Your Vapor Trail

The trail of content that defines your Digital Presence.

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Vapor Trail Jet Contrails

Once you have your narrative figured out, it's time to put it to use!

Your narrative isn't just the active story you tell others at meetup events, it's also the passive impression you leave through your Digital Presence as well. Your Digital Presence is everything that someone will find when they Google you... it is your "Online Self".

This Digital Presence is created by others for you (remember that soccer team you joined 10 years ago who posted their team picture online?) and also by any content you have generated yourself. The key is that, while you don't have control over everything someone is going to find when they do Google you, you can certainly do a lot to influence it by increasing the size of your "Vapor Trail" across the Internet.

The idea of a Vapor Trail comes from the puffy white contrails left behind when a plane flies through the air. In this case, it means any piece of content that you create on the web and which can be tied back to yourself. This content is incredibly important because it allows you to influence what someone sees when they look for you online.

The connection to your Personal Narrative is hopefully becoming clear -- you want someone who Googles you and finds your digital presence to absorb the Personal Narrative you have intentionally chosen. You do this by creating a strong Vapor Trail of content which does exactly this.

We'll show you how.

Your Current Digital Presence

The first step is to figure out what your digital presence currently is.

Google yourself in an incognito window (to avoid Google's smart algorithm). What comes up? Whoever is looking to hire you will certainly Google you. Do the things that come up fit into the "ideal developer" profile or your personal narrative? We doubt it, and that's okay at the moment.

What if you can't find yourself at all? What if you don't want to find yourself at all? Maybe you are shy and careful about what you put online.

Despite your natural inclinations to hide from the Internet, there is no question about it -- you need a web presence.

Frankly, it's strange for someone to be a web developer but not exist on the web.

Even if your presence is minimal, you need one. You need a voice on the web somewhere to tell your narrative or you will set off red flags with anyone who searches for you. To do this, you will need to be comfortable with being a modern human being and providing some way for random people to learn about you and even contact you on the Internet.

If you simply aren't comfortable with this, just be aware of the potential cost to your job search.

Building your Vapor Trail

Now that you know what your current Digital Presence looks like, let's bring it into alignment with your Personal Narrative by creating an effective Vapor Trail.

Your Vapor Trail consists of all the content you have produced on the web. Some of this is static and the rest will be dynamic and ongoing. The static content includes:

  1. Your personal website
  2. Your LinkedIn profile
  3. Profiles on social media and other sites like Meetup and Github

This content is important to give people a snapshot of who you are and what you are interested in.

The dynamic content includes:

  1. Your personal blog
  2. Any posts you make on social media
  3. Any projects or commits you make on your Github.

This content is important both to show searchers that you are indeed an active person and to provide valuable insight into what you actually do with your time.

Both static sites/profiles and dynamic content are important to have.

Setting Up Your Static Content

The best places to manage your web presence from are those which let you completely control your message. That way, when someone stumbles upon your profiles, the first thing they see displays your narrative.

Far and away your best option is to set up a personal website. This gives you 100% control over your message, a showcase for your portfolio and provides searchers a valuable way to get in touch with you.

In addition to a personal site, you should also have public accounts set up on:

  1. Github. As a developer, your most important online persona (aside from a personal website and/or blog) is your Github profile. Github is how employers and developers will see which projects you've created and how often you've made open source contributions. Keep that in mind as you start building projects -- make sure your Github projects have descriptive README files that explain what they are and links to their deployed form so other people can discover your awesome work. Don't be shy about your early work either; it can form the base of a compelling growth curve.
  2. LinkedIn. This has become a must-have profile because it is essentially your digital resume. Don't worry if you don't have any connections yet -- you've got to start somewhere.

There are a number of other useful sites which you should sign up for even if you don't plan on being terribly active. This is because they will show up in Google results and therefore give you a wider vapor trail. You can use them to link back to your personal site and to tell your personal narrative in multiple places.

These sites include:

  • Twitter. People will often read your last ~25 tweets when researching you.
  • Quora. This is especially useful if you have answered or asked some interesting questions
  • Make sure to join interesting local tech groups.
  • Facebook. This isn't as important as the others and it may or may not be public. If you do have a Facebook account, view it from an anonymous browser so you can see exactly what is being shown publicly and make sure it's stuff you actually want employers to see!

Start building these sites and profiles now! You shouldn't wait until you're trying to get hired or shopping your idea around to start doing this. An online presence takes time to build and Google's algorithm takes months to sweep up everything about you into the results.

Building the Dynamic Content

Your dynamic content is often the most useful to a potential employer. Think back to the idea of "being a line not just a point". If someone finds a bunch of static profiles of you, they have just a single overall snapshot of who you are. If they instead find a trail of content you have produced over the past several weeks, months and years, they will have a much clearer sense of who you are and what your curve looks like.

This is one area where you will need to invest energy over time. You don't necessarily need to create a lot of content, but you should produce enough to make yourself seem reasonably active and alive.

This dynamic content includes (but is not limited to):

  1. Blog posts. Your blog is by far the most useful place to get yourself out there because you control the message 100% and can write long-form posts on deep technical content which showcases your depth of thinking.
  2. Github commits. This may seem obvious, but keep committing regularly if you can, especially to public-facing projects which will show up on your public activity feed. This gives searchers a sense of how active you are in development.
  3. Tweets, Facebook posts, LinkedIn posts, Quora questions, etc. All of these produce ongoing content for you, and you should use at least one of them to periodically demonstrate that you are still alive and thinking.

The key here is to always have some relatively recent content that you have produced and which aligns with your personal narrative. Taken in whole, your static sites and dynamic content should give people a crystal clear idea of who you are and why you would make a great hire.

If you have done this exceptionally well, potential employers will find this content naturally (for instance if you wrote a helpful blog post) and may reach out to you directly for it.

In upcoming lessons, we'll dig deeper into how you can take advantage of some of these platforms to hack the system.

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