Perhaps one of the least talked about aspects of building a product, team, or company, is the network of advisory relationships that leaders must build in order to be successful themselves. These relationships can start before a leader even considers their own project, team, or company, and the personal brand that you’ve built since probably the High School era can come into play with how those relationships play out.
I make no effort in hiding the fact that, in my younger days, I was a jackass online. I got into public arguments over trivial crap, made blatantly inappropriate comments, joked about things that were extremely off-color. I don’t necessarily regret this, but there were certain things I was careful about. When I was snarky or sarcastic, I at least aimed my comments at an audience who would understand my sarcasm (mostly friends). The same with my weird sense of humor. At the time, forums like LiveJournal didn’t have the tight privacy controls that Facebook currently has, so, taken out of context, I’m sure many of my online comments would cast me in a poor light. I’ll own up that.
Still, I was careful to always treat hard working people with respect, whether they were leaders or individual contributors. Even when I disagreed with peers or leaders, I made sure to note that it was their ideas that I had problems with, not them as people. When I committed to a task, I did my best to always complete that task to the best of my ability, and often this mean stretching my abilities. I didn’t alway succeed, but when I fell short, I owned up to it, and found a path out. When I did succeed, I shared the win with everyone who contributed. I behaved ethically at all times, always looking out for the best interest of my employers and my teams.
These actions have, over nearly two decades, paid dividends. I have advisors who are senior executives at major tech corporations, I have peers and other game leaders who take me seriously and answer my emails/phone calls, I have multiple high net-worth individuals and groups who talk to me about investing in my ventures, and I have a wide swath of people who are eager to work for or with me again. I’ve done pretty well at managing my personal brand, and a great book on this topic is Career Warfare, which I recommend you pick up and read immediately.
I mention this not to brag, but because too often I see many people walking down the wrong path. This can be as simple as constantly posting questions in online forums, questions to which the answers are easily available via Google. This sets up a personal brand associated with laziness at best and opportunism at worst. I have seen people who know they have deficiencies in their writing style or code polish, but instead of acknowledging it and coming up with a plan for improvement, they shrug and say “what can I do?” You can discuss a path to fixing it, that’s what! I have heard (and luckily not seen firsthand) the tales of embezzlers and frauds who, once discovered, were never able to work in their industry again, nor in their city in any capacity, because of their reputation. All of these are easily prevented.
Yes, how you act will follow you around. Yes, the game development community is small and people will know your name. Software development is not quite as small, but word still gets around. There are no quick paths to success, and while brand management can be overdone to the point of appearing fake, keep in mind that what you do and how you act in your early attempts will impact the opportunities that open up to you later. It’s not necessary to win every online argument, nor is being the “hero” for every team win indicative of your personal success; it may come across as hogging the spotlight. Understand how you are perceived by others, demonstrate a consistent value add, show passion and enthusiasm for your work, and soon enough, you will be surprised at the opportunities that present themselves to you.
Don’t close the door on possibility, do things that open doors up ahead of you. It’s best to be able to take your pick of multiple opportunities than to have to follow the only path available.