Who inspires you?
It's a question I've never given much thought but I managed to think of a couple of people when I was asked.
As I thought more about why these people came to mind, something else stood out to me on a much more meta-level. I know most of these people from the internet.
The reason I know these people at all is because they regularly create content like blog posts, videos or podcasts that I consume.
I've always had a pretty low-profile online; I don't use a lot of social media, don't participate in many communities and don't publish a lot of content. For me it seemed like there was very little upside in it.
Hack your career
Until I watched a talk from Troy Hunt called Hack Your Career that made me change my mind.
Troy talks about the benefits of having an active online presence for your professional career and how it impacted his own career.
"Professional career" being a very important distinction here. I still see very little upside in personal social media use but I can now see clear benefits for having an active online presence for your professional career.
It allows you to reach people all over the world and show who you are and what you are capable of.
Anyone can list a skill on their resume or LinkedIn profile, but showing in-depth blog posts, conference talks or side-projects gives others a much better impression of you what you do, helping you stand out from the crowd.
Instead of being one of many in the pile of resumes who all have the same skillset, you'll be the one who gave a conference talk and wrote multiple in-depth blog post about a technology the company needs help with. Who would stand out more?
Apart from demonstrating your professional abilities, it allows you to reach people all over the world and expand your network.
Two people in the same profession on different continents might normally never interact with each other or know of each others existence at all. Yet, when you write about something in your industry and the other person reads or comments on it, this changes.
Screely - a tool I built for turning screenshots into mockups - has led to more freelance work than any recruiter or networking event ever did.
Not because it's an amazing piece of software engineering and I'm the best designer/developer in the world. People saw what I can do, liked my product and heard about me. So when they were looking to hire a contractor for design and front-end development, I was top of mind.
Your online presence builds a personal brand. You'll no longer be the anonymous employee sitting in a cubicle working for a company most of the world has never heard about. People will know about you and what you've done.
The stronger your brand, the more opportunities open up to you.
Take Troy Hunt for example.
Troy Hunt could have been a "run of the mill" programmer working away in a cubicle somewhere in Australia like many others. But through his blog, projects, courses and talks he became well-known within his industry, especially around data security.
That doesn't necessarily mean Troy is the absolute best in his field - there are probably people who are more skilled - yet, you don't know their name.
The skills aren't the main differentiator, his online presence is and it gave him many opportunities to take advantage of that would never be available to him otherwise.
Let's keep going..
Jordan Peterson could have been just another college professor that you've never heard of. But while you probably can't name more than a few (if any) other psychology professors around the world, there is a good chance you've heard of Jordan Peterson.
Gary Vaynerchuck could have been just another digital agency owner like there are thousands in just the US alone. Yet, you probably can't name any except Gary.
These two get invited to appear on TV and radio shows, their books sell millions of copies and they speak in sold out venues all over the world.
Again, their skills aren't the main differentiator, it's their brand that opens these opportunities for them.
They don't just want any psychology professor to give a talk, they want Jordan Peterson.
They don't just want any digital agency owner to give a talk, they want Gary Vaynerchuck.
You don't have to (or probably want to) become as famous as these last two, but even on a much smaller scale, you'll have more opportunities available to you when you know 10 people in your industry than none.
Put yourself out there.
Show off your skills. Meet new people. Build a brand.
I will be doing the same in 2020.