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Get your work recognized: write a brag document (jvns.ca)
347 points by yesenadam 14 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 78 comments

For whatever reasons, probably because I don’t say ‘no’ or I’m too arrogant to say ‘I don’t know’, I’m one of those people who always tries to help.

I don’t keep a brag document but I do keep a folder called People where there are folders for the people I’ve helped and subfolders for each problem they’ve come to me with. On one hand it’s useful because I can recycle the code but it also helps track how I’ve spent my time. I also tried to keep a diary but this was less successful.

I learned the hard way that being helpful is not always recognised, in fact I’ve had one manager openly hostile to the idea even if that meant the project would fail, it annoyed the hell out of me. (This manager came back from his MBA promoting a Whiplash approach to management and told us to actively ‘destroy’ the other teams in our company so there you go.) This was part of the reason I moved back to academia, now my job is to help young engineers be the best they can.

Could you elaborate on how you planned and executed the transition to academia? Your profile mentions that you lecture in fluid mechanics. Very curious about what skills/knowledge you could take from your engineering experience to your teaching.

I’m an aeronautical engineer with a PhD in fluid mechanics, there’s not too much else to say on the transition to academia TBH.

Regarding teaching, my exhaustion with an over dependence on PowerPoint for every aspect of communication in industry has me rebuilding an introductory fluid mechanics course in Jupyter with high quality visuals (images and videos) illustrating important concepts along side simple but useful code examples.

Is any part of that online in anyway? I just started as a prof and I am looking to do as well at teaching as I can.

It will all be available on github by the end of August. I’ll post it up here on HN for the craic.

The challenge is that many of the students really don’t have the first clue how to really use a computer so getting them to install Python, Scipy and Jupyter is a big ask. They’ve barely scratched the surface with Matlab, and I’ve been told that many of them struggle to understand a desktop file system.

Github will render the notebooks and they can copy the URL to Google colab should they wish to interact with the code. And of course there are detailed instructions for installing the required tools (and I’m keeping them to a minimum) on Windows/Mac/Linux for those who have an interest.

The notebooks will also be available as embedded HTML so all the videos, images and interactive 3D models will just work on whatever device they have.

The idea is to present half the course in this new way and the remainder in the old way (PowerPoint with redacted equations the students spend their time carefully copying down and not paying real attention to the discussion). After the first year I’ll collate the exam results and student feedback and publish a paper in some teaching and learning journal to share my findings. Hopefully the response is positive, I’ve put a lot of work into replacing a lot of terse and often abstract PowerPoint with engaging and detailed content, in particular I’m really proud of some of the Blender animations I’ve made using FLIP fluids to illustrate key concepts such as viscosity and surface tension.

Thanks. Sounds interesting. I will keep an eye out.

That sounds really neat! Good luck!

Consider including screenshots!

A previous job had "monthly" ad hoc desk demos to show off whatever we were working on to our tech lead. Since I can barely remember what I did yesterday if my life depended on it, this became a monthly "crawl p4 history and summarize for myself to summarize for others" routine.

And of course, it's hard to demo when you've just broken your local checkout. Or touched a common header and need an hour to finish recompiling the entire codebase. And waiting around all day being conservative with my changes - or multiple days, in the event of delays or rescheduling - feels like wasted time.

Slap some screenshots, gifs, or video on an internal wiki and bam - even if you can't demo in realtime because you broke something or are compiling, you can still demo. And now you can share it with coworkers who want to build upon your work, use your tools, etc. as a very easy way to see exactly where you've hidden the new feature in whatever bespoke thing you're doing!

Where do you work / what do you that you are using p4?

Video games? Or just a large enterprise org?

Pretty sure it is videogames. Last bastion of P4, kind of like dinosaurs.

Yep, videogames.

"This blog post isn’t just about being promoted or getting raises though. The ideas here have actually been more useful to me to help me reflect on themes in my work, what’s important to me, what I’m learning, and what I’d like to be doing differently."

