Be Visible

Make your role strong as a programmer and let your work talk.

Being visible is not bad

We need to establish a positive reputation in our role. That reputation magnifies the visibility of our role. Visibility is when people around the office know our name.” Not only does it stroke our ego, but it gives us the influence to get the projects and roles we want down the road.

Visibility doesn’t require a fancy job title; it’s far more subtle. A beginner programmer on the bottom of the organizational chart can have visibility all the way up to the CEO. If you’re working on a project the CEO has a personal interest in, you have visibility.

We don’t always get visibility by accident, yet pushing for visibility can backfire. It’s something of a delicate thing; people who overtly seek it too strongly come off looking like phonies. A common mistake is to seek visibility in words alone, like speaking non-stop in a meeting.

The better approach to get recognition is to let our work do the talking. First, while we’re new on the job, we should strive to get some early wins. If we have any say in the matter, take on some tasks that we know can deliver quickly and solidly. Follow the company coding style perfectly, write unit tests that prove functionality, and make it good and deliver fast.

Your manager will notice, and they’ll go bragging to their manager about the good new hire. If they do that, you’ve earned visibility up the chain. Second, make a mark on the product where others will notice. Let’s say we get stuck on bug patrol, which is a common new-hire task. Our first task is to fix some GUI text fields that don’t validate correctly. Do that and check it in, and then go through and make sure the GUI widgets line up right—do some visual housekeeping that makes the interface look nicer than we found it. By going above and beyond, we’ve earned ourselves a nice bit of recognition.

Finally, as we get more credibility in the group and freedom to pick our tasks, pick some things that people in the company are passionate about. It could be as simple as tying a couple of features together in a novel way, like adding an email gateway to a web application. There’s always some itch that people have wanted to scratch but they just haven’t had the time.

Visibility may sound like shameless self-promotion. Yes, to a degree, it is. But it really helps when there’s an interesting new job opening in the company or when there’s a cool new project coming up. If your name has been circulating among the managers because of something great we did, we will more likely get that shot.

And let’s be honest, programmers love to build cool stuff. When we’ve built something cool, it’s really fun to show it off.

Industry perspective: Making an impression

The most important thing as a new programmer can do is keep our heads down and be certain we’re doing the task at hand. Any opinion, idea, or suggestion we may have regarding the company’s workflow, or the product we are on, should be withheld at least until after the first review cycle.

Any person straight out of school wants to make a big impression. We want to show the company that we’re worth hiring and that’s great. The problem is that trying to make this impression can throw us into overreaction mode, especially if we have a highly competitive personality.

New employees can (and do) have great, fresh ideas. The problem arises when we don’t know where the contentious issues are, what factions compete within the corporate climate, and we don’t have a good enough feel for the corporate culture.

Putting it another way, what gets us a raise and kudos at Google may well get us fired at Netflix. It’s best to mostly observe during our first six months, and bring our ideas up later when we have more context about the company.