Software Developers – Mind Your Footprint!

I’ve been running a software services operation for the past few years and spend a lot of time searching for great software developers to work on our internal projects (product builds) and to work with our clients (mainly enterprise stack, and some product work too).

I find that the best way to search, identify and make contact with the best developers is by looking at their digital footprint. I’m not talking about their Linkedin profile – although that is part of it.

I’m more interested in activity on Github – how many check-ins, stars and followers…. how well is the code written and documented. Likewise, I’m interested in their presence on StackOverflow – how active are they in term of asking and answering questions relating to software development.

After that, I’m interested to see what in the blog, or patterns of communication on Twitter.

Using this approach has told us a lot about candidates before we approach them. In many cases we’re able to narrow our search quite significantly based on the patterns we see in peoples digital footprint.

In terms of career management, the key questions for software developers are; what are my career objectives and is my online brand enabling me to achieve those objectives.

To make the best moves in today’s competitive software industry;

Keep your skills relevant to where you are today, and where you want to be in the future
Make sure you’ve got some code you can be proud of posted on GitHub
Have a decent presence on StackOverflow – (but don’t go too over-board or people will wonder how you manage to make time to develop software!)
Show that you’ve got a positive attitude and communication skills to match your technical prowess
… all of this will wash through your digital footprint. If it looks solid, well balanced and rings true, the opportunities you seek will come find you.

Scaling Engineering Teams – First Impressions Count

Finding and hiring decent software developers is tough.

There currently around 19m developers worldwide – and whilst this figure expected to grow to 25m by 2025 – it’s clearly a bottleneck which is hampering many scaling tech firms.

Initial contact with candidates is critical for engagement, so it’s important to do your research, and to make that show in the very first line of your initial contact with a potential hire.

Here are three differing approaches, which will provoke very different outcomes for talent acquisition people looking to hire developers.

1. The Fire & Forget Approach (much-hated by developers):

<Dear Goran,
I wanted to contact you in relation to an exciting java development role that we’re currently trying to fill. See description below – would this be of interest?>

Any developer worth his salt will take one glance at this type of message before dropping it into the spam folder. It’s really hit-and-miss, and likely to get response rates below 10%.

Those who do respond are not likely to be of the highest quality.

2. I Spotted you on LinkedIn – How about a chat?
Hint: this way isn’t really cutting the mustard either.

<Hello Goran,

I see from your LinkedIn profile that you have over 8 year’s experience in java development – based on this, I wanted to let you know about an exciting Java development role that we’re trying to fill. Could you look at the requirement and let me know if this would be of interest?>

This message (if delivered via email) is likely to get a response rate in the 14-19% range (or 13-15% if send by LinkedIn InMail). It does refer to the candidates experience in a broad sense, but relates to only one source (LinkedIn), which is likely to be out of date, and is a part of their profile that’s tolerated, not loved.

If you’re serious about scaling your development team, you’re going to need to roll up your sleeves and get real… the better software developers are constantly being contacted by recruiters, and won’t engage with you if you don’t show them the respect that is due.

3. Spent Some Time Researching You and Have Something Relevant

With this approach, you can expect real traction from highly skilled developers.

You’re searching based on skills/interests of the developer and you’re looking at GitHub profiles, StackOverflow, Twitter and Blogs. You’re making specific references to relevant parts of the candidate’s Digital Footprint, and backing that up with links.

<Hello Goran,

Great to see how you have established your reputation as a provocative thinker in functional programming via your blog. I see that you’ve made several commits on hadoop in your GitHub account over the past 18 months, and have cultivated something of a following on Stackoverflow on the topics of Java and functional-programming. Well done!

Based on this, I wanted to touch base with you, as I have an interesting role that would suit someone with your skills and interests. Could you have a look at the spec below and let me know if that would be of interest?>

Using this approach of referring to three relevant facts on the candidates digital footprint, we have experienced response rates in excess of 80%.

Why is this?

Doing proper research on the developer shows that you are making a real effort to research suitable candidates for your particular role. This sends a signal to the developer that you are a serious and credible individual.

Making specific references to parts of the developer’s Digital Footprint that they actually care about… provides validation that the public domain content created by the developers are supporting their career objectives.

Granted, this approach takes much more effort up front on the part of talent acquisition people, however research done at the earlier stages of the recruitment process pays dividends in terms of the quality and responsiveness of the talent you engage.

