Don't Be Known As Just Another Engineer

Personal branding is the key to an engineer's success—perception, impact, and reputation matter. By building a strong brand, you can stand out, expand your influence, and make a lasting impression in the industry.

Don't Be Known As Just Another Engineer
A campsite outside of Red Lodge, Montana, lined with many trees.

I've met so many different engineers at work, conferences, and meetups. One thing is clear: there's a multitude of different types of people regardless of the typical programmer meme mindset. This naturally makes sense as the field became a more widespread landscape of opportunity many years ago. We're all humans after all, with complicated personalities formed over long periods, our experiences weaving intricate backgrounds.

The funny thing is, even with a diverse set of people that become engineers, most engineers end up being just that: engineers. I'm not pointing specifically to stereotypes, even though some have some merit [, I'm looking at you LaCroix drinkers]. I'm talking about engineers who end up as worker bees at the company they work for. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, humans have been laboring for money for most of the time. Take a ticket, work on a ticket, repeat.

A path surrounded by high mountains and rocky green grass
A path 11,000ft over Sundance pass

I will caution, though, that this is all fine for some. I've met engineers that never want to move into more prolific roles, management, or even higher-level IC roles very quickly. Some engineers are content with working a 9 to 5, taking tickets, resolving them, and calling it a day. I've talked about how this can lead to burnout in "Tech's Big Problem", but for some it's fine. If you are content and don't want to gain traction quickly in your career, I suggest this article isn't for you. If you do want to move up, gain traction, and become a more prolific engineer, I suggest you read ahead.

My friend Ben Lugavere can be credited for teaching me what I'm about to teach you. The key to standing out as an engineer and boosting your impact is personal branding. I'll admit that, at first, personal branding is quite cringy and weird to read, but I promise that this is indeed the key.

What is personal branding? Personal branding is your own personal brand, your persona. No, not just your website or portfolio, personal branding is what people think of when they hear your name [or label] if they think of anything at all. This is important because your name will come up inside your company's walls. It will be in the form of a mention in a: performance review cycle, directors' meeting, new product discussion, or a talk with a client. Wherever it comes up, you want the people mentioning you to hold you in high regard- this is part of your personal brand.

Alright, so maybe you're thinking, "Yeah, yeah, everyone at the office knows me." That's fantastic but not exactly what I'm talking about. Everyone may know you, but do they know what you do, what you're known for, what you do best, or your reputation? Are you known for completing projects on time? Are you known for innovation? This is one key piece of your personal brand called Reputation.

Reputation is only one part of your personal brand. The key pieces to your personal brand I'll coin as ⚪️ PIRL:

  • Prolificism
  • Impact
  • Reputation
  • Label


Your label is basically your name or nickname. If you have a boring name like my own, you may choose to use a different label. Mine happens to be "James from Montana". The most important part of your label is superficial, it has to be memorable. If you have a memorable name, that's great, but think of people like me that immediately toss your name as soon as you say it. By picking an odd or slightly different label in place of your name, you make an interesting imprint on everyone's minds every time they hear about you.

So you have a boring name like my own, how do you build a label for yourself? Pick a place you love or live in, a thing you're known for, or technology you like, and add it to your name to create a nickname/label. I've met a "Tux" before and can tell you I always forgot his real name but never his label. Picking a good label sets you up for success. Using the label might be awkward at first, but I can guarantee you that with enough use, people will start referring to you by either your name or label.


We've talked about reputation a bit, and you probably already know what is important about your reputation. Be known for completing or beating time estimates, be known for innovating, and be known for being reliable. Reputation is the hardest thing to build in a personal brand, but over time, with enough effort, you'll build it enough to start hearing "Oh, X is really good at this thing." or "We need this thing by next week, I bet X can do it." Remember to set boundaries and expectations correctly or your reputation will push you into overpromising and underdelivering very, very quickly.

For a tip in building a reputation, much like beginning a hike or climbing stairs, look at a section of the trail ahead of you and work on that small section. Pick something you're good at, or want to learn about, and get really good at that one thing.


Your impact is more like your Circle of Impact. Once you build your reputation, you'll foster a circle of impact by doing certain things to spread it. Your circle of impact measures the success of your personal brand, and how you've stuck the landing of delivering it. Your circle of impact can be equated to "Where are you known?"

Ok, so you're known for writing CLIs, but where are you known for that thing? Your team? Department? Up to the C-Suite?

There are many levels to your circle of impact but I think I can outline it like this:

  • Team
  • Department
  • Organization
  • Community

Each of these is exponentially harder to make an impact inside of. "Community" also describes a plethora of public communities ranging from product communities, and professional communities, to tech communities at large. For example, Liran Tal is known in the security community, and Matteo Collina is known in the Node community.

In engineering, a natural way for this to form is through code ownership. What repositories or applications do you work on? Get really good at working on them, and claim to be the point of contact for those systems. Ask questions about how it was built if you didn't build it.

Growing this part of your brand is accelerated by our next key element: Prolificism.


While prolificism isn't a real word, I'm using it here to describe your measure of just how prolific you are. It's enabled usually by your access to circles of impact (have you engaged in chats with the CTO?), and how well you can deliver content. If you deliver a tool to developers, how easy is it to use and does it solve a real problem? If you talk to a C-Suite member about a product, are you effective at storytelling and compelling statements?

Just how good you are at delivering content is a dial on your prolificism. To improve this, learn more about speaking. Instead of simply closing your next feature ticket, prepare a demo and pitch it to your team or department to show how it works. If you don't have a sales background [as many of us don't have], this is hard. Not to sound cheesy, but focus on improving your sales side and learning how to sell your brand. Improving this side of yourself will often involve taking risks, and that's ok.

Another, more easy, way to improve this side of your brand is to write. Whether it's technical documentation, readmes, emails, articles, or instructions for using a feature, writing can accelerate your prolificism within your organization. If your boss measures your time [and has a touch of micro-management], try asking if you can spend several hours writing an onboarding document, or something of the like. I can almost guarantee you your boss will be happy to let you work on that, and you can credit yourself for the document.

Photo by Thomas Le / Unsplash

Personal branding for engineers who aspire to stand out and make a significant impact in their careers. Such large crowds of engineers in our work today guarantee that many engineers are content with their roles as "worker bees," but there are individuals who desire to progress and become more prolific. For that, personal branding is key to boosting an engineer's impact and visibility. It encompasses more than just having a website or portfolio—it represents what people think of when they hear the engineer's name and how they perceive their skills and reputation within the company and industry. Learning public speaking skills, leveraging writing opportunities for technical documentation and articles, and taking calculated risks can enhance your personal branding.

Personal branding offers engineers the opportunity to differentiate themselves, gain visibility, and make a lasting impact in their careers. By focusing on PIRL—Prolificism, Impact, Reputation, and Label—and implementing some of my suggested strategies, engineers can shape their personal brand, establish a strong professional identity, and position themselves for success.

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