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What’s In It For Me?

Want to move forward in your career?

Want to be upwardly mobile in the software development ecosystem?

What to know one of the most effective ways to climb the career ladder?

Help someone else out with their career.

This is not intuitive. Since, on most days, I’m the only one inside my head, it’s natural for me to focus on myself and do what’s best for me.

The paradox is that often, many times–ok, almost always, what’s best for me is to take the spotlight off of my own funky bad self and train it on those around me, especially people that I can help in some way. Particularly in the software biz, where teams are highly valued and culture-fit is of primary importance, it’s imperative that we build into one another.

There is an infinite number of ways we can help other developers learn and grow. Speak at meetups, user groups, and conferences. Conduct hackathons and katas. Start a book club and read technical books together. Tutor college and high-school students. Write a blog. Create videos. You can probably think of other ways.

The truth is, finding ways to help people is not the issue. The issue is truly understanding that as you build into others, your career benefits as well. In fact, it’s one of the most effective things you can do as part of your career trajectory. As motivational maven Zig Ziglar put it, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”

So if you care about your career, start caring about others as well.

What’s In It For Me?

I’m not quite there, Ken. Sounds like a mess of self-help mumbo-jumbo to me.

Fair enough. I said earlier it’s not intuitive. So here are some thoughts on how we help our own careers as we build into others.

  • Helping others broadens your perspective. When we work with others for the express purpose of helping them learn and improve, we quickly realize that their education, background, and experience are radically different from ours. We are exposed to different ways of thinking. This broadens our perspective and many times challenges us in ways we don’t, and in fact can’t, anticipate. This often exposes areas of weakness that had hitherto escaped our notice.
  • Helping others deepens your understanding. Helping other learn helps us learn. It is proverbial that if you really want to learn something, teach it to someone else. When we explain something to another person, our knowledge and skill gaps are painfully exposed, driving us to learn more and develop our understanding.
  • Helping others increases your value. Building into others increases your value to your employer and to potential employers. As you build into others, you will naturally become more knowledgeable and technically competent. You will also develop the soft skills that employers covet in their teams.
  • Helping others strengthens your network.We strengthen our network, in both breadth and depth, when we help others. The more developers we know and help, the greater the chance we will be mentoring a future colleague. Or maybe the next Bill Gates. And if the next Bill Gates ever thinks back on me, I want them to be kind, generous thoughts.
  • Helping others is its own reward. It just feels good. Even if there were no other benefits to serving the community, we would still be obligated to help one another. It’s the right thing to do. And we feel an inexplicable joy when we help someone, and that is reward enough. In fact, if it’s not enough, we’re not really helping them; we’re using them.

Guarding the Guild

We are members of a profession. We are also members of a guild. Guilds are associations of trades people organized to establish standards of excellent work and help their members deliver work that meets these standards. While not a formal organization, good developers recognize that it benefits everyone—stakeholders, manager, techies, society in general—when developers follow good practice and deliver great systems.

This is another powerful reason to build into one another. We need to guard the guild. Just as an army drill instructor looks on recruits as those with whom he or she may have to depend on in a firefight, so we need to prepare our fellow developers for the battle. We don’t know with whom we will someday share a foxhole.

So do yourself a favor. Forget about your career once in a while and help someone else with theirs.

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