Even with a background in film and theater production, there’s nothing overly dramatic about Ellen Shapiro’s rise as a voice for developers around the world. Rather, it’s been a steady dose of self-expression that’s given the developer the ability to seamlessly navigate leading engineering panels on Android and iOS development to sharing views on politics and pictures of her cats, George Michael and Hank, all with ease.
“The thing that was most valuable in theater and film production was being able to communicate with people with a lot of different communication styles,” says Ellen, currently an iOS Engineer at Pixite. “Learning how to communicate well with different people on different levels and with wildly different communication styles became (and is) really important.”
Across a wide-ranging conversation, we picked Ellen’s brain on balancing the personal and professional, why creating a “brand” has never been on her radar, and considering communication every step of the way.
Removing the idea of “personal brand” from the equation
Ellen’s background gave her a perspective that many others are now connecting across the dev world — when dealing in the intangible every day, building something real becomes all the more important.
“One of the things that is interesting is that I know a lot of people talk about their day job and have something (online) related to either their day job or a side app I do for money or shits and giggles…I see this strong correlation between people who have coded for the past three to five years and wanting to do things that are more hands on, woodworking, 3D printing, knitting, etc. People get tired of making digital stuff that disappears. The table you built is done, but code is never done.”
I don’t think about it as creating my personal brand. When I find something cool, I never shut up about it. I really love talking about these things I’ve learned about.
All is to say that Ellen (who goes by “DesignatedNerd” across platforms) has enough self-awareness to know a digital presence isn’t for everyone, but that’s never been the goal in the first place.
“I don’t think about it as creating my personal brand. When I find something cool, I never shut up about it. I really love talking about these things I’ve learned about. In some social networks, there’s more of a convention to have my sports account, professional account, etc.,” she says.
Finding a voice in a crowded dev, content creator space
Having an early social media presence has served Ellen well over the years, particularly as tech employment has suffered in recent months.
“I’d taken some time off last year, and when I said I was looking for a new job it gave me ins at a few places,” she says. “And when I got laid off, I was able to make something cool happen. That’s the part that’s been good for me and I certainly attribute that to social media.”
The reason anyone listens to me on social media is that I know what I’m talking about, but I’m also not flip about something. That combination of being someone who people feel like they can learn from, but also talk to on social media.
For Ellen, that equity has been built over time through an uncanny ability to unpack complex topics that senior engineers know well, combined with a tone that isn’t dismissive of those that earlier in their careers and do not.
“The reason anyone listens to me on social media is that I know what I’m talking about, but I’m also not flip about something. That combination of being someone who people feel like they can learn from, but also talk to on social media.
“I’m trying to start from a place of respect. When I started programming, I saw there were older programmers who hoard knowledge because or say ‘how on earth do you not know that?’ There’s so much to know! I’ve always said there’s no stupid question, just an asshole answer.”
Tips for others trying to find their voice amidst the “subject matter expert” noise
Looking across platforms, many self-proclaimed subject “experts” have clogged social media feeds, making it difficult to find helpful information. If standing out for the right reasons doesn’t quite come naturally it’s understandable, Ellen says, although much of it comes down to the methods through which you most communicate.
Here, Ellen shares her thoughts on bringing more authenticity (and by extension, thankful recipients of that information) to your content.
1. Determine the type of communication that comes naturally to you
“There’s some people who like super detailed blog posts, some people who like creating social media posts, or some people who like doing talks,” she says.
2. Figure out what works best for you
“It requires lots of trial and error. There’s going to be some stuff you try and realize it’s a lot of fun. Figure out what ways you enjoy communicating with people and go from there,” Ellen says.
3. Balance self-promotion with utility
“I always have to look at self promotion as, ‘I think other people will find this useful, not just for my own edification.’ Don’t be too obnoxious about re-posting the same article a bunch of times — tell people you wrote something cool and just automate it from there.”