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James Hickey
James Hickey

Posted on • Updated on • Originally published at yourdevcareer.com

What's Career Ownership? How Can It Help Me?

Career ownership is just another way of talking about taking control of your career.

It's about recognizing that your career is an organic thing that you can either nurture and grow, ignore or even damage.

Two Categories

Whenever I talk about the word "career", I like to think about it in two general categories: Reputation and competence.

Yes, the specific jobs you have had over your life/career have a part to play in defining your career. For example, if you've had 3 jobs in the last 10 years as a marketer then, as far as your career goes, you are a marketer and have a career in marketing.

However, I like to think of your career as a journey - one that still has unknown potential.

Potential to pivot into a different industry (as I've seen many people do). Potential to become a leader in a given industry. Etc.

Given that it's actually pretty common to see people moving from one industry to another, I think that focusing on reputation and competence is what matters the most. These stick with you no matter what job or industry you may find yourself in.

Competence

One of the shocking (well, perhaps not so shocking) things that I experienced early in my career was that the senior developers and even architects that I've worked with were clearly not in their role due to being overly competent, but because they simply had X years experience and knew the right people.

At that time, I told myself that I really did not want to be in a leadership or senior role simply because I had X years of experience. I wanted to have the skills and experience to do the job right.

This is one of the big ideas that inspired me to start an e-mail newsletter to help developers grow in their careers: I want you guys/gals to grow into senior and leadership roles because you have the competencies and skills to do the job!

Note: Knowing the right people and having experience does help - but these do go hand-in-hand.

As far as your career goes, if you can have the competencies it takes to be great at your craft, then you've got a fundamental piece.

In other words - you can get the job done well.

Reputation

Reputation, on the other hand, is more about how others perceive you.

❔ Do others see you as a competent software developer?

❔ Are you kind?

❔ Helpful?

❔ Intelligent?

❔ Do good work?

❔ Produce results?

❔ Can you learn quickly?

❔ Are you good at mentoring and teaching others?

If you have the skills required to do a good job as a developer, how can other people know that?

How can they confirm this?

Building Your Reputation

Building a reputation is just a way of talking about whether people know your value, what you are capable of doing, and who you are.

In other words, building a reputation, in a general sense, is about helping other people to understand your competency.

Let's highlight that point:

Building a reputation is about helping other people to understand your competency.

The more people know about you and what value you bring, then the more validation you are able to provide to the community at large.

This leads to more opportunities coming your way 😉.

Here are a few ways to help you begin growing and showing others what value you bring to the table:

✔ Blogging

✔ Commenting on social media posts by industry leaders

✔ Attend user groups and meetups and get to know people

✔ Speak at a user group

✔ Speak your thoughts by tweeting or posting on social media

✔ Building publically available projects

✔ YouTube videos

✔ Write a book

✔ Just helping people any way you can

An Example You Might Want To Try?

One thing I've done is to find past co-workers and managers on LinkedIn and send them a message asking how they are doing.

Next, I'd give them a couple of sentences about what I've been up to.

Finally, I'd let them know that if they ever need anything I am open and available to chat.

Doing this has led to some great opportunities for me. Offers to guest post on certain publications, landing some part-time work and more.

Being "Top Of Mind"

This is one way to make sure you are at the "top" of the minds of those around you.

Imagine that ex-manager or ex-colleague moves on to another company and now needs to find a solid developer who is really good at X, Y and Z (whatever your notable strengths are - strengths you should be promoting!). If you are already at the top of this person's mind, guess who that person will contact about the opportunity? You!

If you want to make sure your career is able to withstand the storms of life and help you to land those awesome jobs - then you need to take control!

Challenge

If you feel like your career isn't growing or perhaps not as much as you would hope, then I want to challenge you to start doing one of the things in the list above.

You could even use the example of reaching out to ex-colleagues?

If you found this article thought-provoking and helpful, then feel free to join my e-mail newsletter that focuses on these kinds of topics.

Thoughts?

What do guys/gals think? Do you have any other tips on how to stand-out in the minds of your colleagues?

