Visibility

by breeve 19. November 2010 16:28

To the casual observer, the long faces the boys wore filing out of the High School gym did not cause alarm. The coaches were known for hard workouts but not usually this early in the season. The more observant among them, however, would notice the grim faces were not the result of extra wind sprints but the expression kids make when they learn they were cut from the team. I would know. I was one of the many filing out of the double gymnasium doors that night.

The basketball tryouts began innocently enough. A few jumpers, a couple drills. But something was not right. The coaches barely seemed to be paying attention. Only every so often would they catch a glimpse of someone’s jump shot or more importantly of mine.

If there were specific reasons why we were all shown the door that night, we weren't given any. Sure, some had no business being there but a few of us had a legitimate shot at making Junior Varsity. When the rosters became final, I couldn't help but feel cheated. It appeared the tryouts were rigged;  nothing more than a required proceeding whose outcome was known before hand.

But if I was set on blaming the coaches some of the blame also belonged on my shoulders. As I later found out, most of those that made the team had participated in long summer camps the coaches ran. Instead of lounging by the pool, they were building their basketball resume in front of the all seeing eye of the coach. While I spent my summer playing pickup ball here and there, my peers were learning the coach’s plays first hand by playing other teams they would most likely face during the regular season.

Interviewing programmers for jobs has made me more sympathetic to the cruel ways of heartless coaches. Interviewing programmers is like being a basketball coach tasked with picking a winning team for the upcoming season and if there is one thing all basketball coaches hate it’s surprises. Why would they take a chance on some unknown player who shows up for the first time on the night of the tryouts when they have a good idea of what they already have?

Because what both interviewer and coaches want is a no brainier decision without having to guess. Your job, whether you are trying to make the basketball team or trying to get that work position, is to make it a no brainier decision to pick you.

It turns out, the best way to achieve the exclusive no brainier status—as many books make reference to—is to spend some free time developing what one author calls “professional contributions”. This refers to work that is mostly considered optional like: starting an open source project, publishing a paper in a trade journal, giving a presentation for the local programmer group, or writing a technical blog article. All these things increase your professional visibility outside of your normal day to day work.

Building a resume of “optional” activities is like spending all summer playing for the coach that holds your basketball future in their hands. Like an athletic career, your interviewer—or for that matter your boss—holds your professional career in their hands but unlike an athlete career, your future depends less on running the 40 in 4.4 and more on your visibility. Your interviewer is sure to google your name and if they find you have intelligent things to say and are well known in the programmer community, it makes their decision so much easier even before you show up.

Of course, other things like worth ethic and the ability to get things done count for a great deal but those are hard qualities to judge during a two hour interview or during one night of basketball tryouts. The trouble with these qualities is everyone says they have them but few can prove it because few have the hard evidence of professional contributions.

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About Me

I am a Principal Engineer with 13 years experience developing and releasing software products. I started developing in C/C++ then moved into .NET and C# and have tech lead multiple projects. I have developed products in Windows Forms, ASP.NET/MVC, Silverlight, and WPF. I currently reside in Austin, Texas.

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