: A bootcamp guru, self-taught developer, former CS professor
  • What is your story as a developer?
    • How did I get to where I am? What is programming for me?
  • What are you personal values?
    • Examples: reliability, inclusivity, transparency
  • What do you want to achieve with your brand?
    • Examples: democratized education, high-paying clients, innovate web design
  • What are you most knowledgeable and passionate about?
    • Examples: freelance web developer, Python expert, machine learning guru
  • What audience do you want to attract?
    • Examples: underrepresented minorities, beginner devs, female developers, field experts
  • What tone of voice suits you best?
    • Examples: personal and funny, intelligent and professional, youthful and quirky

2. Take inventory of your assets

Once you have your mission and values down, the next step is to assess what assets you already have. It’s important to know what tools are already at your disposal, as it gives you a natural jumping off point. Some example of assets may be:

  • Connections to people that work in publishing/podcasts
  • Video editing skills
  • Open-source contributions
  • Organization skills for local meetups
  • Former students or professors
  • and more

3. Create an offer for your audience

Now you have your foundation and your assets in line. You need to have something to sell, and it needs to be irresistible to your intended audience. Once you identify your target audience, you can construct an offer that they will love.

The trick to this is specificity. The best personal brands are not generalists. You want to sound like an expert in a particular thing so your clients have a particular outcome in mind when engage with you.

This will be the foundation you use to build your whole brand. Everything you do should pull on these threads. There is a tried-and-true formula for creating this offer.

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Once you get a sketch of this, write out two versions of this formula:

  • 2-3 paragraphs outlining your brand offer
  • 1 catchy sentence that summarizes your offer

You can use these as you work to build your brand. Writing it out in two forms will help you during different stages of this journey.

As an example, let’s look at Neil Patel, a world-renowned digital marking expert. Here is his homepage that features a clear mission, tone, audience, and offer for his clients:

The goal is to create something similar that captures your mission and tone immediately with a clear offer to the client. It doesn’t have to look just like Neil’s. Maybe you want to be more creative, direct, or professional. But having a clear offer is essential for moving forward in an authentic, successful way.

4. Create or optimize your personal website

Having a personal website is essential to your personal brand, as it is the main way that information is shared in the digital age. This the site that will house everything a follower or client needs to know about you, and you can feature it on any other medium, like social media, podcasts, etc.

Your personal website should focus on first impressions and consistency. A target client should be able to immediately understand who you are, why you care, and what you can offer them.

Your website is yours to build and control. You can be as creative as you want with it, but it should include the following elements in some form:

  • A logo
  • Professional photography of yourself
  • Testimonials of success stories
  • Your offer statement
  • Free content (to attract new visitors)
  • Contact page/form
  • Products/services
  • Personal touches
  • Value proposition (how you can help a client)
  • Social media links
  • A call-to-action (CTA)

5. Implement a content strategy

So, you have a site, but you need to get it out there on Google. First, brainstorm the top keywords that relate to your website. These are the terms that you want associated with your website that will allow it to show up on Google.

You’ll need to do some research on how to rank for those keywords. You could try Google’s Keyword Planner or BuzzSumo to get started.

Once you have a list of topics and keywords you want to rank for, utilize your assets from above to create that content and fill your website. This could include videos, podcasts, webinars, infographics, courses, articles, interactive games, and the like.

The best way to implement your strategy and share your brand is by contributing to your community through blogs, online forums, and popular sites. You can capitalize on the pre-existing platforms that other developers use.

Many of Educative’s users, for example, have authored courses or Edpresso shots. By authoring content on a well-known site, you immediately gain visibility and credibility as an expert. You can add these contributions to a resume or personal website to position yourself as an active expert.

Curious about becoming an author? Check out our Become an Author FAQ.

Want to write an Edpresso shot? Sign up here for more information.

6. Get visible on multiple platforms

Once you have a website and content, you need to share it with the world. You’ll want have visibility on multiple websites or mediums. The mediums you choose depend on your intended audience. It’s important that you always contribute something valuable to the mediums you use for marketing.

You don’t just want to plaster the internet with a link to your site. That doesn’t feel very authentic. The best way is to provide valuable content alongside links to your personal website.

Consider the following as potential places to share your website:

  • Contribute to online forums
  • Write a guest blog article
  • Public speaking events
  • Facebook Groups
  • MeetUps
  • Virtual summits
  • Quora/Reddit
  • Author an online course
  • Affiliate partnerships on YouTube or podcasts
  • Attend university meetings to reach new students
  • Write an op ed for a local newspaper
  • LinkedIn

7. Build a community

Now you have your site, and your brand is visible on multiple mediums. It’s time to grow a community. You want to become a leader in a niche topic based on your target audience. The key here is to create a way for your audience to interact with your intellectual property.

You can do this through Facebook groups, live events, membership capabilities, or content like online courses. The best personal brands are active with their users.

They answer questions, interact with each other, and share ideas. Online forums or the Edpresso community, for example, are excellent ways to interact regularly with your followers.


Wrapping up

Congrats! You should now have a good sense of what it takes to build a personal brand and why it’s so important. Don’t be afraid to get started. You have a lot to offer and shouldn’t shy away from trying!

Remember: be authentic and consistent.

Take the first step of just brainstorming what you bring to the table. From there, the whole thing will fall into place. This may be the key to opening up a whole new world of employment, community, and satisfaction.

Or, if you want to start creating content that positions you as an expert, read more about Educative’s authorship process or Edpresso community. This is work you can add to your resume, LinkedIn profile, or even performance evaluations at work!

Happy learning!

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WRITTEN BYAmanda Fawcett

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