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You Are What You Contribute

When you look at a successful person, what do you see? Do you simply see the string of events which have marked them out from their peers? Is there a linear progression that you can define, or is there something more?

Bring the same questions closer to your own world. Who do you admire? What piques your interest in them? Is it their technical skill? Is it their knowledge? Is it their seemingly effortless ability to bring projects in, on time and budget?

Perhaps it is a combination of all these things. But another question remains – HOW did you come to know of this person’s work? How did were you able to come to understand their position in your profession? My guess is that it comes down to one thing – contribution. It is through your contribution to your profession and to your community that you become “known” for something. You become known for doing, for creating and for participating.

This is important in our ever-increasingly connected world. Our social and professional artefacts are now easily spotted online. We receive recommendations on LinkedIn, collaborate on open source or community projects, share our knowledge on forums and provide feedback on content all over the web. It is easy to think that this is all unconnected. But our identities (in all their forms) are more recognisable and discoverable than ever before.

This has impacts on our careers, reputations and future working and professional opportunities. After all, what happens when a potential employer “Googles you”? What happens when a new colleague searches for “your name” online? What is the story that they will find?

This interesting experiment from the Sociable Media Group at the MIT Media Lab, reaches out to the web and brings back all the information it can find on “you”. It shows uncanny insight but also “inadvertent errors” related to the inability to differentiate between people with the same name. For example, this is one of the screens that is shown when searching on my name.

It may not be 100% accurate, but gives you some idea of the story that your digital footprint tells. But clearly, the more you contribute online, the more “you” feeds into these online stories. And in the long run, that’s only going to help your career.

Update: The link to the persona builder is here.


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  • As someone who reviews CVs and interviews people – the first thing I do is to search SCN and google for them.  If you are someone who has contributed and your contribution helps to verify that you are knowledgeable, then I am much more likely to choose that person than the one who there is no information on at all.  Of course if you are someone who puts poor replies in your contributions.. it does count against you.
  • I agree that what you say is the reality.  The implication is that asking questions or not giving a fully correct response reveals a lack of knowledge and so can be a negative for your career.  Is that what we want SDN to be?
    • Thanks, Jim. The willingness to ask questions is important in any professional role. It shows your willingness to seek help when it is required – so I don’t see it as a negative in any way – quite the opposite – it shows that you are willing to take the responsibility for solving a problem.
      • Asking questions is a good sign to me when I search for people.  As Gavin ha said it shoes that they do search and post questions on SCN to resolve issues.  However it is the quality of the questions and answers that is also important.  e.g. if someone is saying they have 3 years experience and you see a question they posted this year – your suspicions are aroused.  If you see their questions getting more complex over time then that is a good sign.  I think it is also important that if someone asks questions they should answer them too.  So if someone only asks questions, would I really want to employ them as they obviously happily take without giving back?
  • The website which houses this experiment is called Personas and to answer your question, I found that the program highlighted online, education and social as my  dominants.  Results were skewed by the fact that a different Marilyn Pratt is an opera singer so Music was heavily featured in the graphic as well.  What is fasinating about this “installation/art experiment” is the running commentary about how others see you or describe you (or you describe yourself which can also skew results).   One thing I found puzzling was that sports figured in almost all my colleagues and my profile.  Maybe community evangelism is a competitive sport?  Heard a rumor that Mark Finnern thinks a little that way.
    • Yes, I think there is another Gavin Heaton who plays Football in the UK. That would account for the sports element (it certainly isn’t down to me) in my profile.