Learn from Expert Developers - devpath.fm (9 Part Series)
A few months ago, I had the chance to interview Jason Swett. Jason is a Ruby developer and an entrepreneur; he has built a consulting business around being an authority on test-driven development.
Instead of reading these boring words 😷, listen to the interview
During our conversation, I asked Jason for advice on boosting "seniority" as a developer. Initially, one key takeaway from our discussion was that seniority isn't actually a valuable metric.
At least, it's not very valuable to compare your seniority to the seniority of other engineers because it's an incredibly subjective term. A senior engineer at one company might be a junior at another.
That being said, there is a value to being perceived as someone who has credibility. From a certain perspective, that idea of seniority is linked to the notion of credibility.
Jason shared some ideas on building the perception of seniority in a way that would benefit your career AND your skill as a technologist.
Speaking is a lot easier than most people think. You don't need some revolutionary idea, or powerful keynote talk to give a lightning talk or talk about your experiences in tech.
If there is something you felt strongly enough to write a tweet about or an exciting Open Source tool you've started using, think about converting it into a 10 or 15-minute talk and reaching out to a local meetup. If you're nervous about sharing in front of strangers, give a lunch-and-learn to your team at work.
Writing blog posts also don't take as much expertise as most people think. In fact, it can be a super-effective strategy to write about things you don't understand. Blogging can be treated as a tool for recording the things you're learning.
The benefit here is two-fold. The first one is obvious, your learning is reinforced, and you get to build a reference for the topics you're learning about online. The second one is a little less obvious but arguably more important: You don't have to worry about your audience.
Blogging can be stressful when you're concerned about an audience, but when you are just writing content for yourself, the audience takes a back seat, and you can pretty much ignore that side of the equation.
For example, most of the things I post online are notes to myself. My podcast is a recording of the same questions I would ask these successful engineers if I was getting coffee with them. This blog post is a retro to internalize the conversation I had with Jason.
Jason also mentioned it was extra clever to write a blog focused on one specific topic because it sets you up as an authority in that category. In his case, that was testing.
Yes, seriously. Because writing a book can be a big ask, Jason recommended starting with a small ebook, something like 30 pages of content about a subject you where you'd like some credibility.
As an example, Jason mentioned he was once talking to a potential client and instead of having to sell himself, the prospect said, "Obviously you know your stuff; you wrote the book!"
This one is exceptionally easy. All you need is an internet connection. There are some excellent examples out there of developer podcasts. If you're afraid of relying on your expertise, this is a good path, I built an interview-based podcast specifically so that I could learn from others and lean on their credibility when I made new episodes.
Open Source wasn't one of Jason's recommendations, but speaking from experience Open Source is a great way to get involved in the community and boost your professional profile. I've benefitted massively from being on the Solidus Core Team.
If contributing to Open Source intimidates you, start with simple tasks. No one is going to turn down a Pull Request that improves documentation or tests!
Remember, in Open Source, always assume others have the best intentions; it's hard to communicate over text.
According to Jason, the interesting thing about these kind "seniority-boosters," is, "You're still the same person." The only difference is that now you are writing and speaking. However, people place value on those activities, and it will positively impact the perception others have of you, while also helping you build expertise on a subject.
With that, I encourage you to submit some CFPs on Papercall, write a few articles, start recording a podcast or make a few Pull Requests.