This week, I was invited to give a talk at Questers about the topic - Why should we bother presenting as developers?
The reason I gave this talk was because there is so much misunderstanding about the value we get from presenting as developers. You might think it is something totally unrelated to development, right?
After all, we are paid to write code, not talk about it. Instead of wasting time creating pretty slides, we can learn the new JS framework. That's totally better!
Presenting is something managers do. Professional speakers do. And... that's about it? Right? Right?
Well, actually. Presenting is something we all ought to do. Whether you are in software development, in sales or whatever. And in this article, you will learn what is the value of presenting for you as a software development professional.
The transition from dev to manager
Ok. Chill Preslav. I know what you are going to say.
We all ought to become managers. That is the next step in our careers. So, in order to become one, we have to be good at presenting. Because those guys in shiny clothes have to run meetings, present in front of their team and bla bla bla.
But I don't want to become a manager! I enjoy my life and career pretty well by being a developer. Why should I bother with presenting then?
Well, yes. Presenting will help you transition to a manager. If you can use this and present it in a good way in front of your potential employer, it will help you a lot.
In fact, in one of the companies I have worked for, they were hiring development managers based on a presentation trial, where the candidates were making a presentation in front of a committee.
That way, they can see how he handles the tough situation, tough questions and how he treats his audience, which directly shows how he would potentially treat his team members.
And if you are already a manager, presenting will help you greatly boost your career! So, you will become not simply a manager, but an awesome one!
But what if you don't want that. I mean, which developer wants to substitute web development for excel development, after all?
Well, if that's your case, presenting can be beneficial for you too!
But why developers?
Now, let's take a step back from this topic.
Imagine a person just getting started in programming comes to you and asks you "How can I be a great developer?". What would you tell him?
If you're like me and most people, you would say something like commit to doing it daily. Study and do all your tasks. Go the extra mile and do the additional exercises. Etc. Etc.
All this can be summarized with two words - WORK. HARD.
And it is true that you simply can't become great at software development if you don't work hard. It's not about the years of experience you have. It's about the years of deliberate practice you put in. However, There is a missing piece.
Let me ask you this - if you ask several people from your country "Who is the best chef in the country?", what do you think you would get as a result?
Most probably, you would say the analog of Gordon Ramsey in your country. Or if you are from the USA, you probably answered Gordon Ramsey. And that is true for my country - Bulgaria, as well. We have a Hell's kitchen show here too and when I ask someone who is the best chef, they answer it's the guy who leads the show.
However, I'm sure you have a relative of yours who cooks deliciously. I know I have my Grandma, who cooks THE. BEST. MEATBALLS. EVER.
Ain't no Gordon Ramsey for me, when I'm at Grandma's place. So, Grandma is the perfect fit for being a great chef as we defined it - she is dedicated, passionate, consistent. Oh boy, she does work VERY hard!
And yet, people say it's Gordon Ramsey who is the best chef. When in fact, I truly believe my grandma can cook as good as him if not better.
So why is it that two people with the same capacity for quality work are lightning years apart in terms of recognition?
Are you getting it?
It's called Marketing!
WAIT. Marketing. Really?
Wait, wait, wait. Preslav, are you telling me marketing can make me a better programmer?
You mean that thing all those pushy salespeople and advertisements do to make you click on their link and buy their shitty product?
You must be kidding me.
Well, actually no. I'm not.
However, you do have a point that those pushy guys, who make you buy their products are the representatives of modern marketing. Yes, it's true that marketing, nowadays, sucks.
However, what gives marketing a bad name is not the concept itself. It's the people who implement it.
Marketing, at its core, has a pure cause. It's all those salespeople who make the entire industry look filthy. At its core, marketing means to connect something of value to the people who need it.
So, if a junior developer comes to me and asks what should he do to become better at Java, I might point him to the book Effective Java.
What I have just described is an instance of sales and marketing. However, I haven't done anything bad and I haven't "sold" the guy anything with the intent to hurt him. I've helped him become better by pointing him to a book of value. And the author of the book benefits from that because someone will buy his book.
Everyone wins here!
In the context of software development, the same way marketing does wonders for Gordon Ramsey, it can do wonders for your career as well.
When people know your name, they know who you are and what you have to offer, opportunities will start coming to you. Companies and people will want to hire you for the job because they believe you are the best in your domain!
And when demand rises, the value rises with it as well.
So next time you want to get a better salary, instead of habitually busting your ass off in order to get a bigger chunk of the bone, invest in your marketing.
That way, you don't have to fight for the best job. The best job will fight for you!
And when you as a developer, market yourself, you are not doing anything bad. If you truly believe that you know your stuff and you are someone who can bring value to people, there is nothing wrong to let people know that. You would actually help them.
But marketing can hurt you as well...
The 3 types of developers
Now that we added marketing to the equation, we can derive new species for the developer ecosystem. We can group them based on two axes - the ones who talk and the ones who work. And hence, we got The Charlatan, The Martyr and The Hustler.
Excerpt from my slide deck: https://speakerdeck.com/pmihaylov/presenting-as-a-developer.