I just went through and created a brag document for myself. While I'm not sure I'd show it to my manager, it certainly helped my work get recognized by me. There are a lot of days where I feel I haven't gotten a lot done, and those tend to overshadow the days I feel productive. Looking back on the past seven months, I was actually shocked to see how much I've accomplished. I'm going to try and keep up with this on a monthly basis, because at the very least it gave my mental health and confidence a little boost.

Your manager wants to see this! Do you know what happens if you look good? Your manager gets to look good too. It is in their interest for you to be a stellar employee.

I've been doing something like this for the past year or so, I just have a Google doc called "Workflow". If I encounter an error or problem I've never seen before, I write the error down, and then the solution (with links if appropriate). Bold the ones I never solved or had to work around. Put eureaka moments in italics (oh THATS how it works!?). It helped me a lot because I would stumble around before that remembering I had this same error or problem a few weeks or months before, but could not remember how I solved it. I'm much more productive and it's cool seeing a list of all the things I've solved. Also, when multiple days go by without and entry you feel really really good.

I do this on my blog. That way everyone benefits.

With the type of things I put into my work journal I think everyone benefits by me keeping it private!

I had heard similar advice before, so when I started a new job this past spring, I decided to try it out for myself. As I go through the day, I write down what I’ve accomplished. I closed out a ticket, helped someone fix a bug, went to a meeting, etc.

I pretty quickly noticed two things. First, I personally find this really motivating. For no one other than myself, I want to have a satisfying list at the end of the day. Second, neither I nor my boss are going to find this level of detail useful in a year. You need some way of aggregating (as the article mentions) “the big picture” over time. I’ve started using an app to help hierarchically aggregate these notes per time period, and it’s super useful.

Unfortunately, it’s not in a shareable state yet, but maybe one day. :)


>neither I nor my boss are going to find this level of detail useful in a year.

Actually, if you include copious screenshots, you might find it useful forever! You could just change your text, to make your screenshots talk about whatever you wanted to show. Maybe a UX flow observation or suggested change. Maybe you want to show a UI inconsistency. Or you want to showcase a theme change between two major versions or when changing some front-end component. Regardless of why you originally prepared the screenshots, a picture says a thousand words.

If you want to make your writing perennial, try adding screenshots!

If nothing else it will have historical importance.

Multiple good points here! I should have said “useful in a year without context.” or something similar. The daily write-ups will always be directly available from the aggregated summaries. But pictures are another great way of providing context! Maybe it’s because I’m more of a backend person, but I haven’t felt a pressing need to add screenshots at work yet. All of the scenarios you suggested though make it sound like a great idea. Thanks!

What isn't in a shareable state, the app or your notes?

Both, I suppose. The app is far enough along that I’m using it myself (for work and the project), but it’s still messy and I’m iterating on it. An “Export data” is on my TODO, but not done yet, so the notes are currently trapped.

I've been doing this at work for the last 4-5 years, and it's been an incredibly valuable exercise. In my case, it's just a simple spreadsheet called "Things Done".

I too have trouble saying "no" when someone asks me to help out, and I decided to keep track of all the things I do that I think add value, but more importantly (along some dimensions), things that the people asking me to help value. I started doing this after I realised that there's lots of stuff that I take for granted, but that other people find incredibly useful because they're simply unfamiliar with the domain or technology in question.

I do have the benefit of some relatively trusted senior leadership though, who help me to summarise and focus this list towards the end of the year so that I don't end up emphasising the wrong things as part of my year-end summary.

Linden Lab had (still has?) a similar system called “The Love Machine”. Instead of noting what you did, your peers would recognize you by “sending love”. There were several ways to do that. One was through IRC where everyone would hang out when I was there (pre-Slack). You could tell the LoveBot, “/love username for fixing that annoying bug” and it would get recorded.

