Uncle Gene’s Story
After reading a book on programming careers (I don’t exactly remember which one) it stated that one way to move up in a company is to advertise your skills. This made me think, exactly how does one advertise their skills. On my Reading List page I stated that what a person reads says mountains about the person. This is so true. In a recent conversation with some of my siblings we talked about my Uncle Gene. I am pretty sure that Uncle Gene has been working and making money since the day he knew what a dollar was. But the conversation turned to the fact that Uncle Gene and his wife had sold their house to move to a condo. Uncle Gene is pushing 90 and didn’t want to take care of the lawn any more. (Hope I can still be mowing lawn when I am almost 90.) The conversation then turned to the number of books Gene was giving away simply because he didn’t have room for them in the new place. We discussed Gene’s life and successes and ultimately attributed his success to the amount of books he had read and the knowledge he had accumulated.
Reading is one of the best ways to increase your knowledge. I stated in a previous post that reading is good but practice is what really cements that knowledge. I always use the analogy with students, that I can read all I want about riding a bike, but without actually doing it and practicing I will not get any better at riding a bike.
Advertise your skills in programming by putting books on a shelf
So I can read more and I can practice, that’s great. How do I tell people about my skills? Just like any other business, you advertise. You need to advertise your skills just like any other business. This may mean, attending a conference, speaking at a conference or meet up, but there is a simpler way. I have seen this work first hand in my own career and in the career’s of others. The easiest way to advertise is to put the books you read on your book shelf, but not just any book shelf. Most of us have a bookshelf at work. A place to keep books that are relevant to our jobs, but did you know that you can use this to advertise new skills? It is natural for us to be curious about the books others read. It’s a window into our minds. What people read shows us what they are interested in, what they know and how much of it they know.
Think about it, when was the last time you went into your supervisors office and noticed the books on their bookshelf? Did you notice the number of books? What type of books they were? What was your impression of your supervisor afterwards? Did it impress you? What you read says a lot about who you are. Do you read more than the average person? Or just casually? Do you read for work or just entertainment?
If you are in software development at all, you should be reading all the time. Books, blogs, news, whatever you can get your hands on. Software development is a constantly changing platform and if you have any desire to advance your career reading is one way to get there.
Today’s world we have so many ereaders and electronic books. Which I am all for, anything we can do to save a tree and help the environment, but we still need to advertise our skills. Putting a dead tree print book on your work shelf is one way to say, “I know about this technology”. I have witnessed this first hand and a couple of companies I have worked for as well as experienced it with a student of mine. The student was asked to participate on a project simply because she had a text book on her desk that just happened to coincide with the project.
What are other ways to advertise your skills?
Another is to start a blog. I have always been an advocate for writing a blog. I will agree that I am not the best at it, but I am trying to get better through practice. On a blog you can post things like a reading list and links to projects that you have worked on. Open source projects you contribute to and maybe a side project you really are passionate about. Post things you figured out how to do, even if they are rehashes of other peoples stuff. More on this concept later. Create a reading list of books you want to read each year and then post reviews of the book on your blog.
Books on your shelf.
Books you read on your blog, advertise your skills.
It has been a little over a year since I posted this and I wanted to update on my personal experience with advertising your skills. I accepted a new position with the university in my town and when I did I decided to move all my programming books to my new office following with the “advertise your skills” idea outlined in this post. Here is what happened when I did this: My supervisor sent out an email asking for requests for books. This is something I always jump on. If an employer is going to buy the books for you, that is even better. These are shared books through out our department, but still having them available is priceless. I sent in a request for three books on PeopleSoft since my position revolves around the technology now. The setting I work in is pretty relaxed and we often visit with each other about various things. I was actually waiting for something like this to happen. The books arrived and I placed them on my desk and on the shelf with all my other books. In the course of a week, three co-workers asked me where I got the books then amazed at the collection of books on my shelf. Of course all the books have their titles facing out and you can clearly see the subject matter that is in each book. I was instantly the “expert” on several things I owned books on not just with my supervisor, but my co-workers too. I don’t like to brag and try to keep the ego in check but this was pretty exciting experiment. Seeing the co-workers reactions was great.
Advertising your skills like this doesn’t have the connotation of bragging or stroking your ego and can help your career immensely.