A developer’s path to a personal brand

Digital personal branding is imperative for a developer, it makes us who we are. It is our professional identity we project to the rest of the business which is why it is so important. I will go over a few points that may help you substantiate your personal brand and to keep yourself attractive and afoot in the eyes of the business in the beginning or throughout your career.

Prepare yourself

Before strengthening your personal brand, you need to have a clear idea of who you are and what you do. That sounds easy enough! But in fact it can be quite challenging to describe yourself in a way that sells, yet is authentic and honest.

One of the most important things is to be clear about who you are. Your label. If you’re a Web Security Expert, C# Developer or Front-End Developer – it needs to be obvious from the start. Your role, as you apply it to yourself, should be how your personal brand is identified and will be paramount when people find you.

If you’re vague when describing yourself, which younger developers often are, no matter who finds you they aren’t going to have that “This one looks perfect!” -feeling. As an example, when a recruiter for a company is looking for an Erlang System Developer, consider the two following candidate descriptions and decide which one you feel is best.

John Doe – programming consultant
Pete Dae – Software engineer “Functional programming partisan”

Even though “Software engineer” is quite generic, Mr. Pete Dae has made his angle obvious and is implicitly saying “Hey, I know functional programming and I intend to continue in this field”.

Another significant aspect that needs to be addressed early in your personal branding is some kind of graphical representation of you or your brand. It could be a good looking head-shot in a professional environment, a logotype or a combination. The important thing is that this picture is recurring everywhere you are. That will mean that when someone is tracking your digital footprint, trying to get a notion of who you are, there’s no question about if this is you or someone else with the same name. The best and easiest solution would probably be to use a Gravatar and to use that same graphics where gravatars aren’t supported.

The bread and butter

Digital footprint: For anyone trying to learn more about you there is one certain thing they will do – they will Google your name. So that’s what you will need to do, see what you find and improve it. Your digital footprint is something that needs to align with how you present yourself professionally or you will lose credibility. To get an in depth idea of the importance of your digital footprint, check out Davorin Habrun’s article “Attention Software Developers! Is your Digital Footprint ready for 2016?”.

What could this mean then? As a developer of some sort, it is probable that you will find your profile on LinkedIn, StackOverflow, Facebook, Twitter, GitHub and probably a few more areas. Consider those websites your temple, keep them clean and up to date. The rest of your digital footprint will probably be guest articles you wrote, comments on blogs etc. If you see room to improve those, even if it’s old content, you should. It’s unnecessary to have a blunt comment from 2002 about how you think JavaScript isn’t for “real developers” as the third hit when Googling your name. Try to make sure you can currently support the comprised image made of you by a search.

Your website: Fortunately, you don’t solely have to rely on third parties to reflect your professional identity on the web. Your own website is your own realm where you set the rules and you choose just how everyone sees you. This is your opportunity to captivate and impress someone, showing yourself in just the right light to give the best and most accurate image of you.

With all this power though, it’s easy to lose sight of what is really important – Clarity. On your own website, it needs to be obvious that you’re on your website and what kind of website this is, be it a blog, CV, vlog, portfolio or a travel-blog for your close friends. You can establish this with one greeting at the front of your site, such as:

“Hello, I’m Greg – Software Engineer and proponent for functional programming.”

This greeting isn’t just a nice way of saying hello. It tells the visitor that this site is about you and your career, and all that revolves around it – if you came to get an idea of my professional self then you came to the right place.

How much you decide to embroider your site is really up to you, whether you want to present ideas in the form of a blog, show your curriculum, describe you as a person or offer a way to get in touch – it needs to be simple and obvious.

Site updates
There’s no reason creating a website for your personal branding unless you tend to it. Your brand should be like your cat, your world shouldn’t really revolve around it but it’s something you need to tend to on a regular basis. If you see it the right way, you will realize that it’s not just work, but can actually be kind of fun.

Make sure that you maintain your personal website with regular content. If you’re not really the blogger type, who writes lengthy reasonings about each problem you encounter at work, but rather prefer to write a new feature to your website instead, that’s cool – the work can speak for itself. Just make a quick update on your site about it. Something along the lines:

“Contact section just got a facelift! New UI and a well needed refactor of the e-mail validation . After reading ‘Declarative form validation done right’ by , I just got really inspired”.

