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Rebuilding a Personal Brand

Andrew Powell
Javascript / Node engineer and enthusiast. I'm probably somewhere on a boat. 🌴 https://github.com/shellscape
・5 min read

Complacency. It's the worst. Grab a coffee, we're about to board the failboat. We all know that company brands are of paramount importance. But personal brands are often overlooked. They speak to your abilities, they're a realtime, interactive, functional resume. And your brand speaks volumes about who you are. What happens when a personal brand falls by the wayside? I learned the hard way.

It's never crowded along the extra mile. - Wayne Dyer

My personal brand had peaked in 2012. I was working with/on the jQuery UI project, I was attending events (thanks much in part to my employers at the time), I was doing some occasional speaking, and my online presence was never more prolific. And then it all went to shit.

Ground Up

I started getting a modicum of notoriety in the Freeware space in the early 2000s with some Windows apps I had written, and it's what landed me my first job out of college. I built shellscape.org around that, and used it as a landing for all of my projects. As I added more projects, I added a small blog to the site.

It was really "the jQuery Company" that helped build my brand the most. I was one of those people who thought that Twitter was a passing fad and that the concept was silly. But the company asked assertively that I sign up and be active promoting the company's work, and my own. They pushed me to speak at small gatherings and they got me going to conferences and talking to heavy hitters in the front end development space.

I had solid Twitter followers. I had enough traffic to my site to pull in $200 a month in AdWords.

I've Made a Terrible Mistake

At the crux of it, I became complacent. I moved on from the afore mentioned conference-enabling-employer to a really interesting startup, riding on the success of my previous position and my personal brand out in the open. It was a big pay raise and I was doing exactly the work I wanted to do. I was pumped.

It was during the 9 month stint with the startup that I began to let my brand slip. I wasn't writing blog posts, I wasn't really contributing to any notable open source projects, I stopped working with jQuery UI. I stopped participating on Twitter in my field. I was happy with my job and my pay, and bought a tear-down investment home that sucked up every minute of my spare time. I was adulting, but I was neglecting the thing that got my career to where it was.

Unfortunately the startup folded on a random Wednesday. I was not prepared for it. Fortunately, and due in large part to my visibility to peers in tech, I was quickly scooped up by a Twitter follower I had never spoken to prior. After a few weeks of interviews, and several competing offers, I started working at Gilt.

I was again awarded an increase in benefits and I was doing insanely cool work. I mean the stuff that makes you want to skip sleep for a week, that makes eating seem like an inconvenience. And there again, I slipped into deeper complacency with regard to my brand.

The Sky is Falling

Gilt was always a tumultuous business; it's well-documented on a myriad of business websites and blogs. In late 2015 the company underwent significant layoffs. PANIC MODE. Then in early 2016 Gilt was purchased by a larger corporation. Without going into detail - lots of people were very unhappy.

After sticking it out for the first quarter, I decided it was prudent to start looking at what was out there. I was really excited; there were great companies hiring at competitive salaries and even though the field for remote work was narrow (I've been working remotely since 2009) it looked like I was in good shape. Fast-forward two months and I was still looking. I'd been passed up by numerous companies. Some passed straight up, and for some I didn't shine bright enough over other local candidates to warrant a hire. Let alone that I'd fallen into a maintenance culture with day-to-day work, which left me at a slight disadvantage as I wasn't up and up with the latest tech. But I'd always been able to convince folks that I could pick up easily what I didn't know (and I could/still can).

There was a deficit somewhere, and I had to identify it.

Mirror Mirror

After a significant amount of reflection and speaking with peers, I zeroed in on three conditions that were affecting my hiring process:

  1. I was way behind on the latest tech.
  2. I had become awful at interviewing.
  3. My personal brand was non-existent.

Now see, I hadn't had to give a work example or perform a test project for evaluation - ever. Not a single time in my entire career before recently. Sure, I've done some live coding but that's never been a big deal. All of a sudden companies are asking me to build projects for interviews. Only a few took the time to look through my Github account and the work there. I had lost my brand, I had lost the wow factor. Another odd anomaly was that I hadn't received a single referral. Movement throughout my entire career had been through referrals.

I wasn't an attractive candidate. Nothing was making me stand out from the crowd. I didn't seem like an authority on what companies wanted, because I'd become an authority only on proprietary tech within my current position. I lost the edge.

And as such, I was cold-calling folks for interviews who had never heard of me, and who's recruiting gatekeepers weren't fluent in the work that I had been doing. Hell, some of them didn't even know what a "remote employee" was.

The Lessons, They Have Me

I quit looking for new opportunities. I decided instead to use the time I usually reserved for movies or heading to the bar to instead create a foundation for rebuilding what I had lost. And so I spent a few weeks recreating this website. I realigned to treat it as a weekly priority. I talked to a ton of successful bloggers in a range of niches and got solid advice. I spoke with some creative types on how to create a unique feel for the site.

I started publishing again. I started open sourcing and creating projects around segments of the work I was doing daily, and most importantly: whatever I was tinkering with on the side. I started posting to Twitter, LinkedIn, Medium, and Facebook. I got my ass into gear.

Important Things are Important

A personal brand in tech is so damned important. It's a window into who you are and what you're doing. It's a launchpad for anyone who wants to get to know you, before you know, actually speaking to you first. It's only been a few months and I'm already amazed how my work is making the rounds. It's a small audience, but it's an audience and I'm only going to continue to work to increase that.

Don't be me with cable tv, don't be this me. If you don't have an established brand, create one. If you have one, maintain it!

Cheers!

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Originally published at shellscape.org on November 18, 2016.

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