How do they do it?
“How is [insert developer name] able to attract the promotions and job offers they’re getting? Their work is trash; I’m a much better developer! I work twice as hard, write better code, and produce 2x more work than they do? This is completely unfair.”
You’re right, it is unfair.
This is a serious career problem, assuming that you’ve made an accurate assumption about your skills and performance. Seriously, what gives?
Why most developers optimize for the wrong goal
It’s a common mistake made by many employees in general. Here’s a quote from Reddit user Myidiotbox that encapsulates both the attitude of many employees and the response they receive in return.
This is the unspoken attitude lurking beneath for many people.
“I’m working really hard so I deserve X. I did my job well so I want Y.”
Here’s the problem with this attitude.
It takes you further away from the goals you want (such as being treated well, making more money, achieving significance, and so on). This perception is the primary reason so many developers fail to achieve the career goals they aspire to.
Here are the goals (if you can call them that) a healthy employer looks for.
- Can I count on this developer to deliver amazing work consistently?
- Is this developer loyal or will he betray me and jump ship as soon as he gets the chance?
- How easy is it to replace these developers?
- Could I replace them if they left?
- How long would it take and how much would it cost me?
- This developer is killing it, how do I help them produce more amazing work?
See the problem?
There’s a mismatch here. The vast majority of people are struggling with Dunning-Kruger effect and are prone to overestimate their competence. They believe they’re doing a better job relative to their peers.
But they’re not.
Here’s why this is an issue. This mismatched thinking puts you at odds with your employer. This creates significant problems down the line, too, because it turns employees (you) in to mercenaries over time.
If this sounds harsh, it’s not intended to be.
Here are some simple strategies web developers can use to attract the positions other developers want with minimal effort.
Strategy #1: Become a patriot, stay a patriot
In 2013, Gallup worked with then Nationwide CEO Steve Rasmussen to improve employee engagement. In the course of their relationship, Rasmussen shared a surprising observation.
Employees are either patriots or mercenaries.
Not because they want to be but because they have to be.
Patriots totally identify with their company, and mercenaries are more likely to focus on personal outcomes.
Patriot employees are engaged. They have ownership, they believe in their firm and their firm believes in them. Instead of looking out for themselves, they’re focused on looking out for their firm.
On the other hand, mercenaries are focused on themselves. They tend to rely on serial job-hopping, power hoarding, and social climbing to get what they want. Mercenaries are focused on getting as much value as they can for themselves; they don’t care much about their company.
It’s no surprise then that they’re disengaged.
If the interests of the firm happen to align with their own interests, they’ll do what’s best for the firm. But they’re not really focused on putting their firm ahead of themselves.
Most of the time they can’t.
Why? Because their employer is a mercenary: these employers are focused on squeezing as much value as they can out of their employees. Then, they’re tossed aside once they’re burned out and used up.
You’ll want to stay a patriot.
This means you continue to buy in to your company’s vision. You continue to believe in your employer or co-workers and you look out for them. The instant you can’t do that, you start looking for another job. Here’s why it’s important to remain a patriot.
The exceptional opportunities, benefits, and rewards go overwhelmingly to people who like, trust, and believe in you. These people can smell your intentions, partially due to the fact that humans communicate chemically.
Additionally, there’s a certain kind of tone, inflection, attention, and posture that’s communicated when we’re actually interested and engaged in something. If you’re like most humans on planet Earth, you know what that looks like. The better you are at remaining invested in your employer and co-workers — helping them solve tough problems, sticking with them through bad times — the easier it is win these coveted positions.
Strategy #2: Use lunch and learns, meet and greets, frequently
In her book, How to Be a Power Connector, Judy Robinett shares the strategies and tactics she uses to build a powerful network. Because it’s structured properly, this network enables her to meet literally anyone she wants on the planet at any time.
Think about that for a second.
How easy would it be to win the role of your dreams if (a.) you were introduced to the right decision-makers whenever you wanted and (b.) these decision-makers loved you because powerful people vouched for you ahead of time?
It’d be pretty easy.
At first glance, it would be easy to discount the 5 + 50 + 100 rule and simply assume that Robinett was significant to begin with. That she was born with a silver spoon in her mouth or came from a well-connected family. But it would be completely untrue.
Robinett started as a shy social worker in Idaho.
She had no connections or influence, yet she became CEO of several public and private companies and is now a leader in the venture capitalist world.
She walks the walk.
Why does this work so well though? Is it simply because some people are more likable than others? Not really, no. In reality, it all boils down to one thing: in-group favoritism.
Research shows favoritism, not hostility, is the main driver of discrimination.
