As a business we’ve right-click-synonymed until our fingers almost fell off to find different words from ‘specialist’ to use, but ‘maven’ and ‘whiz’ just don’t carry the same weight. So until we come up with a better word, take my way of getting to be the go-to guy as you will.
The below steps are by no means the only way to specialise in your area. It is however the way I’ve managed to specialise in mine:
1. Take more than business into account when finding your niche
If you’re committed to this career and making a name for yourself, then pick an area you’re actually going to be happy spending the majority of your days talking about. I am the first to put my hand up and say that I don’t relate, on a personal level, to the majority of digital marketing professionals. I also don’t particularly relate that well to the general population of .NET developers.
How do you pick it? Listen to yourself. Do you find conversations about one area easier to navigate? Do you pick up some technical terms faster than others? Then follow those signs.
2. Map out the market
Before you can do anything interesting, you need to know who’s using what, where, and for how long. Literally map out the market. Write lists of companies and what their team structure looks like, what technology have they used and for how long before moving on to what they’re on now. Who works there, in what positions, where did they come from and where are they going? Be at meet ups. Be at meet ups. Be at meet ups.
Don’t get me wrong, don’t be rude. Be consistent. If you really want to find out what particular framework a team is using in an area. Call them. Email them. Show up and ask. You and you alone are responsible for the getting the information that you need. No one is going to give it you. Be at meet ups.
The best way for people to take you seriously? Know what you’re talking about. Follow the big dogs in your area on LinkedIn and actually click through to the blogs they’re sharing.
These people have dedicated their lives to a particular coding language, the least you can do when representing the next move in their career is show a vested interest in what’s going on.
Technical terms, if you’re not a technical person, all tend to congregate into one massive grey cloud in a conversation. So listen to them instead of letting them wash over you. The word might not make sense now, but write it down in a note on your phone and google it later. Sooner rather than later that cloud of grey will split up into smaller and smaller pieces until suddenly, you can see.
Ask questions. Don’t be afraid that asking a question is going to make you look like a fool. You’ll look like a bigger one two weeks down the track talking to a client when they realise you’ve faked your way through two weeks worth of communication.
Ask your candidates, ask reddit, ask github.
Like being the tourist in Paris, the biggest favour you can do for yourself is trying to speak a little French. If you show that you’re willing to come to the table in a new situation, more often than not who you’re talking to will break out in fluent English.
I’m the first one to say that I am not technical, I can’t code in PHP but I do know what companies are using, and what’s new in the space.
7. Be prepared to sacrifice
I turn down offers of roles that aren’t in my area because I know that I wouldn’t be able to do the placement justice. Be prepared to turn down roles that aren’t your specialisation for the greater good.
8. Check yourself
You’re not a genius. You don’t know everything. If you’re the first one to admit that, it can’t ever come back to bite you. Being the go-to guy doesn’t mean being the know-it-all, it means being the most dependable source of insight into a market.