Keep In Touch

Don't forget to connect with me on:

You can also find me at my web site www.jamesmichaelhickey.com.

Navigating Your Software Development Career Newsletter

An e-mail newsletter that will help you level-up in your career as a software developer! Ever wonder:

✔ What are the general stages of a software developer?
✔ How do I know which stage I'm at? How do I get to the next stage?
✔ What is a tech leader and how do I become one?
✔ Is there someone willing to walk with me and answer my questions?

Sound interesting? Join the community!

Top comments (9)

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helenanders26 profile image
Helen Anderson

Another great article, beautifully written. Thank you for sharing James :)

I love the idea of reaching out to new contacts, ex-colleagues and managers just to chat. I feel like LinkedIn messaging is so often used for recruiters cold calls, and not much else.

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jamesmh profile image
James Hickey

Thanks Helen!

LinkedIn kinda feels like a necessary evil, but it's not so bad if you ignore the recruiters 😋

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helenanders26 profile image
Helen Anderson

They certainly have some interesting keyword searches sometimes :D

I think I must have reached some kind of milestone the other day when I got a message from a recruiter looking for a Java dev, who was very interested in the JavaScript course I completed a few years ago.

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jamesmh profile image
James Hickey

🤦‍♂️

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jwollner5 profile image
John 'BBQ' Wollner

Great post, as usual. Career ownership is SO important. When I was coming up in the business, managers/directors did take some responsibility for your career path (hard to believe I know), but I have seen that fade away as the years have passed, and only in some rare big companies (10K+ employees) have I seen anything in the way of career planning and even that is rare.

Gone are the days of pensions, free health insurance and people looking out for your long term career. Every technologist must plant the seeds, manage, water, cultivate and harvest the fruits of their learning and labor to ensure that they are moving in the direction they want and/or need for their long term goals, even if those goals are simple.

When I was at my first full-time tech job, I set my sights on being a VP of IT by or before I was 45. I missed the goal by 5 years, but I did make the goal. Planning, picking the right jobs, projects, companies and a lot of hard work and risk taking were all a part of that.

Goals change but the methodology remains. I'm back with my first love - coding, and my goals are simple now - I'm 61 and I'd like to both grow and not be promoted to management again (not as easy as it sounds) until I'm ready to retire, around 70ish - I'd like to make it an even 50y as a coder, but my eyes may dictate otherwise. I still need t look for the right projects, roles, the right risks to gamble on and stay current with architecture, databases, languages, etc because ultimately, no one is responsible for my success but me.

Thanks again for spelling out what they don't teach in school - the need for tech street smarts.

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jamesmh profile image
James Hickey

Love this reply 💯🤜🤛

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thecodetrane profile image
Michael Cain

Good suggestions. What would you say to someone that is generally not interested in blogging or speaking?

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jamesmh profile image
James Hickey • Edited

Awesome question!

I think the question re-phrased might be "How do I show others and the broader community what value I can bring without speaking or blogging?"

You can build a reputation among those you've directly worked with. You might have solved some tough problems in the companies you worked for.

The occassional post on LinkedIn, twitter, etc. just stating some result you achieved can help too ("Our team just built this really awesome thing X").

If you don't want to get involved on social media, you can still get involved in the local community (just attending user groups but not speaking, etc.)

Taking on the big, difficult projects at work.

Find a need in the dev community and build a tool to help?

In the end, I guess you get out what you put in?

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thecodetrane profile image
Michael Cain

I can get with that. I ask because it seems like we're always telling juniors "You need to blog and speak as often as you can to have a career in software development", which may not be a good fit for everyone. I spoke at RailsConf a couple of times; rarely go to meetups and my LinkedIn blows up all the time. At some point, IMHO, it's more valuable to be excellent at your job than to be excellent talking about your job.

I'm not trying be that contrarian "ackshully..." brogrammer. I'm simply saying for those of us who view social media as The Black Plague 2.0, there are opportunities for us to shine (as you have shown above, so thanks for that).