Every quarter, bonuses were paid based on how much love you got. It wasn’t much on average if I recall but it was a nice addition to the recognition.

That just seems awful. Popular people would get all bonuses. If something was done by someone popular, everyone will be quick to send love to that person. Not so much for shy, always behind his desk guy. Which in turn would make shy person more frustrated that no one is recognizing his work. Where frustration could in the end spiral out of control and make good person, but maybe not popular to be miserable.

Yep. In software its common for devs that add features to get all the praise while bug fixes get no love.

There's a great variant of this if you work remote.

I send my manager a list of all the things I worked on each day, usually 5-10 items with no expectation of reply or action. Usually takes me no more than 3-4 minutes to write.

This gives him visibility into my day and keeps him in the loop without the overhead of scheduling a daily sync or 1:1. You can also use them as input into a brag doc or the like as well.

A simple method for recording achievements is to email yourself.

You can forward a "Thank you!" note from a customer, a "Well done!" from a manager or email yourself if you do something you are particularly proud of.

My company runs twice-yearly performance reviews. In the quarters where we don't run them, I personally run with my team quarterlies that match well with this concept. "What have you done in the last 3 months" and "What are you most proud of in the last 3-6 months" are probably the most important questions on the list.

This also helps tailor understanding for what the engineers are keen on doing / accomplishing.

Seems like a great idea for almost any field or work, not just programming-related. And even for outside work, just life generally, for nobody but yourself to read (although there's common ground with a CV)--it's not easy to remember everything you achieved last year, or this year even. Would be nice to see that on one page (or a few pages). I'm going to try it.

As a homeowner with what seems to be an ever-growing list of projects, I noticed that I would unceremoniously delete them when complete. The projects themselves quickly become part of the background of life, so I realized this deletion was depriving me of the ability to appreciate just how much I do accomplish.

Now I’ve started moving them to a “done” list, with a date and photos. It’s not a panacea, but it feels really good and helps build motivation when I review that list and watch it grow.

I might also suggest putting up pictures somewhere that you can use as a conversation piece. I know I like hearing people talk about their DIY projects.

I think a valid question to ask yourself is: Why do you want to be recognized?

I believe recognition/praise/rewards/etc are not conducive to lasting satisfaction. They feel good for a while, but wear off quickly. OTOH, choosing not to pursue these things is very liberating, and helps you detach your satisfaction from things outside your control.

Did you read the article? This is pretty explicitly about performance reviews at your job, either manager or peer based. Most people would want to be recognized so that they can keep their job and possibly get a raise. Maybe you float above us mere mortals and are not victim to such petty things as job stability and wages to support your family. For the rest of us this kind of practical advice could be very helpful.

Yes I read the article.

It depends on what you want. Satisfaction and peace of mind, or an endless chase for the next reward/recognition/promotion/raise/etc? If the latter, than it’s very important to be effective at getting your work recognized. But if the former, why bother?

Most people would bother with this because they are not in the position to quit a $500k/year job and brag about it everywhere. Most people don't subscribe to existential nihilism and need to pay their bills so they can feed their children and afford better living conditions. Surely this career advice applies to them as much as to elitist coastal software engineers. In all the spare time you have not chasing meaningless and temporary satisfaction, maybe try developing some humility and empathy.

Obviously money/status matters a lot, but only up to a certain point. Are you able to feed your children right now? Are you paying your bills? If yes, how does getting a raise help with that? You can’t feed your children twice. My point is that we sometimes keep chasing these external rewards without knowing how much is enough. It’s hard to find lasting satisfaction when nothing is ever enough.

If you literally have problems feeding your children, you might want to change employers, or, if opportunities are that slim where you are, change field of endeavour completely.

If you don't mean it literally, there's no reason to conjure up an "elite" spectre and create a false argument against that to engage with the gp.

