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Self Promotion: Engineer’s Worst Fear (Yikes!)
January 19, 2022

Table of Contents

Introduction

One of the things I struggled with while I was younger was self promotion: talking about my accomplishments, writing a resume, and giving presentations on my work. It felt strangely boastful. I’d ask myself the questions, “why do I have to tell everyone what I’m doing?” and “can’t they see how hard I’m working and all the great work I’m doing?”

Have you ever felt like this?

How I feel talking about myself in the workplace.
How I feel talking about myself in the workplace.
Talking about yourself and your accomplishments is part of being an engineer in the same way you’re expected to show up at work on time, attend team meetings and respond to emails.

In this post I talk about the proper mindset needed for talking about yourself, how everyone else feels about it and how you can do it honestly.

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Your Boss' Perspective

Your boss should know what you’re doing, right? It’s their job to know what their people are working on?

Let’s take an example where your boss has 10 people working for them, you and 9 other people. Your boss now has to worry about the following people on their team:

  • Person 1
  • Person 2
  • Person 3
  • Person 4
  • Person 5
  • Person 6
  • Person 7
  • Person 8
  • Person 9
  • You

At best you’re going to get 10% of their attention.

But! They also have to dedicate time to their own job. And they also have to worry about their boss. And maybe their boss’ boss. And doing interviews for hiring full time employees. And interns. And so on and so on.

So maybe you get 1-2% of your boss’ time on a weekly basis. It’s important to clearly communicate to your boss the work you are doing and the impact you are making to maximize this time.

Your Teammates' Perspective

Your teammates and co-workers should know what you’re doing, right? Keep in mind they are also busy with their careers. They’re hard at work meeting with customers, writing code, debugging code, training interns and giving briefings just like you are.

One thing to remember is that everyone comes into work with some mental baggage. So in the same way you get a small amount of your boss’ attention, you’ll get a similar percentage of your coworkers attention.

It’s normal that you’re frustrated that your teammates don’t know all the details of the projects you’re working on and all the great things you’re doing. To keep it all in perspective, recall this list of everything that your co-workers are worried about during the day:

  • Doing their day job:
    • Does my code have bugs in it?
    • I hope this project is successful
    • What’s the next project I’m going to work on?
    • I hope I get promoted this year
    • Should I take that new job offer or stay here?
  • Miscellaneous Office Distractions
    • When is lunch?
    • I need a break, I’m going down the hall to chat
    • I’m looking forward to college football on Saturday
    • I didn’t get enough sleep last night
  • Family Concerns
    • The family fight they had last night at dinner
    • Watching the clock so they pick up their kid from school on time
    • Concerns over the new house they are buying and moving into next week
    • Thinking about the upcoming vacation they are going on

It’s important to know that everyone is busy with family, work and other obligations. Keeping this in mind makes it easier to give others, and yourself, some grace and forgiveness which makes everything in the office easier.

Your Mindset

Consider everyone is in the same boat: you, your peers, your boss, your boss’ boss and everyone else in the office. Everyone is working hard and paying attention to what they are doing, not what is going on around them. And that is ok.

So if you want to be noticed, you are going to have to talk about yourself and get comfortable doing so. Because no one else is going to do it.

Still not convinced?

Consider the alternate reality where you don’t use self promotion and don’t talk about your success. Instead you get passed over for promotion and now someone who is less qualified than you is now your boss. You don’t get a raise you deserved because no one knew about your successes and instead it sent to someone else less deserving. You weren’t added to a team award because you didn’t describe your contributions to the team.

How does that feel?

Put yourself in your boss’ shoes. Consider that you are a leader and you have someone on your team who is working hard but won’t tell you what they’re doing. “I’m too busy to send you a status update.” Does that make sense to you as a leader? Would you trust them that they are doing good work? You are less likely to trust this person because you perceive them as hiding something or being deceptive.

Being completely honest about yourself is an inviting and captivating quality. If you are honest about when you fail or mess up it makes your wins that much more interesting. It makes for a good story. You might also consider that your boss gets to live through you emotionally, hearing the ups and downs. In a way it allows them to celebrate with you when you get a win.

What Do You Say?

The number 1 rule when talking about your accomplishments is:

  1. Be Honest

Describe your successes honestly and factually. “I improved the gain of the antenna design by 2 dB” or “I completed the project 2 months early.” Neither of these statements are bragging because they are honest and factual.

2. Don’t Exaggerate

Exaggeration is dangerous. Avoid inflating numbers or rounding up. Did you claim a gain of 30 dB in your system when it’s really 27 dB? Did you use theoretical and ideal performance numbers for a system knowing the real world system will perform worse? Are you saying your system will work in a specific RF environment without testing it first?

Using exaggeration is walking up to the line of deception. Be careful!

3. Say something!

Did you have a success! Say it! Did you get an award? Say it! Was the product successful? Say it! People like to share in others successes. How fun is it when someone is excited for you? It’s a great feeling! Be quick to share in others people successes as well. Did you see someone have a win but they haven’t said much about it? Say it to them! Congratulate them! It will make both of you feel better.

Video

Here’s a great video that provides a different perspective on self promotion:

Takeaway

Self promotion is an important skill to build. Your boss and teammates are consumed by their career and family situation and may not have the mental resources to keep up to date with what you’re working on. Communicating your successes allows you to make the most of your limited time with your boss and can put you over the edge when applying for promotions or getting awards.

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