For a lot of us in tech, and even in the wider working world, the prevalent thought seems to be that if we do a good job, we’ll get rewarded and things will just sort of work out. This seems to be especially true for people who come from a lower or middle class background (I include myself in this).
The problem is that this isn’t true.
If people don’t know that you did the work, it might as well not have happened when it comes to raises, promotions, bonuses, etc. In a tight market, it can even be the difference between keeping your job and being laid off.
This is a really difficult lesson to learn, because we’re often told “don’t brag” when we’re growing up. The problem is that telling someone “don’t brag” will hurt them in the long run because it’s usually done indiscriminately whenever a child talks about things they’ve accomplished. I can also tell you that people growing up in upper class households don’t hear that sort of thing nearly as often.
It is, among other things, an example of the toxic Protestant Work Ethic and is used far too often to “keep people in their place.” It’s leveraged by racists, classists, and sexists alike and it very badly needs to be consigned to the trash bin of cultural practices.
It’s not bragging to make sure that people know what you’re accomplishing. It’s actually just another form of marketing and advocacy – you are your own greatest advocate. Nobody else cares about your well-being and advancement as much as you do because it directly impacts you. You can’t just wait for people to notice you. It doesn’t work.
Saying “You need to be visible” isn’t all that helpful though, so I’ll give practical examples of how to do this.
Inside the company
- Updates in standup are great, but have a small audience. You can become known as a subject matter expert on your team, but don’t expect the perception of your abilities and value to extend past your immediate team using this approach.
- Use your 1 on 1s to outline, in more or less real time, your wins. This isn’t the only thing you should discuss in a 1 on 1, but make sure you keep your accomplishments on your boss’ radar. This is true for any skip-level 1 on 1s you have too (your boss may not surface your accomplishments up the chain, so try to self advocate)
- Keep a list of your accomplishments as they happen. Use these during your year end review.
- If you have the opportunity, give internal talks/presentations on the things you’ve done. If you shipped a product, do a presentation on it with the stakeholders. If it was a group project, share the credit.
- If you are a manager or lead, PUT A SPOTLIGHT ON YOUR PEOPLE AND THEIR ACCOMPLISHMENTS. Don’t try to take the credit for their work. Leading a team that does good work makes you look AMAZING to most reasonable management chains. It shows that you can effectively lead, delegate, and inspire. That sort of performance can lead to promotions.
Outside the company
- If you’re doing something that you can post about publicly, do so (twitter, LinkedIn, blog, etc). Even if it’s just broad strokes. You may find it boring because you’re in the middle of it, but I guarantee you that it’s interesting to someone.
- If you can’t talk about the product, can you talk about the technical challenges that you’re facing and overcoming?
- Talk about the leadership issues that you’re helping with. If you’re leading a team, what is your style like? How do you help the people that work under you? How do you coach people to the side and above you?
- If you feel comfortable, give a talk on some of the things you’ve learned. Public speaking can be unnerving, but we want to see the people speaking succeed. Seriously.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but I hope it helps. If you feel like you’re being too forceful, take it a little more slowly. You don’t have to do everything on the list at once (though I do advocate keeping the list of accomplishments. It helps not only with year end reviews, but resume writing and talking points in interviews).
As for the backlash that underrepresented folks face for self-advocacy, if you see someone getting abused in that way, call out the person doing it. If you’re in management and your reports are doing it, you need to either make it a Teachable Moment to correct their behavior or give real thought to managing that person out of your organization. To ignore it is a sign that you agree with it.
If you want real Diversity, Empowerment, and Inclusion in your company and the wider culture of your profession, you need to actively work toward it. Making it safer for people to self-advocate is an important step on that journey. After all, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” is only true if we put our damned weight on it.