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Field Notes: Impact is Greater Than Visibility

By Jeff Adelman

As you progress in your career as a software engineer, one piece of advice you may hear, from coworkers, friends, or a manager, is that you need to be more “visible.” What do these well-meaning people have in mind when they tell you to increase your visibility?

They mean that your manager’s manager should know your name. And possibly her manager as well. They mean that you should not be afraid to speak up in meetings and in email threads involving senior management — or even just your own team.

But, in my opinion, being “visible” has one glaring issue: it’s focused on you. The goal of being visible is to be seen. And the goal of being seen is to be recognized and compensated and/or promoted.

While a goal like this may help propel you forward in your career, it won’t have the lasting results you should really be looking for. The only way to achieve these types of results is to strive for another goal: impact.

What is Impact?

Visibility is mentioning, in a meeting, an issue or a bug you’ve found in the code.

Impact is mentioning that bug while also presenting the idea you had or the library you researched that can solve it.

Visibility is speaking up when your manager’s manager asks for feedback on how the company’s deployment pipeline is working.

Impact is researching a new technology that could help improve the pipeline and offering to present your ideas in the meeting before anyone asks.

Striving for impact may cause you to walk a fine line between actual impactfulness and insistence, but as long as you make suggestions — not expecting that all of your solutions will be implemented — and approach every problem you’re tackling with humility, thinking first of the team and the users and what you can do to make everyone’s lives better, your journey into impactfulness will undoubtedly be a successful one. And it will lead not only to those same goals of compensation and promotion, but to long-lasting transferable skills that make you a great contributor to any team you join and give you the satisfaction of knowing that you brought something tangible and valuable to your work — something that only you could have provided.

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