Wednesday, November 9, 2011

GHC: Workshop: Building Your Brand as a Technical Expert or Leader

I love Jo Miller. She has an excellent grasp of personal brand. And not that cheesy brand thing you hear every one else talking about, but what do you want to be known for - what do people come to you for. Being well branded helps you to make connections and help others make connections.

Jo gave us a goal to come up with what we want our career niche to be, create a personal brand statement and figure out how make our brand visible. And this has to be something we can really use.

How does one figure out ones ideal career niche? Well, first, I should stop writing like I'm the Queen (as she's already got her niche figured out for her :-). Really, what are you passionate about, what are your skills and talents, and what does your company need/value? If you can find a place where those things intersect, you may have just found your niche!

When you know your sweet spot, it's easier to choose assignments, mentors and sponsors.

For me, I've been in my field for more than a decade. Back in the late 1990s, early 2000s, I was the firewall expert. I knew all there was to know about the complicated protocols, ins and outs of PASV FTP (passive file transfer protocol, used by browsers), and I rearchitected the SunScreen firewall NAT (Network Address Translation) component. I was nicknamed the Goddess of NAT.

But, as the years have gone on, I've become much more general - focusing on more connecting technologies, like the Oracle Solaris Cryptographic Framework. I'm not a cryptographer, but I know the basics and I know the standards. I'm a great public speaker, all the acting I've done really helps with that. I'm great at making connections and helping people to solve their problems, even if I can't solve it myself. I write good code and debug problems. I design software. I am an expert in defect tracking. Certainly those are useful skills? How do I make that a brand?

It may not be as bad as I think, as when I asked a fellow conference attendee what my brand was, she said: "security, beer and bicycling". Well, that does sum up my passions!

Jo Miller also talks about what happens if you've somehow ended up a negative brand? One example was a woman who was branded as "high maintenance". The woman was a QA manager and thought she taking care of problems. She needed to change from being the complainer, to the partner in helping people to solve their issues. Something definitely to think about. (side thought of my own: do men have to worry about this?)

Another place you can get caught is as an entry-level or mid-level type person, which makes it hard to get promoted.

While you're still in school, it's easier to create a brand - work hard and get good grades, and you're branded as a good student. But how does that work in the real world? How do you take results and get to reward and recognition? You've got to add visibility!

How can you do this? Jo Miller's first step, strangely, is work less! Huh? Well, if you're always working and never telling people about what you're doing, nobody will notice. This doesn't mean spend 95% of your time evangelizing yourself - you have to have something to evangelize after all. Just spend 5% of your time doing this.

She asks us to write a "30 second commercial" for ourselves. Mine would be, "I'm Valerie Bubb Fenwick, Principle Software Engineer in Oracle Solaris. I'm known for security, beer and ...." oh, wait. Gotta tweak that. "I"m known for security and as the bug queen. Come to me when you need help learning about security, defect tracking, or finding the right person to help you in the Oracle Solaris organization." "and, we can talk over a beer" :-)

So, that just gets us through the first two steps. Once we pull this all together, we need to have a career-planning conversation with our leaders. Yes, that includes your manager, but others in your organization. Show them your value in the thing you're interested in. And, once you do that - you need to ask for help. Just something as simple as, "Is there anyone else you think I should talk to about this?"

The fourth step sounds so simple: work hard, but on the right projects. How do you know what the right projects are? Something that aligns with your brand or where you'd like your brand to go. And deliver. If you don't deliver valuable results, no matter what else you do, you aren't going to get anywhere.

When picking the project, look for specific roles (as opposed to general), push the cutting edge in your field of expertise, executive special projects, projects that directly support your organizations strategic plan, exposes you to a new department and demonstrates higher level of technical, business or leadership skills.

Now, on to speed network!

This post syndicated from Thoughts on security, beer, theater and biking!