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Edward Huang
Edward Huang

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Demystifying Trust Building: How to Earn Trust Like a Technology Leader

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Trust is a leading indicator of your personal brand as a software engineer. We often evaluate others positively or negatively based on trust.

In business, trust is highly correlated to a person's propensity to consider, try, or buy a product. In career development, trust can help you get that promotion, work on important projects, and build your reputation at the company.

Building trust is hard.

Many software engineers need to understand how to build trust. They think that if you form a good relationship with your manager, you automatically build that trust. However, you cannot create trust merely by forming a good relationship. You need to earn your trust by being dependable and consistent over time. You can look to senior and staff members of the team that you respect on how to build trust.

This week's article will provide methods and tips on how software engineers can earn trust. Whether you are just onboarding into a new role or aiming for that promotion, these tips can help you build your brand at your organization and earn trust.

First, we need to understand the elements of earning trust.

3 Elements Needed to Earn Trust

According to Harvard Business Review, there are three elements required for trust: positive relationships, good judgment (being right a lot), and consistency.

Positive Relationships

The core of trust is in the relationship. You can build positive relationships by showing you listen and care. Stay in touch with the issues and concerns of your team and give honest feedback to your peers in a helpful way. Moreover, you can help resolve conflicts within the team to build relationships with others.

Good Judgment

If you keep making the right choice, they will put more trust in you to execute the next big thing.

That doesn't mean that you always need to be correct. However, when your judgment is not correct, it is harder for your peers and team to trust. To increase the success factor of making a decision, you must understand the technical side of the work and have a depth of experience.

Another factor of good judgment is that you can anticipate and respond quickly to problems. Others will trust your judgment if you can give them peace of mind when unexpected things occur.

If you can be that go-to person someone asks to make important decisions; that means you have earned their trust.


You must make the right choice not just once but multiple times.

Your team can tolerate a single failure. However, multiple failures may cause them to question your decision-making skills.

Consistency also happens when you walk the talk. If you said you would finish project X in Y time, you better be committed to finishing on time.

You earn trust by keeping your promises, and going above and beyond what needs to be done.

Now that you know the three pillars of trust, let's talk about how software engineers can implement these three pillars.

4 Tips to Build Trust Like a Technology Leader

Teach What You Know

Teaching shows authority. Your audience trusts that you have the experience and the right answers. By giving a presentation on a topic, you instantly become the subject matter expert.

Teaching turns you into a project matter expert.

My team members and manager trust my technical expertise because they see that I have taught system design and programming in Scala to an audience.

A job title can also help build authority. However, having a job title is like telling people you have authority without demonstrating your actual expertise - this doesn't equal earning trust in your team. On the other hand, teaching helps demonstrate that you have expertise in that subject matter, which helps you influence and earn the team's trust.


Present at a company Lunch and Learn. After I presented my development of a rule engine to optimize payment failures, my manager and director encouraged me to submit a patent to protect such intellectual property. I worked with them to submit my strategy to the Disney Streaming internal patent officer. With a single presentation, I gained trust from management initiated a patent for my solution.

Share the solution to problems that you solve. I shared my insights on how to increase throughput by 2% in one of our payment services as a Lunch and Learn. The team director was present and intrigued. He later messaged me that my solution could be useful for other teams, and asked me to be the subject matter expert to consult with the other teams to implement the same strategy. I earned their trust to execute a bigger project with a single presentation.

Be Transparent in Every Action

Transparency means documenting your work so that others can easily find and understand it. It also means being open to feedback to improve your code.

People value transparency because it is equivalent to honesty. The core of trust is being honest.

When you are transparent with your code, it builds trust with your team. Your team will likely rely on your code and have faith that it is well-written.

When the product team asks to implement a new feature in a short time frame, I will usually list various approaches to help them decide if they want to proceed further. Each approach will always have pros and cons. For instance, if they want you to implement a payment failure and retry in X service, but you know that it will incur tech debt and slow the team down in the future. "We can implement the retry feature in X service, but if there are A, B, or C cases, it will cause a huge SI, which will bring down X amount of revenue to our system. Instead, we can implement this in the Y service, preventing such a case. However, with Y service, we will require at least three sprints."

What you should do is help them make an informed decision by being transparent. It is up to them to decide whether or not they want to proceed with such risk and if the risk is worth it. Next time, they will be more likely to ask for your guidance and advice on their decision.

If you made a mistake, you own that mistake by documenting what you did wrong and sharing that valuable lesson with the team.

When I knew that my initial design would not work because I needed to account for a huge portion of the unknown, I messaged all the stakeholders that the project would be delayed. I messaged them saying, "this is what my initial assumption was. This is where my assumption was understated. This is what I realized about the system, and this is what I will be doing next."

Stakeholders know that projects don’t always go smoothly. When something goes south, the one thing they want to hear is an acknowledgment of the mistake and the solution. Acknowledging fault shows empathy and an eagerness to fix it, which builds positive relationships and trust.

Be Reliable to Your Team

Reliability means showing up to meetings on time and being there when someone needs help.

Answer questions on the Slack channel. A way to build trust when working remotely is to help answer questions on Slack. Why? Because it’s the only “place” where you can meet new people by answering their questions and becoming reliable. People only get to know your name by seeing you often in their Slack channels.

I have a team member that has answered every question in our team Slack channel to the point where stakeholders in other departments know their names. They have built trust across departments and will be consulted as subject experts.

Even if you are not on-call, jump in to help your teammates when there is an incident. Helping your fellow engineers troubleshoot incidents helps build trust in your team. Whenever a problem occurs, a staff engineer in my team will jump in to help us troubleshoot the issue and give suggestions on how to solve it. They have earned the trust of the entire organization and has become the go-to person for any advice on service problems.

Lead By Example

My manager assigned me more scope and tasks this year. One reason is that she put more trust in me when she saw me execute a project successfully last year.

Leading by example can mean doing better in your work.

You need to execute your current task well for them to give you a bigger and more important task. If you can execute well on a certain project, your team will likely put more trust in you and give you a more important project in the future.

The key to leading by example here is the pillar of consistency.

You don't wait around and assume you’ll be assigned important tasks. However, before asking for more impactful tasks, you must show your manager that you can handle them. Just like a promotion - you will need to perform at the next level for a good amount of time before getting promoted.

Asking Questions Builds Relationships. Leading by example can also be asking questions. And the relationship is one of the main aspects of building trust.

"Ask questions the other person will enjoy answering," said Dale Carnegie almost a century ago in his notable self-help book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. For several decades, research has suggested that asking questions in conversation is key for information exchange and lasting impressions.

Asking more questions gives participants greater intimacy by making them feel respected and heard.

"When you show curiosity, and you ask questions and find out something interesting about another person, people disclose more, share more, and they return the favor, asking questions of you," says Todd Kashdan, a researcher of the psychology of curiosity.

Your words to your manager and your team are like contracts. You will automatically build trust if you can be consistent and take action. However, once you break the contract, it can be hard to rebuild that trust with your team.


The three pillars to form trust, according to HBR, are positive relationships, good judgment, and consistency.

To put this into practice, what you can do as a software engineer is to:

  1. Teach others what you know

  2. Be transparent in your actions

  3. Be reliable to your team

  4. Lead by example

Back to you, do you have any tips on how to earn the trust of your colleagues and managers? As always, please share your thoughts by commenting on them down below!

Have a great rest of the week, get some rest, and thanks for reading.

💡 Want more actionable advice about Software engineering?

I’m Edward. I started writing as a Software Engineer at Disney Streaming Service, trying to document my learnings as I step into a Senior role. I write about functional programming, Scala, distributed systems, and careers-development.

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