Because when the time for performance reviews comes around, you want to be able to have information to fill in your self-evaluation. It can be difficult to remember what you accomplished 3 months ago, especially if you have writing anxiety or are habitually inclined to lack confidence in yourself. If you hand in an empty self-evaluation, it can lead to you getting fired. This is a pretty big threat to peace-of-mind, so its worth putting some effort into avoiding it.

Source: This happened to me several months ago. It was very distressing for my wife and I.

In many disfunctional orgs with disconnected managers, showing one’s value isn’t necessarily about getting a promotion, but remaining employed.

Additionally, being respected by your managers isn’t just about a better salary. It is about having more power to choose tasks you want to do.

Fair point. Note that I didn't say you should never try to get recognition; Only to consider if that's really important for you.

I have done this over the last few years and my happiness and content level in life has gone up dramatically. I have more time for my family and to pursue my hobbies. The problem is that it is a maverick move and goes against social expectations - one is seen as unambitious, unmotivated and passionless. Even my dad was like - WTF is wrong with you?

Agree. I took my a few years to convince myself that it's okay to be ambitionless, have no goals, and to not care about maximizing my potential.

In some circumstances, your objective might require that you attain some rank in the organization in order to control a resource. In such cases, attaining rank may be in and of itself a necessary step in the process of accomplishing your thoroughly rank-unrelated objective.

True. It’s like with income/wealth. It’s very important to reach a certain level. But beyond that level the benefits of getting more diminish quickly.

Why are “get satisfaction from recognition” and “get satisfaction from things within your control” presented here as exclusive options? It seems fully viable to feel satisfaction from more than one source; why not get recognized for my work and cultivate internal sources of satisfaction?

Because it doesn’t last. You get a short burst of happiness when you get recognized, but it goes away quickly. Then you start seeking new recognition to make up for the void, and before you know it you’re on an endless treadmill without ever attaining lasting satisfaction.

I can agree with your point about the satisfaction, but the other effects of recognition are long lasting; in the long run the "investments" in building up reputation pay off in various ways that make your life and relationships with others easier.

In the long run, a strong reputation (caused by this recongition) generally gives you more influence, flexibility and autonomy; and it's well-researched that those factors improve job satisfaction.

I feel like I addressed this in my comment, but my point is that “getting satisfaction from recognition” and “getting satisfaction internally” are not mutually exclusive.

It’s also not sustainable for me to eat at fancy restaurants for every meal, but that doesn’t mean I need to avoid ever eating at fancy restaurants. It means I should account for multiple sources of food.

This is great. I've always found it really hard to remember what I did a month ago, let alone 5 months ago for my bi-annual (if that) perf review. Even worse as a manager. Building more of a habit around this stuff would be awesome. (BTW really recommend James Clear 'Atomic Habits'[0], found it really interesting.)

We're thinking about building something like this for people to track personal growth more easily at Progression [0]. Thinking nice pretty exports, benchmarking, all sorts of other stuff too.

Genuine request, if anyone does this regularly I'd love to speak to you.

[0] https://jamesclear.com/atomic-habits [1] https://www.progressionapp.com/solo

In some consulting businesses, managers want similar up to date documents / CV when marketing consultants externally to prospective customers. E.g which projects you’ve worked on etc.

I built a brag doc several years ago while prepping for an interview. I used it to match the list of expected interview questions - it worked like a champ. Highly recommended.

I’ve been digging through resumes in the last few weeks. I’d much rather see one of these brag documents than a boring list of jobs.

This is a good idea. While I’ve built similar documents by request, I never thought about always keeping one going. Good tip, thank you.

This is why I started a blog [0] and pushed some repos at GitHub.

0: https://www.kashifaziz.me

Friendly advice from fellow Pakistani. Your homepage needs about 10x less words. I looked at it and didn't want to read it at all.

That made me curious so I looked... I think the problem's more with the design, the font colours and images, which produce a feeling of sea-sickness. I don't think the amount of text would be unpleasant to read if those things were fixed.