This is the guy who brags a lot. The guy who constantly applies to conferences, talking about stuff he doesn't know anything about. Goes through a tutorial and derives slides based on it.
I once read about this approach and the author called it CDD - Conference-Driven-Development. A beautiful way to put it.
So, this is the guy who isn't afraid to talk a lot, but doesn't have any work to back his words. He is a phony. And to be this kind of guy is very dangerous, because you are walking on thin ice.
If you constantly present somewhere and people know your name, sure, you can boost your career. But when your name gets known, the stakes are high. It takes one wrong turn to shatter your authority and momentum you have been building so hard.
And once that happens, it will be VERY hard to win people's trust again.
Don't be that guy.
Marketing can make you, but it can also break you.
This guy is the one who is extremely dedicated to his career, the one who does all the hard work and sadly, the one who is least valued.
Because although he is dedicated and hard working, he is afraid to speak up and demand for what ought to be his.
Unfortunately, most of programmers fall in this group. The reason is that they don't understand the value of marketing or are afraid to pursue it.
An example of such a developer is one of my closest friend.
He started his career in a software development company as most of us did. And he was fighting with sweat and tears for that company. While most people were leaving at 17:58, he was staying overtime.
Unpaid overtime. In order to go the extra mile for his job.
Senior management noticed that. So he was given more and more responsibilities. His overtime hours grew. There were even times, when he was coming to the office on weekends. Due to this, he was unable to invest his free time to develop himself. He had to use it to do the monotonous tasks in his company, which weren't helping him grow in his career.
And after several years of service for that company, do you know what his job title was?
His salary hadn't advanced more than his job title...
I'm very happy that my friend finally left that company and nowadays, he is valued much more than they ever valued him there.
This article is written for my friend and all the other developers out there who work like hell and are undervalued.
Because I believe that you have the potential to achieve so much more in life. Because you already have the hard part - you are dedicated, committed and hard working. You have a lot of value in you!
All you have to do now, is let other people realize that as well.
Finally, there is the guy who is an undisputed expert in his field, but he is also not afraid to talk about it. He is the guy who gets all the recognition.
He is the analog of Gordon Ramsey in the software industry. The Hustler.
That guy is not afraid to wake up at 6 AM in order to work on his side projects. He is not afraid to read Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs thoroughly for a year.
But, he is also not afraid to go out there and share his ideas and knowledge. He is not afraid to demand a huge hourly rate, and also gets it. Because he has a lot of value to back his big words.
To give you an example of a hustler, let me ask you this:
Do you have a friend, who wants to become a programmer and is 25 or 30 years of age?
If that guy has will and believes in himself, he probably knows that he can become a good programmer even given his late starting age. But does he believe he can become great?
In my experience - No. Most people of that age trust that they will be able to get into the industry, but believe the best spots are reserved for those who program since they were children.
As a professional technical trainer for several years now, this thought has troubled me for a long time, because I have never had a good answer to these worries.
But I am extremely happy to share with you that this problem has a solution. Yes! I firmly believe that you can become great, even with those programming-since-I'm-a-kid guys around.
And you know what the solution is?
Be a Hustler!
I know a guy who entered the software industry when he was 27. That guy is one of the most dedicated programmers I know. But apart from that, that guy is not afraid to go out there and speak up!
For several years, he was creating YouTube videos, with tutorials in PHP, helping other people get started with programming. Later on, he started making presentations about all sorts of other expert-level subjects like Cryptography and Machine Learning.
That guy is a rock star!
And nowadays, he is considered one of the best software developers in our country. He was even recognized as one of the ~500 other people who were considered exceptional in their domain in the entire world, for which he received an award in the USA.
For privacy reasons, I won't mention who he is, but as you can see, that guy is a true Hustler.
So next time your friend tells you he can't become as great as other developers, share this story to him. Help him realize that he can be the next big hustler!
So how do you become a Hustler?
I hope that by now, you are feeling inspired by the stories I shared with you. I hope that you too aspire to become great in your career.
And now you know what's the recipe for achieving your true potential. It's a lot of talk, backed by a lot of work.
And in order to increase the value of the first variable in the formula, you have to improve your marketing. How do you do that?
There are countless ways. You can make a strong twitter profile, a rich instagram feed, start the next great blog. But I believe the best tool you have at your disposal is the ability to create remarkable presentations.
And next time, I will share with you how to start the journey of a great public speaker. So stay tuned!
And now, after reading this article, I want you to think about how you can not only improve your development skills, but how you can improve your marketing skills as well. Are you feeling courageous? Then stop waiting anymore!
Gather your teammates, book a meeting and deliver a talk. Yes it will probably suck the first time. But with time and practice, you will hone your skills more and more.
And at one point, with the right presenting skills, the great value you can bring to the world and the right opportunities, I promise you - you will become the next great Hustler!
