Personal Branding 101 for IT Professionals - Part I

By Rajesh Setty

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Technology professionals are always busy either acquiring the “current hot skills” so that they can be in demand and earn top dollars or are busy searching for the “future hot skills.”

In short, we can conclude that most people are busy in the technology skill-set rat race. The unfortunate thing is all the participants (including the winners) lose in the long run unless they add a few other long-term skills and long-term practices to the mix.

One such skill is the art of "personal branding." A few years ago personal branding could have been reserved for some select folks with celebrity aspirations, but now the time has come for technology professionals to give it due consideration.

The Need

Let's paint a scenario here: Jack meets Janet and they start talking. Jack explains who he is and what he does for a living and Janet does the same. While Jack is speaking, Janet is very busy in her mind trying to "box" Jack with something.

She is basically looking for some keywords "software engineer", "technical architect", "project manager" … whatever; something that will make it easy for her to remember. Of course, Jack will do the same for Janet. It's a real "boxing" contest.

By the way, there is nothing wrong with this approach since we all do this. It makes sense too. Here's why: When Janet finishes her meeting with Jack and later meets an old friend Paul, Janet wants something easy and simple to explain who she met. It's easy to say, "I met Jack for coffee and he is a software engineer" than give the whole spiel she heard from Jack.

There is hope, though. If Jack made a compelling introduction, something that is memorable and remarkable, Janet would be compelled to say a few more words about Jack. In effect, Jack would have won the "boxing" game.

I have to say that this requires more than communication skills. You need to be working on something that is remarkable or be remarkable yourself. In other words, you need to be working on your “personal brand.”

The Pain

A large majority of IT professionals who lose in the “boxing game” are typically victims of commoditization. While you have a lot of company in the commodity crowd, your value erodes. People don’t pay top dollars for skills that are available in plenty.

It takes a few years to get expertise in a particular “hot” skill set. If those skills are really “hot” then your career will get a boost until others catch up and there is a solid supply of people with this skill set.

At some point, things change and there is an oversupply of resources in the market. The value associated with people having just this skill set starts eroding. This is painful.

To avoid pain, typical responses are: to deny that this is not happening to you and continue to go deeper in the same skill set, or to flee and look for greener pastures.

In the first case, you are getting deeper into the hole and in the second case, you are repeating the cycle all over again.

Note that I am not against building your knowledge and expertise in technology areas. My point is that this is just not enough to thrive in this marketplace.

The Pleasure

If commoditization erodes value, the opposite is also true: personal branding will deliver a premium.

Because building a personal brand takes time, very few people do it. It is the road less traveled. So, you are in minority if you are on that journey, which puts you in a special place to start with.

Some of the big benefits of a powerful personal brand are:

  • Lower cost of sale: All of us are always selling something. It is easier to sell your stuff when you have a personal brand.
  • Higher value: Brands are always associated with value. A premium is paid for those with personal brands. We all know that scarcity attracts premium.
  • Implied assurance: Brands usually have an advantage in terms of customer satisfaction as there is an implied level of trust on quality of the deliverables.

    Personal branding involves a ton of planning and strategizing and relentless execution. A journey of thousand miles starts with a single step. Half-hearted efforts in personal branding will yield mediocre results.

    The first step here is to get it on your agenda. Everything starts with an idea. You have to first believe that this effort is useful for you in the long-run. The mind-set has to be to measure the results over longer time horizons (five, 10, 15 years, or, over a lifetime.)

    Rajesh Setty is the chairman of CIGNEX Technologies, an open source consulting services and software solutions company, which he co-founded in late 2000. Setty’s latest book is "Beyond Code: Learn to Distinguish Yourself in 9 Simple Steps!" (Select Books - 2005). Setty speaks and writes frequently on topics that include entrepreneurship, leadership and open source.