We confuse visibility with competency

Perhaps there is a bit of a remote hiring boom at the moment, but I have noticed a massive uptick in the amount of solicitations from people wanting to "have a conversation" about hiring me in 2021. Almost always, people find their way to my inbox because they remember me from Twitter. I have a modest 16K+ following after all. I used to have more.

The reason I have that many followers is that I spent several years tweeting regularly. Sure, I've also written some coding articles, and created open source code via CodePens, and spoken at a few conferences. But most of my follower growth results from tweeting and interacting with other tweets.

Most people make this mistake, with engineers and developers on Twitter, where they assume the number of followers they have must correlate with how good of an engineer they are. When the only thing a sizeable Twitter following actually shows is how good they are at writing tweets. I would even argue that the more time you spend on Twitter, the less effective you probably are as an engineer.

This has certainly been the case in my personal experience. In 2016, I read Cal Newport's Deep Work and had to face the fact that spending time on Twitter was seriously effecting my ability to produce good work. At that time I would often work for 20-30 minutes, check Twitter, work, check Twitter, repeat. You don't get much serious thinking done when you can focus on something for 25 minutes max before you're off riding the dopamine rollercoaster again.

I increased the time between social media checks while working, and then in 2020 I gave Twitter up all together. The quality of my work went up while the time I needed to spend on work went down, meaning I could get in, get it done, and spend more time on other things that are important to me.

Paradoxically, the less I use Twitter, the better I am at my day job, but also the less likely I am to get approached with opportunities to change my day job. So the thing that makes me a more desirable candidate is the thing that makes me less likely to be a candidate in the first place.

Please note, I'm not saying that it isn't possible to be a great engineer and also have a large following on Twitter. Such people definitely exist, and I'm sure they successfully straddle both because they have better boundaries around their Twitter usage than I ever did. But you can't convince me that someone who is checking Twitter all day long is producing quality work. I'm not buying it.

And yet, if someone new to Engineering asked me how to fast-track their career via job-hopping up the ladder, especially in the world of startups, I would suggest they get to tweeting. I would love to say that the most effective thing you could do is work on your skills, and the community will reward your hard work with new opportunities. But that would be dishonest, as unfortunately, it’s not how the world works.

Comments powered by Talkyard.

If you'd like to connect, feel free send an email to contact at rachsmith dot com.

Rach Smith © 2021