Top comments (21)
To some degree I agree with your views,but the best developers don't have to live and breath code. Most don't bother with it outside of work, if you're confident about your skills and knowledge you don't have to prove it to anyone. Some people enjoy extra curricular activities, and they should also be praised! But yes, the crux of your post is the way you present yourself, and as with anything in life, a little bit of self confidence and arrogance will definitely help your "image"
I'd say directness more than arrogance. Arrogance is generally blind to what it doesnt know.
Still, I agree. The growing "brand obsession" might be a little overboard. You don't need to do a TED talk to build a strong professional network (not that it hurts either, or the author was suggesting it).
The thing about
we all ought to be managersis meant to suggest the author talking with a fellow programmer, who doesn't agree with his claims.
In the next bit, I say that you can benefit from presenting even if you don't want to be a manager.
Now when I look at it, it does seem a bit ambiguous.
Thanks for the feedback.
Great article. I agree that finding the balance of work and marketing is important for long-term success. Even as a junior, writing and speaking about my journey in learning more and how I handle advancing is a way to be a "hustler" while still learning. We all have a story we're telling ourselves as we work, but we also gain something by sharing it.
I couldn't agree more with this article.
I see the profiles that you mention on a daily basis. Sometimes I feel very bad for all the developers in status "Martyr".
Finally, I think we have a lot of opportunities, all companies around the world are looking for new talent and we can learn after every interview to improve our communications skills. Therefore, if you aren't happy with your current job to go ahead and find another opportunity.
Really nice article Preslav, I really like the diagram of talk vs work.
It's a fine balance, but I think as you say, the antidote to the charlatan side is to do more work, authentically. Thanks for sharing dude :)
Agree, but pretty convincing to me 🤨 nonetheless
Thanks for sharing these great ideas, I think I'm the martyr type. I have social anxiety that stuck me there, but I use blogging and LinkedIn to make up the marketing part, it works, but marketing is also needed in the work place.
I'm very glad to see you putting effort in that way!
I had the same problem, when I started out.
What helped me was throwing myself in the deep by starting to lead presentations in front of high-school students. It can be quite painful, but it helps a lot! :)
Great article Preslav!
You have put together what I have been trying to say for the last few years.
It's easy to believe that the most knowledgeable and tech savvy devs get the job. I know because I used to believe that for almost 10 years.
Other awesome side effects of presenting include:
Meritocracy is a myth in our industry.
And the things you mentioned are TOTALLY true. Especially the self-confidence booster. That I experienced personally. :)
So, to you a guy over 40 is a dead zombie???
I'm 47, I am a mining technician, worked for 12 years on this field, (lots of math).
I a got an Associates degree in IT just to see how things are and the paths to choose (lots of opportunities in this field).
I feel fresh and committed to my new goal, to become a GREAT developer at 47.
I work hard, I am an active person, mentally and physically.
I believe anyone can become great at anything at any age.
Sorry pal, but your article sucks. Ageism is even a crime by the way. Age discrimination based on pure BS.
It seems there is some kind of misunderstanding.
In this article, I stated exactly the opposite - that you CAN become a great developer despite your age and the story of the guy in the Hustler section presents exactly that point.
"Do you have a friend, who wants to become a programmer and is 25 or 30 years of age?
If that guy has will and believes in himself, he probably knows that he can become a good programmer even given his late starting age. But does he believe he can become great?"
Then you say a 27 year old guy....blah, blah....
27 year old (are you kidding me), at this age I was 300ft underground mininig gold for Anglo American Corp. and on my spare time studying math and having fun with it...
Only now at 47 I felt the desire to become a FullStackWD and I feel awesome. I know at least a handful of great web developers who started by their mid 40's.
Age definitely is not a problem.
Sillicon Valley mentality is.
Thank God is changing.
thanks for reaching out!
I understand how you're feeling as I've been in the same position and still am in certain areas.
For me, this has two solutions:
1) The thing is, that there are different audiences. Sure, the things you might say to one audience might be totally irrelevant for them. For example, leading an "Introduction to Spring" lecture in front of seasoned Java professionals. But the same topic can be extremely relevant to a conference/event, which is targeted at beginners.
E.g. Code camps are an excellent example. Normally, people who attend them (in my experience) aren't as proficient and are in the process of learning programming in the moment. One of my presentations I've done at a code camp was creating a Snake game from scratch (console app). And it was a blast! People enjoyed it and I got positive feedback from them.
And all the knowledge you need for doing it is some language construct basics (loops, conditionals, methods, etc.)
Blog post about the talk: pmihaylov.com/ultimate-challenge/
2) Another variant is to present about new technologies, which even seasoned professionals might not know anything about. E.g. Making a presentation about the newest JS Framework, which came out 2 months ago. Or a presentation about "New things in C++ 19" (There is no such thing of course), or "What's new about Ecmascript XX" (Substitute XX with the newest version).
All you have to do for this variant is to spend a good amount of time researching and playing with some new technology and you are good to go.
if (TL;DR) then
There is always a right audience for any skill set/knowledge base.
Or you might go the trend-driven way by talking about new tech.
Hope this helps!
6am? I have to get up at 4:30 just to do my hair/etc and be at the office by 7:30. The struggle is real.
Thank you for sharing the idea! :)