It is a web site with textual content. If you want to read less words, try Twitter :)

I am amazed how fast this website loads. Great job!

Turns out it happens naturally when you're light on images, don't include gobs of JavaScript, and leave out ads.

I had the exact same thought and then stumbled on to Julia's another article which talks about tailwindcss.

Serious question: how do you avoid “overdoing” it? Or getting to narrow with the scope besides using common sense?

This comes off as desperate.

The sad truth is hardly anyone truly cares what you are doing at work. Really, think about how much you truly care what your peers do day-to-day.

Your boss and co-workers care about:

a) results

b) not having to deal with bad/negative/pita personalties

c) avoiding crisis

Pull your weight, be helpful, and if you have a boss micromanaging you it’s time to update the resume, not do more work to justify your existence.

“This comes off as desperate”

I think this is exactly wrong. This kind of response is what people often fear when it comes to self-promotion. And it certainly may be what you fear (but I’m not you so I can’t say for sure), but I can assure you (and others out there) that it is not desperate to look after your interests and make sure the hard work you do - visible and invisible - gets recognized.

What I think you’re saying is addressed by the author in her post - that good work will automatically be recognized on its merits alone and that it’s desperate to go above and beyond that.

And in many companies this is the case (and has been since work began). But the author’s whole point is that it is actually ok - and not desperate - to make sure your work gets recognized outside the scope of the normal “big projects get visibility” way things often work out.

I respectfully disagree. I think good work and humility speak for themselves.

This is why companies never spend money on advertising.

On some level, that is true, but when it comes to performance reviews and such, as the post mentions, it is very easy for your manager(s) to forget some specific things done over a period of time, forget their impact, etc. Even you may forget specific things that were done in a, say, 6 month period.

Besides that, it's also a good reminder for your own self to recap the work you've done in a specific period of time, notice your growth (or lack of any growth), etc. I've personally seen pretty good results with a similar approach.

> think about how much you truly care what your peers do day-to-day

Right, which is exactly why, when it comes time for the 2x-yearly performance review, its important to be able to talk about what you've been doing for the past year. Otherwise, people haven't necessarily noticed the results you've achieved or the crisis you've proactively avoided.

This works great for someone as fearless and confident as you. Not everyone is a champion of themselves. Most people I know in this profession do not know how to toot their own horn or sing praises of their deeds. If you don't do that, it's easy to disappear into the woodwork, because others are quite busy enough themselves.

Yeah, if you have to constantly remind everyone why you shouldn't be fired, that doesn't sound like a very fun job to me.

If management is looking for people to fire, and you have to somehow defend yourself and/or throw coworkers under the bus, then yes, that's pretty sad and dysfunctional. But that may not be the right way to view this.

You'll probably agree that it's valuable to you for your immediate and upper management to understand what you do for them, why it benefits the company and makes them look good, and why you're incredibly great at it. If they understand this in a deep way, they're much more likely to respect your opinion and work to keep you happy.

It'd be nice if you could just keep your head down, work hard, and expect management to notice that you're doing great and important work. But that will never happen. They're busy people. They don't really understand what you're doing and struggling with, or why you're doing it this way versus that way.

So it's up to you to educate them. You can tell your story better than anyone else, because you're the only one who really knows it...

Keep a worklog, preferably on company wiki. Export a backup every so often.

Great idea and article!

What is described here is just an honest list of "things I did" and has nothing to do with bragging.

It seems that the term "brag document" is only used as clickbait.

Edit: yes the article says it, but the title does not

The article says:

Where I work we call this a “brag document” but I’ve heard other names for the same concept like “hype document” or “list of stuff I did” :).

Could make it a daily blog.

This is great advice. It's akin to my manager asking me to write pieces of my own promo packet throughout the year. It'll also be a great time saver during review season.

Fix the computer -> my job. Remember that i fixed the computer-> his job.

Your manager is a flawed human with lots of reports. If she fails to remember what you accomplished, who’s life does it impact?

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