1. Add Value
Success follows value.
Ensure that the work you do adds value to the business and other people.
2. Write Well
When writing any document that’s read by other people (even if it’s just a README), always use proper grammar and style. Read Grammatically Correct if you need to learn grammar, and read It was the best of sentences, it was the worst of sentences if you need to learn style.
Typically, no one will say (or perhaps even notice) when your writing is correct because it’s presumed that professionals write professionally. But others will notice poor grammar and style because it’s tedious to read—you’re making them do extra work to understand your words.
Being known or associated with poor writing won’t hurt your career, but it certainly won’t help it either. On the other hand, if you’re known for impeccable writing, that will help your career because clear writing adds value, and success follows value.
Avoid jargon, slang, idioms, and “fancy” writing because it’s practically guaranteed that English is not the native language of many readers. Also avoid these because, in tech specifically, they don’t add technical clarity or value.
Every detail matters. Don’t use a punctuation mark unless you’re reasonable sure that both grammatically and stylistically correct. Don’t make obvious or numerous spelling mistakes. Don’t leave wordy, unclear sentences: fix them. The goal isn’t perfection—every document will have little flaws—the goal is simply no obvious mistakes.
Like many things, good writing encourages good writing—it helps maintain a high standard. When code, for example, becomes riddled with poorly written docs and comments, it certainly will not encourage other engineers to write properly. It’s more likely to give other engineers an excuse to write poorly, too.
3. Hype Yourself
In the workplace, if you don’t believe in yourself and your work, why should anyone else? Bragging, excessive pride, and self-promotion are typically rude, frowned upon. But self-evaluations and promos are the one time I suggest and encourage you to do exactly that: brag, be proud, and most definitely be a self-promoter. Never lie or overstate the facts for self-evaluations, promos, resumes, and job interviews, but make yourself and your accomplishments shine—be your biggest fan.
Sometimes good managers will see past some self-doubt and believe in an engineer before they’re self-confident, but don’t count on that. Managers are looking out for their careers, too, so they tend to gravitate towards self-confident people because they seem like a safer bet (of course, sometimes people are “all show”, just talk and no real performance).
4. Step Up
Volunteer for work and projects that no one else is eager to do. (But also stand up for yourself: do not allow yourself to be the engineer on whom all “shit work” is dumped.) This is also known as “(taking the) initiative”, being a “go-getter”, and “(taking) ownership”. Those might be cliché, but they’re nevertheless important because “actions speak louder than words”. Ultimately, when all is said and done, businesses look to and reward people who get work done.
5. Don’t Fail…
Don’t fail if you break the rules. Judiciously breaking the rules is sometimes good and necessary to make exceptionally fast or large progress. The reward and the risk are also exceptional: succeed and you’re a hero; but fail and you lose significant engineering credibility. That won’t end your career, but rebuilding engineering credibility is difficult and time-consuming. If you realize early that you’ll fail, own it and get ahead of it—let your manager know.