April 17, 2024

How to Showcase Your Contributions: Brag Sheets for Software Developers

Jess Cooper

Jess Cooper

Get promoted faster and feel more fulfilled at work by keeping a brag sheet.

How to Showcase Your Contributions: Brag Sheets for Software Developers

Software developers are the heart beat of tech companies. But with pressures like lofty sprint goals and milestones constantly coming and going, it can be easy to lose track of all the contributions you’ve made.

This is especially true if you’re doing work like creating architecture diagrams or taking on major refactors, both important but not as immediately noticeable.

Julia Evans authored a great article about the importance of brag sheets for getting your work recognized. This helps developers avoid falling into the trap of “invisible work”.

In this article, we’ll discuss brag sheets, and how and why you should make one.

Why it's important to communicate your successes as a software developer

There are many reasons why it’s important to catalogue your successes and contributions at work. The reality is that you won’t have anyone else to track these things for you. While (good) managers will notice the hard work you do, they won’t see everything. They also won’t know what work was particularly meaningful to you. Tracking and sharing your contributions is your own responsibility–your future self with thank you!

Here’s why you should create a ‘brag sheet’:

Brag sheets can help protect you against invisible work

Many folks–not just software developers–fall victim to invisible work.

The TIME article, How to End the Unfairness of Invisible Work, says “... Invisible work—a term coined by sociologist Arlene Kaplan Daniels to describe work that goes unpaid, unacknowledged, and thus, unregulated—abounds in the workplace, especially when we look back on our careers in hindsight. Once you know, you cannot stop seeing such labor everywhere. It’s especially egregious for women and people of color, who pick up the slack for organizations that come to rest greatly on our efforts.”

Invisible work can take time away from ‘highly visible’ work and doesn’t benefit from the same awareness. Taking time to capture this type of work in a brag sheet so you can surface it up to leadership is crucial for getting appropriate recognition.

You can use a brag sheet to build your resume over time

Have you ever gone to work on your resume and blanked on what you should put under the experience section? Even if you know deep down that you contributed a lot in your role, it can still be challenging to come up with specific examples when your memories start to blur with time. In a recent conversation on brag sheets with Fred Medlin, Senior Software Developer at WillowTree, Fred underlined the importance of capturing your contributions over time. “There's never enough time to reconstruct them from commits and email history. You have to manage your calendar to collect these or they are gone.”

Having a brag sheet that you’ve continuously updated will provide great reference material for your resume or promo packet. You can easily search your brag sheet for specific experiences and the impact, making it easier to update your resume with your key accomplishments. Your brag sheet could also serve as a resource for preparing for job interviews, helping you more clearly remember experiences of past roles.

Brag sheets create opportunities for reflection and confidence building

Most of us have probably experienced a healthy dose of imposter syndrome from time to time. And when it strikes, it can affect the way you see yourself and your abilities.

Keeping a brag sheet to remind you of the work you’re proud of can come in handy for those days when you’re not feeling your best. Seeing a long list of successes, learnings and accomplishments provides concrete evidence that you’re doing a great job.

Not only that, the mental exercise of routinely reflecting on your achievements will help train your mind to recognize and celebrate your successes. Too often we glaze over important wins and quickly move onto the next thing. Consistently adding to a brag sheet will help you live in the moment.

Brag sheets can help you discover what type of work you’re most passionate about

A lot of us are so focused on our day to day, that we don’t take time to reflect on what makes us truly satisfied at work. Certain tasks may make you feel more accomplished and proud than others and a good brag sheet can help you identify these patterns.

Knowing what lights a fire within you can help you define your career path, know when to jump at projects you know will be exciting, and empower you to identify promising opportunities when they come.

You can reference your brag sheet when making a case for a promotion

If you feel you’re ready to take the next step in your career and want to start having conversations with your manager about getting a promotion, you’re going to want a brag sheet in your back pocket.

It’s common that to get a promotion, you need to have been operating at that level for a while. So you’re likely already doing most of the responsibilities of the role that you want to be promoted to. Capturing this in a brag sheet and showing your manager can help them see that too.

A manager won't remember every little thing you did, but having it spelled out in front of them could go a long way towards convincing them you’re ready for the next step.

How to create a brag sheet: One centralized doc to list your achievements

The good news is, creating a brag sheet is simple. The key to ensuring the habit of maintaining a brag sheet lasts is to make it easy. You don’t need a complicated program. You just need an easily accessible doc that you can append to. Don’t bother with fancy formatting, just create logical sections and add bullet points under each of them.

Keep a simple process for keeping your brag doc up to date

There’s no ‘right’ process for keeping a brag sheet. It’s going to depend on your personal habits and the company you work at. There are a few things to consider.

We recommend taking time to reflect at the end of each week and jot down a few snippets of what you worked on. This will ensure that nothing important slips through the cracks. You can put a weekly reminder in your calendar so you don’t forget.

You can also refer a status dump type doc where you keep tracking of the status of your daily tasks.

Steve Yegge, Developer and former Head of Engineering at Sourcegraph, has a good list of things that you might want to document in your brag sheet: architecture diagrams, major features, major refactor, documentation, CI improvements, any measurable business impact from your works. Here’s an example brag sheet.

Share your brag doc with key people in your org

There are personal benefits to keeping a brag sheet, but there’s also a lot to gain from sharing your brag sheet.

Sharing with your manager is a great place to start. Share your brag sheet during your one-on-one meetings or during reviews. Your manager can’t be everywhere at once, so they’ll be grateful you’ve taken the initiative to show them what they may have missed.

Your mentors are also great people to share your brag sheet with. Your mentorship conversations shouldn’t always be centered around needing help or advice, they can also be used to celebrate and talk through your wins.

Additionally, if you have trusted peers, mutually sharing your brag sheets can be a great way to hold each other accountable and create more visibility across your team.

Remember! When sharing your brag sheet and asking for feedback, make sure it’s organized and easy to read. You should take a few moments to clean things up and make sure your notes are clear and simple to understand before sharing.

Want to start keeping a brag sheet? Stashpad Docs is free and lets you start a doc in a second. Just type into your browser.

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