I recently signed up for a networking platform called ‘Lunchclub.ai’ that aims to be ‘an AI superconnector that makes introductions for 1:1 video meetings to advance your career’. It is an interesting idea, and so far I’ve met 3 people, one from near Milan, another from Berlin, and one from Stockholm (although he was Russian). It is nice to connect randomly with other entrepreneurs or interesting people for a quick video chat.
On my last meeting with the person from Stockholm, the conversation ended up being quite informal and friendly — we talked about cultural issues with being an expat and how it could be challenging to start with a new idea in those circumstances. Then, the other person pointed out how engineers lack the capability to upsell their work and qualifications. You could look at almost any other profession and clearly notice that selling oneself comes along with it. Except for engineering.
As an engineer, one is expected only to be good at their core competency and to be able to communicate with peers. That they are great at their work shouldn’t be something that needs to be advertised outside of the recruiting process.
It made me think. Some of the best engineers I have had the pleasure to learn from were also quite bad at promoting themselves. It is assumed that great engineers are constantly learning and evolving, and that the more years of experience they accumulate the better they get. Anything else is just unacceptable, and following this career path is barely meeting expectations. On the other hand, the engineers who plan and break away from this mould are often those that transition out from the engineering profession to a career built upon teaching or public speaking.
Good engineers are also almost always suffering from the burden of not being good enough. There is always something to learn, some way to improve, or just some people to look up to. And if you’re a software engineer, there is always another framework or architectural pattern that is in vogue that you haven’t even looked at. You slacker you!
This is quite a dichotomy — on one hand, engineers are expected to be great and to always be learning, while on the other hand, the ones that do learn the art of self-promotion are deemed to not be engaged with the profession full-time. There’s only enough time to either engage with your engineering craft or to tell the world how good you’re at it.
A lot of workplaces now promote public speaking for their engineers, but this is often limited to speaking to other engineers, and is, as such, used primarily as a recruitment tool — check out our infrastructure/team structure/methodology and be a part of something great. While it helps bring talent together, it seldom helps individual contributors in ways other than perhaps opening them up for recruitment by other similar teams.
There is a good balance to be obtained among shameless self-promotion and genuine marketing, but every engineer ought to be unashamed about telling the world how great they are, and also to publicly recognize that there is no shame in being an expert on whatever the pattern or framework of the month happens to be.