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The Principle Of Association

jamesmh profile image James Hickey Originally published at yourdevcareer.com ・4 min read

Note: Originally from yourdevcareer.com

The philosopher David Hume wrote about the Principle(s) Of Association.

His ideas were in the context of how we come to "know" things (e.g. epistemology) and draw connections between ideas.

For example, if your mother always wore a special kind of dress along with a certain type of perfume (when you still lived with her), and today you saw someone else wearing that dress and that same perfume, your mind would immediately be drawn back to memories or feelings you had about your mother.

We aren't going to get philosophical here.

But, we do tend to make decisions about people based on these kinds of associations.

For example, one of these kinds of associations I've written about before is being associated with a well known public figure or company. That could be as simple as having a blog post featured by Apple.

Next, you can "name drop" on your resume, website, etc. There's going to be a natural association with the brand that you have mentioned and yourself.

Leverage Points

I have called these kinds of associations "Leverage Points" in the past.

These aren't designed to prove that you have a core skill. It's like icing on the cake. Really yummy icing.

The more of these leverage points that you can bring up in an interview, resume, etc. the more you are drawing implicit connections and associations between yourself and these other people, organizations, etc.

As you stack them up, it can be key to building your reputation.

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Leverage points, depending on what they are, usually will help to support both core pieces of what I see as forming your reputation - competence and standing-out.

They give people more reason to believe you are competent and will foster helping you to stand-out.

If, for example, you have been featured by Google for writing a solid technical article, then placing this at the top of your resume (in an achievements section) will immediately associate yourself with Google.

If most of the other resumes are just lists of work experience, roles and what skills they possess - you will stand-out.

You will have something interesting that no one else has. And, you'll have created an implicit connection between yourself and Google (as a positive connection, hopefully).

By having a one-liner "Article XYZ featured by Google's thing" (yes, with Google bolded), the reader of the resume will think "Well, if Google thinks he/she is knowledgeable enough to feature them, there's probably a chance that they are! Let's give them an interview."

If you have somehow associated yourself with other people who are well known as being top-notch, then it "rubs off" in support of your reputation.

Examples From My Career

I'm writing about this because it's something that's been coming up in my career recently.

About a year ago, my open source project Coravel starting gaining traction in the .NET community. The newsletter for this site has also gained tons of traction (with over 1000 subscribers in the first 8 months!).

Through my work with this site/newsletter, Coravel and writing some technical articles, I've had some awesome opportunities that I never expected. I was featured by Microsoft on their main .NET community web site, on Steve Smith's podcast and recently on the .NET Core show - among other places.

What happens with being on Steve's podcast, for example, is that now anyone who's listening to his show will, in some way, associate me with Steve and even some of his guests.

The same with the .NET Core show. My face is now featured on the same web page with highly regarded developers that I look up to!

Now, on my resume, I can point to the fact that I've been featured on this platform and potentially name off well-known community figures who have also been featured on these. That's a huge win 🎉.

What if you were hiring a senior developer and one of the candidates had been featured on the same podcast that some of your dev heroes were previously guests on?

Would that make an impact?

I think so!

Ways To Build Associations

How can you build these?

  • Blogging
  • Speak your thoughts by tweeting or posting on social media
  • Commenting on social media posts by industry leaders
  • Building publicly available projects
  • YouTube videos
  • Write a book
  • Start a podcast
  • Interview popular devs (podcast or articles)
  • Be a guest on a podcast
  • Attend user groups and meetups and get to know people
  • Speak at a user group
  • Network and reach out to those you respect
  • Just helping people any way you can

Keep in mind that this is a long game. I've been blogging for years before I saw any glimpse of recognition.

This goes back to the idea of compounding interest in your career.

Your career is like a garden. It takes time and consistent work.

Some plants take a long time to show signs of growth and might only bloom close to harvest time.

Can You Plan For It?

Do you just work hard and expect opportunities to come by?

I've had many opportunities come by from someone reaching out to me first. But, I've also had opportunities come by reaching out myself first.

This is where focusing on an area of specialization comes in. Once you gain traction, you gain traction.

When starting though, focus on one area and keep building it up using the tactics above.

As time goes, you'll get opportunities - take them! If you gain momentum, don't be afraid to reach out to podcasts, guest blogging platforms, etc.

Last But Not Least

And finally, keep a journal of all your leverage points so that you can bring them out when needed!

