In a recent post, our sales engineer Josh wrote about not wanting to be a nonentity among hundreds of other developers in a cubicle farm. Especially if you work for a large company, it can be hard to distinguish yourself from the many other developers in your department.
One approach I’ve seen work for colleagues is to stand out by having a “superpower” not related to programming. I think it’s worth considering what may be unique about your background, your personality or your non-coding skillset that will make you a more highly valued member of your team.
Here’s one example: lots of people know someone with a visual impairment. It may be something as simple as color blindness, which occurs in almost 10 percent of males of Northern European descent. (We’ve posted before how some color choices for visualizations can cause problems for people with color vision deficiencies.) If you or someone you know is visually impaired, that may inform (in a good way) your design choices for a user interface.
In fact, it may apply to other issues as well, like your company’s website, hiring practices or office layout. When you bring this type of awareness to your team – by weighing in on the user interfaces of other projects, or by learning about how other organizations accommodate visual impairments – eventually you can become the go-to person on that subject.
I’ve known developers with other superpowers, and I bet you have too, though you may never have thought of them as such. Here are a few:
The person who is great at breaking stuff. You’ve got a final build and it’s ready to go live. Now is a good time to run it by that one person who can break anything. Lots of times she is going to be your boss, or your boss’ boss, so having your beautiful creation broken with a few keystrokes is not fun. It is, however, better than having that happen in production.
The devil’s advocate. Again, he might drive you crazy when discussing your project, but the person who actually stops to ask why are you doing it this way, or why are we doing it at all, is one of the most valuable members of any team.
The old timer. This is the person who knows about that one obscure file your application needs, the only person with permissions to access it, or who understands why something was done that way in the past. You likely undervalue this person as a contributor – that is, until you need to get at that one file. I wouldn’t recommend becoming this person, but it helps to know who they are ahead of actually needing them.
The cleaner. Not exactly like the guy the mob sends in after a hit, but yeah, a little bit like that. The person who, after an employee quits suddenly (or gets fired) assumes their responsibilities temporarily to keep things moving. This requires a degree of humility from an employee who may end up launching and supporting a project they originally wanted, only to have the boss pass them over for someone else.
The funny guy. Life is short and we are all hurtling towards the abyss. Humor makes that reality tolerable. But it’s also helpful during an uncomfortable meeting or in the middle of a production problem. I’ve found that developers who could make others laugh in these situations were always highly valued, and for good reason. They are able to break through deadlocked situation, or make a crisis something you can laugh about later. This is a gift, not a skill you can develop, but if you have it, you will always have a place on your team.