According to University of Washington psychologist Tony Greenwald, who co-authored the review with Thomas Pettigrew of the University of California, Santa Cruz:
Most discrimination in the U.S. is not caused by intention to harm people different from us, but by ordinary favoritism directed at helping people similar to us.
We can produce discrimination without having any intent to discriminate or any dislike for those who end up being disadvantaged by our behavior.
In the study, they shared a really simple example of this kind of favoritism in action.
When conducting reviews of two employees, a manager finds they both fall between two performance categories. The manager gives a higher category to the employee whose child is friends with the manager’s child, leading to a promotion and salary raise, while the other employee receives a smaller raise and no promotion.
Was the manager consciously discriminating against the second employee? Or did she simply give a boost to someone to whom she had an “in-group” connection?
See what I mean?
The discrimination here isn’t malicious; it’s simply favoritism at work. The manager in their example has an in-group connection: their child is friends with an employee’s child. This manager is simply taking care of their own.
Does this feel unfair?
It may be the myth of meritocracy at work — the idea that you’re rewarded based on the sum of your efforts. This isn’t how the world works; it’s not what you do, it’s who you know (and what you do for them) that makes the difference.
Fair isn’t a concern here.
Building a strong social network (used in the classical sense) via lunch and learns, or meet and greets, enables you to build a strong and powerful in-group. Go above and beyond for your in-group and you’ll receive the same kind of unfair favoritism others seem to receive.
Here’s how Robinett recommends you do it. Build a network that consists of:
- 5 people you’re close to — your spouse, parents, best friend, business partner, etc. These are the top five people in your inner circle, you speak with them daily.
- 50 key people in your lives — friends, associates, co-workers, bosses, and so on. People you’re in contact with daily to weekly.
- 100 vital circle — the more distant friends, and personal or professional acquaintances you like. You’re in contact with these people once a month.
What’s the goal with each of these people?
You’re looking to add value to their lives consistently in some way. You do this daily for your top five, weekly for your key 50, and monthly for your vital 100. You make it a habit to serve the people in your network without keeping score or figure out who owes what.
You take care of your own, the people in your in-group.
Do this consistently and they’ll be there when you ask for help.
Wait a minute.
What’s the ratio of giving to receiving here? What if you ask for too many favors and you’re viewed as selfish or demanding? A good rule of thumb is 80/20 or 90/10. Spend 80 to 90 percent of your time giving to your network, and 10 to 20 percent of your time receiving from your network.
Strategy #3: Ask for who, not what
“Can you help me get a job at [insert company name]?”
Can you see the problem with this request? It’s a big ask that, on the surface, requires a significant amount of time, attention, and handholding. It’s also an immediate turn off in many cases because it’s so easy to misinterpret. Asking for a “what” especially with people you’re unfamiliar with is best initiated with a small request.
“Who’s the technical lead at your company?”
Much easier request.
Once you’ve identified a who, and you have the right contact info, you can begin working towards a goal. This works better than simply asking for what you want because it sets the bar low. A large commitment isn’t required for the relationship to be productive.
At a minimum, this tech lead could become part of your network.
In the best case scenario, you develop a relationship with the tech lead at your target company and you earn a role at their company. We’re getting ahead of ourselves here though.
Let’s say you’ve identified your who.
What happens next?
You work to create value. I use Peter Thiel’s value formula as a guide to ensure I’m on the right track.
- Create X dollars of value
- Capture Y percent of X
This simple, two-step process is one you can use to keep the people in your network happy and work with any new people you approach. The world revolves around value creation.
This is why minimums aren’t enough.
Doing the work you were hired to do isn’t enough. Being a good employee simply isn’t appealing to most managers and decision-makers. That’s because it’s an implicit promise and part of the deal when you were hired. You were hired to be a good employee that generates a return on investment. Why should you receive more rewards for that?
Does this mean it’s bad to ask for a what?
Not at all. There’s a time and place to ask for your what, but you’re typically best served (especially with new acquaintances) to keep those requests small and focus on who.
Why do these strategies work?
You are paid (and rewarded) by how hard you are to replace, not by how hard you work. If you’re able to do what others can’t or won’t do you are immediately more valuable because you’ve found a way to do the seemingly impossible.
If they’re smart, your employer can’t afford to lose you.
Most developers optimize their careers around the wrong goal. They focus their time and attention on the wrong details, how hard they’ve worked, how long they’ve been with the company, etc. Your employer isn’t looking at this data.
The world is optimized for and around relationship.
Maintain the right mindset, connect with those around you and provide value consistently for those in your social sphere and you can choose where your career takes you. But only if you focus your attention on the right goals.
Optimize for relationship, and you’ll attract more “unfair” rewards than you can handle.