Hassan's Blog

The Standout Developer - 5 Key Takeaways

August 30, 2020 - 5 min read

As I was reading The Standout Developer, a book about taking your developer career to the next level, I created a twitter thread of my top takeaways from the book. It got some attention, so I decided to write a blog post where I can focus on the top 5, expand on them some more, and include some of my own thoughts.

Takeaway #1: Pick a niche and own it

There are many schools of thought for whether you should specialize in one technology or stay a generalist. No matter what you believe in, the basic truth is that your market value increases when you specialize.

The author tells her story about specializing in blockchain, writing blog posts / speaking at meetups, and eventually authoring a blockchain O’Reilly book, and how picking her niche in blockchain led to several oppurtunities and job offers.

The 5 steps to accomplishing this are:

  1. Pick something specific to learn about and become good at it
  2. Share your knowledge publicly (blogs/Twitter/YouTube)
  3. Consistently provide value & become known as an expert
  4. Apply to speak at conferences & local meetups
  5. Write a book / Create a course on it

Here’s the kicker: You don’t have to do blockchain (or whatever you decide to specialize in) forever. Similar to the author, you may do it for 1-2 years, get bored of it, and move on to the next thing that excites you.

The best part? Your reputation travels with you regardless of what you decide to specialize in.

Takeaway #2: How to do well on Twitter

Twitter is one of the best ways to network online as a developer. You get to see & participate in technical discussions, and learn what projects the experts in your field are working on (as well as benefit from their advice).

One piece of advice the author gives is that you should know your audience and tailor your tweets. Think to yourself about what topics you want to tweet about and the type of people you want to attract. This may take some trial and error at first, but once you figure it out, it becomes easier to create tweets that add value since you’re writing for a specific group of people.

Another interesting piece of advice is to answer DMs to help others and try to commit time every now and then to benefit the community (Randall did it through offering free personalized resume reviews).

If I could summarize my general approach to Twitter it’s to share interesting things that I encounter as they happen. - Daniel Vassallo

Tweet about anything that you feel can help others in some way. Tweet about something new you’ve learned that made you go, “Wow I wish I knew that before”. The general rule of thumb is don’t tweet if you’re not adding value.

Takeaway #3: The power of documentation

Reading without taking notes:

Credit: Anne-Laure Le Cunff

We forget the vast majority of what we read. To combat this, taking notes when we’re learning (and revisiting those notes periodically) is key for a myriad of reasons.

One, taking notes when someone explains something to you enables you to move faster, always have a reference, and shows respect for the other person’s time.

Taking note of what you’re doing daily/weekly can also help you remember your accomplishments to better market yourself and notice trends in the way you’re doing things to improve.

Takeaway #4: Building a great portfolio

Building a great portfolio is an important piece of getting an interview. Companies want to see what you can do.

The author recommends one high quality project that really showcases your talent as opposed to many smaller projects. Ideally, the high quality project should have the following attributes:

  • Clean & easy to read code
  • Excellent documentation
  • Well written tests
  • A README with screenshots, a link to the demo, and clear instructions on how to run it

Takeaway #5: Powerful tips for your job search

Personalize Everything

Due to the ocean of resumes that get sent to job annoucements and companies’ rising use of applicant tracking systems (ATS), personalization is key to stand out.

First, you want to personalize your resume to fit key words in the job description in order to pass ATS and get your resume read by an actual person. You can use tools like JobScan to optimize your resume for this.

After that, you want to write a personalized cover letter, send a cold email to the company about why you want to work there, and/or reach out to some employees on LinkedIn for an informational interview.

Finally, you want to network at meetups, events, and conferences. Unfortunately, these days, it’s more about who you know than what you know. If you make strong connections on Twitter, LinkedIn, or at meetups, you can lean on these contacts for referrals and advice when the time comes.

Referrals. Are. Huge.

According to careerpivot, if an employee refers you for a position you have a ~50% chance of getting an interview versus the ~3% chance if you weren’t referred.

Doing these things will greatly increase your chances of getting an interview (and landing a job).

Technical Interview Prep

The #1 rule to remember about this step is that practice makes perfect. Make a plan, be disciplined, and stick to it. Even better, find an accountability buddy to give you more motivation to keep going.

If you’d like to go above and beyond, Madison Kanna has an interesting take. She advises individuals to try to provide value to a company first before getting hired, either by helping them solve a problem or implement a feature.

Conclusion

All in all, The Standout Developer was a great, short read filled with relevant information for any developer seeking a job. It read like a series of blog posts jumping from one topic like blogging to another like preparing for technical interviews. I want to note that these takeaways were just some things I felt were important for me (and hopefully for you too); the book did cover many other topics I didn’t address.

If you had any questions or want to say hi, please reach out to me on Twitter - I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for reading!


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