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Want to Stand Out as a Software Engineer? Do These 3 Things

February 17, 2022
Linzi Nield
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Making a name for yourself as a software engineer can sometimes feel like a daunting task. Not only are there multiple rounds of technical interviews to get in the door at a top company; but once hired, engineers must also navigate shifting expectations around remote work, communication, and collaboration. Of course, that’s not even considering the code you have to write.

According to industry experts, however, standing out as a remote engineer is much more straightforward than most job candidates realize. We recently sat down with a panel of top Silicon Valley engineering executives at our career summit, The Global Engineer, to understand what goes into getting recognized as a software engineer in today’s business landscape.

Our panel says it comes down to advocating for yourself during interviews, proactivity, and setting clear career goals.

Showcase your grit, intelligence, and communication skills during interviews

When preparing for engineering interviews, it’s important to remember that technical skills only make up a portion of the interview process. Your “soft” skills and personality traits are just as important

For Alex Millar, CTO at Bonfire, the strongest interviewees tend to rise above in three prime areas: grit, intelligence, and communication. 

“Grit is all about persevering,” says Millar. “After all, engineering, at the heart of it, is problem solving. I need to know if you’re going to be able to really buckle down and get after the problem. Are you going to persevere?”

Our panelists recommend going into interviews prepared with key examples of when you’ve encountered a tough problem and seen it through to the end.

Demonstrating your intelligence is also key. “I remind people that intelligence is not the same thing as knowledge. The most knowledgeable person in the world might not know how to apply that knowledge, for example,” Millar says. “You don’t need to know everything, but you have to be able to show you can learn and pick things up quickly.” In interviews, always be prepared to point to examples when you’ve learned something quickly with little or no guidance. It will show your interviewers your track record of ingenuity under pressure.

Henry Shi, CTO at Snapcommerce, adds that clear communication is often a deciding factor for top engineering candidates as well.

“The best engineers can clearly articulate what they mean and how they’re going to solve a problem,” Shi says. “Of course, it’s not so much about the actual pronunciation of the words you say, but more about how you can communicate your ideas, give context, and apply your knowledge.”

Remember, too, that an interview should always be a two-way street. Interviewers often consider it a strength when you make it clear you’re evaluating the company as much as they’re evaluating you.

In a remote role, proactivity is everything 

When you finally get the role, then what? How can you build credibility and trust within your teams, especially in a remote setting?

Duncan McDowell, VP of Engineering at Bungalow, says it’s a matter of being proactive and putting yourself out there. One-on-one time with higher-ups, for example, can ensure your work gets noticed early on, and you may even win a few champions in the process. 

“I always recommend that new hires find executives to message on Slack. It can be an executive in your own department or another leader within your org,” McDowell says. “Just say, ‘I’m really focused on a project that impacts what you’re doing, and I’d love to have some of your time.’ Executives really love to see that, even if it might feel uncomfortable to ask.”

There is a caveat, however. Before meeting with an executive, make sure you’ve done your homework. “Learn a little bit about them beforehand, and take a genuine interest in who they are,” Millar says. “It shows. And always come prepared with specific things you want to know. Things like, ‘Hey, I want to understand a little more about the financials of the company,’ or, ‘Tell me why we adopted X, Y and Z as a company strategy.’”

Shi agrees with this approach, saying, “Just the act of taking initiative means a lot. It’s especially important today because water cooler conversations don’t exist any more. You really have to take initiative. And remember, there are no dumb questions, especially when you’re new.”

Set specific goals for yourself, and always be learning

Getting noticed over the long haul is all about consistently demonstrating your value at the company. And this doesn’t happen incidentally; engineers who regularly prove themselves tend to have personal goals that align with the objectives of the company.

“You should set a goal around where you want to be in the next one year, three years, and five years,” Shi says. “Working with mentors and peers along the way will help you get there. Ultimately, it’s really up to each individual person to take that kind of initiative and then work with their manager to develop a career path. It’s taking ownership of your own career trajectory.”

Constant learning is another way to ensure you’re adding value over the long run.

“We all have to be learning machines, especially in the fast-growing spaces we all work in,” says Chung-Man Tam, Chief Product Officer at Coalition. “The more we ask questions and learn, the more we can challenge assumptions that may not be right. Constant learning helps everyone become better at their jobs, and quickly. It also generates the type of respect that contributes to team building.”

Take control of your own career

At the end of the day, the key to getting noticed as a software engineer is the same as in any other role. It’s a byproduct of taking the reins of your career and making your company better for it. 

And the era of remote work has made it easier than ever to find companies where you can make a name for yourself. 

“There are so many great opportunities out there today, and not just with the top five names you hear over and over again,” Shi says. “There are companies in different stages, with different values, different cultures, and different levels of flexibility. It’s easier than ever to find a company that’s the right fit.”

Watch the full session with Alex Millar, Henry Shi, Duncan McDowell, Chung-Man Tam, as well as more great sessions from The Global Engineer.

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