Discussion

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blindfish3 profile image
Ben Calder

It's good that you wrote this - because I'm sure it will help some - but at the same time I think it's a really sad reflection on the industry, and society as a whole, that prospective employees are still judged on the associations they've made rather than on their proficiency in the subject. It's an exclusionary practice and has many negative repercussions for those who don't fit into supposed norms.

Of course if you've developed something that was picked up or promoted by some big name in the industry it's going to look good on your CV; but I would personally encourage people to focus on what's right for them rather than chasing validation from those big name companies. They're all too happy to exploit you: make you work long hours for comparatively low pay; and replace you with another eager young developer when you've burnt yourself out. You got their name on your CV and it might serve you well in future; but at what cost?

I would urge employers to look beyond associations and see what new perspectives a prospective employee can bring to your company; especially if they come from an under-represented background.

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jamesmh profile image
James Hickey Author

I agree for sure. I think the difficulty is, though, that many people have hired staff that seemed to have the right skills and experience and come to find out that when actually in their real job they weren't so hot (which I've seen played out).

I think that social/community validation is so useful because it enforces, even more, the competence of a potential hire. And anything that can give any more clarity and confidence in a potential hire is "gold".

That being said, yes it's sad in a sense. But it is what it is...

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blindfish3 profile image
Ben Calder

That just sounds like a cop-out: "The system is prejudiced; but it's not working against me so... :shrug:"

Conversely to what you say: I know people who have been hired to jobs because of who they know; because they went to the right school etc. and who turned out to be utterly incompetent (most of the British government for a start).

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blindfish3 profile image
Ben Calder

To put it more constructively: we need to improve hiring processes to identify the potential in candidates; rather than lazily relying on something like association. There is just too much bias implicit in "social/community validation":

  • established communities can be exclusionary
  • the definition of "established" is subject to the employer's personal, subjective opinion

Ultimately you're hiring a developer because of their technical; problem-solving and teamwork abilities; not because they're good at marketing themselves. Look beyond the surface and instead focus on the substance of what someone has done. Consider the barriers they may have faced that means they haven't formed the associations you subjectively think make someone stand out.

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jamesmh profile image
James Hickey Author

Sure, I would agree with you for the most part. I never said we shouldn't try to improve the hiring process, etc. What I did say was that as someone who might be the subject of the hiring process, this is a way to make an impression given the state of things.

I think there's merit on both sides of the argument though - looking at a developer's real experience, accomplishments, abilities is great. But, on the other hand, if a potential hiree cannot demonstrate to me why he/she is a good fit for the job (e.g. marketing) then that's a huge flag that they aren't a good communicator (which is necessary for more senior/experienced roles).

So I think a balanced approach, for those wanting to get hired, is best.

And for hiring, the fact is that a developer who can communicate his/her worth to me best is def. going to be ahead of the game (since communication skills is more important overall)

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omrisama profile image
Omri Gabay

@ben Calder is 100% right. People do this "associations" stuff to appear smart and look good more than to actually share information.

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jamesmh profile image
James Hickey Author

Sure, that happens. But I would disagree that this is 100% of the people who want to just "appear smart".

If you do legitimately have an achievement that accurately demonstrates your level of competence, then you ought to communicate that.

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omrisama profile image
Omri Gabay

Fair. Unfortunately, we can't always know everyone's intentions when it comes to all this association stuff.

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integerman profile image
Matt Eland

Loved the article.

Bragging is the odd part. I've done some pretty cool things, like staying late to redesign a UI because the wife of an extremely famous tech giant CEO from another company didn't like something on a screen she saw, or writing a few articles in an eBook associated with Microsoft, or even having my software running in Disney's Home of the Future.

I can talk about them, but I need the right opening and some of them feel a little forced to describe on a resume. I've not had trouble with an interview since the very beginning of my career, but I'm not that great at finding ways that I am personally okay with in bragging about those accomplishments outside of normal conversation. If I'm in a rushed interview, I might not even get the chance.

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mahendrachoudhary profile image
mahendra choudhary

Finally happy to read about something apart from coding .I learned most important lesson today about interviews .Thanks for sharing such a great insight .Dev need more article like this .Even I call it lesson instead of a article.

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ramalinga12prasad profile image
Ramalinga Prasad G S

Well said. I would like to try this.