That short update is more than enough to give a great impression about you and how passionate you are about what you do. Moreover, it’s an elegant way of saying how up-to-date you are with latest tech news and you also get some exposure on your public repositories.

The future

So what happens when you feel that you’re pretty set up with your personal brand? Your digital footprint is presentable, your public profiles are clear and up to date, your own website is up and running. Are we done then? The simple answer is no, maintaining your personal brand is a part of being in the business and it will not end for as long you’re still in it, but the level of your involvement may vary depending on your availability.

The great thing though is that many, if not most, companies encourage your public presence since it by extension increases the public presence of the company. I’d be surprised to find an employer who wouldn’t allow you to write an article about how your switch from MySQL to MongoDB went, or about the reasoning behind switching from Less to Sass. It’s your job to find these opportunities in your day-2-day. What are you learning these days, what are you working with, what are your decisions and why? It’s up to you to realize what could be a great topic to talk about and thereby strengthen your personal brand.

The work you do doesn’t have to be open source to benefit you personally. It’s great if it is, but there are many ways you can harvest a positive reward from it even if the source never reaches beyond your team.

Attention Software Developers! Is your Digital Footprint ready for 2016?

The days when employers judge your expertise based on your CV are over. They want to (and can) give you scores based on your online activities. They can rate your programming knowledge based on your GitHub commits, ability to work in a team based on your StackOverflow activity, communication skills based on your Facebook comments. These rates can be really valuable depending on the job you’re applying for.

In the digital lives we live, competition is fierce, especially in the online world. And sometimes our online trace could be the only thing differentiating us from our competition. Remember: everything you write online can be used in your favour (or against it).

Ok, what is my Digital Footprint?

Try typing your name and lastname in Google and check the search results. Even for the shy ones something will appear. All sort of things will be there, from the hackathon award you won last month, crazy experimental code project on GitHub from 2009 all the way to an ecological event in high school on a ancient website. Blog posts (which, I’m sure, you have plenty), comments on articles, GitHub repos, Stackoverflow activity, Linkedin profile, Facebook profile etc. etc. are all part of that big data you made over the years.

And voila, that’s your own Digital Footprint. It’s the stuff you leave behind in the enormous world wide web universe. Your every action or mentioning of your name online is recorded and traceable.

Why is it important?

Leaving a positive trace in a digital world these days is important for many reasons: finding the right job, collaborate with others, professional networking, keeping safe online, etc.
75% percent of people have googled themselves only 2-3 times while 63% of recruiters decided not to hire a candidate based on a fact they found on a social network (Cowell, 2010).

With the rise of new tools in 2016 to scan www for digital footprints like in the search for relevant information that can get a recruiter a clearer picture of a candidate, digital footprints will become more important than ever. It makes it easy for a recruiter to place you in different categories: unexperienced, mid-level, introvert, front-end,…. They can label you Hot or Not just by glancing on your Digital Footprint. Do you think your Digital Footprint is saying the right things about you?

So, how can I improve my Digital Footprint?

75% of the U.S. think that the good social profile can improve your reputation at work
First, put yourself in the shoes of your future employeer, or a recruiter, or a potential partner. What kind of information about you could be relevant for them? How will they find the data about you? How do you want to showcase your skills, experience and interests. Think about yourself as a brand: be authentic and then think about the actions you can do to stand out of the crowd while also look more professional.

Here are a few tips:
1) Stay active in the right channels – for a software developer, there are a few places where you just have to be: GitHub, Stackoverflow, Linkedin, Twitter,… The rest is up to you.
2) Think before your post – to avoid later issues, think twice about the things you post. Does the content you post really add value to your online profile. Think about relevance.
3) Check what your competition is doing – always compare yourself with the best ones and aim for that
4) Understand your mobile device – people often don’t realize that many of the activities performed while they are on the move get recorded and publicly shared
5) And clean up a bit – you probably have certain things online you don’t want others to know about. Find them and delete (or hide)

Also, don’t forget about the Privacy which you can easily achieve with just a few clicks in settings of any social network. While it will keep you safe online it will enable only the closest circle of friends and family to access to your most private content.

Good luck with that new job search!

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Keeper Solutions provides scalable, expert, outsourced development resources to Irish and UK clients from a network of software centres across Europe. Our teams are highly skilled, expertly managed and fully committed to the long term success of our partners. We specialise in highly regulated development environments.

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