Standing Out from the Crowd
The question is often raised about how a developer can become more valuable to potential employers or be recognized by a current employers. The editors at Developer.com and I agreed that there are things a developer can do to stand out from the crowd.
There may be ample positions available today, but that doesn't mean that you'll be able to find a position when you're ready to start looking. Human Resources departments are often inundated whenever an IT position is posted. You need to be able to make your credentials or resume stand out of the crowd somehow — and resume tricks aren't going to do it. At the very least, resume tricks are not going to make you stand out in the interview — the point from which everyone gets offered a job.
Neither will resume tricks help you differentiate yourself with your current employer, helping him or her to understand your value or take notice of your accomplishments. That's where you need to find a way to become unique.
Putting Yourself into a Group of One
Ultimately, the objective in trying to stand out is to create recognition of your participation in a group that has favorable characteristics associated with it. Your participation in the group transfers some of the favorable aspects of the group to you. The more favorable the characteristics and the smaller the group, the more you will benefit.
Take people who have obtained a certification, for instance: it does two things. First, it ensures that certain professional or technical standards have been met. Second, it establishes you as a member of a group. These two characteristics, meeting a standard and being a part of a group, together help to give those reading your resume the impression that you're a member of an elite club. This is in addition to the professional or technical standards that you have mastered. Your goal is to be a member of as many favorably perceived and small groups as possible in order to maximize the uniqueness of your position in the market. It's less likely you'll be competing with someone with the same set of credentials if you are among those belonging to these smaller, more prestigious groups.
Developers can differentiate themselves in a few key ways:
- Get a certification — Certification programs exist from a variety of vendors. Microsoft offers MCSD and MCAD certifications for developers. Sun offers a SCJD Java Developer certification. These certifications will demonstrate that you know the languages you're professing to know. Other certifications, such as the IEEE's CSDP Certified Software Development Professional, also exist if you want to show a broader understanding of software development practices. In any case, by becoming certified, you've met a standard and become a part of a group. Of course, it is incumbent upon the certifying organization to maintain high standards for the certification in order for it to be of value to you. It is also important that the certifying organization be known so that others are aware of its value.
- Get involved with a Users Group — Users groups, including special interest groups (SIG), are opportunities for professionals to get together and talk. Membership is a great way to show that you're interested in your own development and can be seen as a way of differentiating yourself. If there's not a user group for the development language or development type that you are interested in — start one. User Group leadership positions are a strong statement that you are committed to your own development and the development of others. Presenting to a users group is another way to demonstrate your commitment to the development of others and make yourself standout from the crowd. Participation in a users group at this level can really make you stand out from your peers.
- Collaborate in a forum — Become a member of a group of people who speak on forums, public newsgroups, or in other venues. This creates a semi-permanent record of the knowledge you've developed and shows how you're sharing that with others. We live in the age of Google, where it's easy for someone to see the kinds of things that you've been up to. Collaborating in forums leaves a footprint that others are sure to find.
- Get recognized by a vendor or organization — Microsoft and other vendors have programs that recognize those that make significant positive contributions to the technical community. In Microsoft's case, it is called the Most Valuable Professional (MVP) program. Due to the relatively small number of professionals in these programs, having a vendor recognize your contributions makes your resume stand out. The MVP program at the time of this writing has less than 2,700 members worldwide. Being a part of the MVP program can really make your resume stand out. Of course, vendor recognition programs don't always tell you how to be recognized. That's why working on all of the other items in this list is useful — they increase your chances of being recognized by helping you stand out in the crowd.
- Attend regional and national conferences and trade shows — In addition to the knowledge that you'll gain; you will also demonstrate a desire to stay up-to-date with the latest technologies and techniques. This will help you be perceived as more in touch with what is going on. Learning new techniques and tools helps to broaden your horizons and demonstrates a continuing commitment to learning. Additionally, when you attend a conference, take the time to try to meet people. Most conferences provide the opportunity for attendees to interact with industry leaders and people in high-profile positions.
- Speak at a conference — If you think about the audience at a conference, it is filled with hundreds of listeners and only one or two speakers. While being one of the hundreds who attend a conference is a good thing, being the one recognized as the expert to be able to speak at the conference separates you from the others. The process of speaking at a local conference is relatively easy. You need only become an expert in one small area — an area that is interesting to others in your geography. Smaller, regional conferences may not have more than 30 people in a room — no more than most of us had in a speech class at one time or another. Many conferences do a "call for papers". You can respond to these calls by sending in an overview of what you would like to present. In most cases, anyone can submit a paper for consideration.
- Write an article — Most people I know aren't thrilled with the idea of writing. The most frequent response when I ask my coworkers if they want to write an article is a groan. However, being published distinguishes your resume from others because there are relatively few people who have ever had an article published professionally. Although getting your first article published isn't easy, it can be within reach if you're willing to make the investment. Even those who have poor spelling and grammar skills (such as yours truly) can become proficient at writing articles. (Editor's note: Writing your first article can be easy. Sites like Codeguru.com focus more on the technical information you can provide rather than on your grammatical skills. As such, it is more likely to get published if you have a valuable technical expertise you can share.)
- Write a book (or part of a book) — If the field is narrowed from a floodlight to a spotlight by writing an article, it's laser focused by writing a book or a part of a book. Even though the number of those who have written articles is small, those who have written a book is even smaller. Writing a book shows a more comprehensive knowledge of a subject, beyond just what a single article might show. Writing a book also shows commitment. While an article can be written in a few hours, most books take months to write.
- Network with others — Attending a user group or conference, answering questions in forums, and interacting in other ways is a start, but take the next step as well — meet the people there. Interacting and networking can lead to connections that will distinguish you. Your ability to develop relationships with relative celebrities can make you stand out of the crowd if for no other reason than making for interesting stories.
Putting it together
The likelihood of you being able to accomplish all these activities, at least initially, is pretty slim. However, they have a cumulative effect. For instance, if you spend just an hour a week working on an article, then within a few weeks you should have a completed article. Keep doing this and within a year you could have over a dozen published articles. I have sixteen books in which I've had author credit, nearly one hundred more that I've worked on, and countless articles. I didn't do all that in a year; rather I did them one at a time. Over time, however, this has added up and now stands out on my resume. In the way, you can flesh out your resume. How quickly this can happen is remarkable in retrospect.
So, take the first step. Find something you can do today to make yourself stand out of the crowd.
About the Author
Robert Bogue, MCSE (NT4/W2K), MCSA:Security, A+, Network+, Server+, I-Net+, IT Project+, E-Biz+, CDIA+ has contributed to more than 100 book projects and numerous other publishing projects. He writes on topics from networking and certification to Microsoft applications and business needs. Robert is a strategic consultant for Crowe Chizek in Indianapolis. Some of Robert's more recent books are Mobilize Yourself!: The Microsoft Guide to Mobile Technology, Server+ Training Kit, and MCSA Training Guide (70-218): Managing a Windows 2000 Network. He was honored to become a Microsoft MVP for Microsoft Windows Server - Networking. You can reach Robert at Robert.Bogue@CroweChizek.com.