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Monica Powell

Artwork: Susan Haejin Lee

Brag now, remember later: Document your accomplishments

In Part Four of her series, Monica shows how you are in a unique position to be your best advocate.

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Monica Powell // Senior Software Engineer, Newsela

The ReadME Project amplifies the voices of the open source community: the maintainers, developers, and teams whose contributions move the world forward every day.

Given five minutes notice to summarize your recent professional and personal accomplishments and wins, how detailed would your response be? Would that be enough time for you to sufficiently capture some of the things you’re most proud of from the past few months or years?

You are uniquely positioned to be your best advocate and it would be a disservice to your future self to not maintain relevant information that reflects the true scope and quality of work that you have completed. Having this type of concrete information readily available is useful for promotions, self-reflection, the job search process, etc. Your manager and peers will not be tracking your accomplishments as closely as you can and your future self will not be able to capture the finer details that get lost over time when looking back to reflect. By regularly tracking your accomplishments you free up the time it would take later on to adequately capture different wins for use in reflecting on your growth and ensuring that the highlights encompass a wide variety of the things you've done.

Documenting wins in real-time is more impactful 

As a software engineer, I am continuously learning an incredible amount, but one thing I’ve come to accept is that at best my long-term memory is fuzzier than I’d like, which is why I lean into maintaining notes and documentation to set my future self up for success. In the past, I found that in order to thoroughly reflect on my work in a way that does it justice I needed to conduct a time-intensive amount of prep work by going through various documents, notes, retrospectives, pull requests, tickets, etc. to cobble together a detailed summary of more than just my highest level of achievements. There was some granularity missing when I took this marathon summarizing approach as some of the context that was more salient as I was achieving these goals, was not retrievable.

Over my career I have evolved how I approach tracking my accomplishments which has allowed me to maintain enough documentation that I can do deeper reflections on the scope of work I've done. I’ve shifted to documenting my successes along the way in order to maintain a running list of my accomplishments and wins. I refer to this living document as a “shine document,” but have also heard it referred to as a “brag document” or “hype doc.” This type of document is more useful when it’s updated as things happen as opposed to having cram sessions to backfill it.

Early in my career I mostly captured positive feedback from colleagues. But over time I started incorporating more self-reflection into my shine document and including things that are meaningful to me regardless of external validation.

Keeping detailed notes means that you can include a healthy mix of qualitative and quantitative wins that is more reflective of your work and gives your older achievements more room to shine. And, over time, a regularly updated document of wins easily translates into a format that summarizes longer periods of time in a digestible format. 

If you are having trouble thinking of wins I challenge you to expand your definition of wins and/or revisit your current goals to see if there is a larger issue that is preventing you from accomplishing even small wins. The primary purpose of this document is to equip you with the comprehensive information you need to reflect on your accomplishments and quickly share relevant highlights with others. Ideally, it should be a comprehensive place for you to store everything you view as an achievement. Don't worry about whether an achievement is too small or silly or not technical enough to include—add it to the doc. It can be helpful to have a mix of personal and professional accomplishments. Some things I’ve documented in the past have included: contributing my first component to a design system, launching a high-impact experiment, championing for new team processes, leading a technical initiative, providing technical mentorship to others, public speaking, successfully hosting an event, community involvement and beyond.

Reflect on your wins

When I decided to get serious about documenting my accomplishments more regularly, it was helpful for me to add a recurring invite or reminder to my calendar. Another fun way to get into the groove of maintaining this document is to set up a working session with a friend that is trying to implement a similar practice.

A natural time to schedule a personal check-in time is shortly before a retrospective team meeting or sync with your manager so that you can reflect ahead of your meeting on your recent work and what you’d like to accomplish moving forward. I have found it helpful to loosely reference the recent achievements that I've noted in my shine doc during 1:1s as it allows me to quickly share context with my manager about my recent projects and minimizes the chances of forgetting to mention a particular stream of work that I would like to discuss. 

The regular process of reflecting can help you become more confident when speaking about your accomplishments. Being intimately familiar with a collection of your wins can be especially beneficial when seeking out new opportunities or revisiting how far one has grown over a particular period. The accomplishments that are captured in this document can be more granular than what folks typically share on LinkedIn, a resume, a bio, or even with a manager and provide your future self a wealth of concrete examples to draw from as needed. There are the intangible benefits that come with reflecting regularly, but also more tangible outcomes, such as the ability to create a more comprehensive annual review and provide your best advocate (you) with the knowledge you need to succeed. And, your shine list can serve as a helpful reminder of your accomplishments on particularly challenging days. 

Start with an audience of one

If you aren’t comfortable writing about yourself it’s crucial to get comfortable documenting your accomplishments in a way that is first for your eyes only and before worrying about tailoring it to different audiences. As you grow more comfortable with documenting and sharing your accomplishments, consider sharing a form of your shine document directly with your manager or publicly on a site like Polywork, which allows folks to present a wide variety of milestones big and small, professional or not. Julia Evans shared a helpful template for structuring this type of document.

Implementing a consistent process of reflecting on your progress and documenting learnings and decisions  are key components of document-driven growth that help you set yourself up for success. As with other types of documentation, it’s important to remember that the process of regularly documenting is often more important than the initial presentation. 

It’s best to get started on your document-driven growth journey—whether that’s through a tutorial and technical talk, code comments, or a shine document—than spend too much time in the weeds worrying about the best way to format or present the information. As you gain more experience chronicling and sharing your learnings and achievements, you’ll gain insight into what works best for you and your team. If you try something that doesn’t work, you can always try something else. Just remember to document those experiments so we can all learn from them. If you want to learn more about this topic, check out the rest of my four part series focusing on document-driven growth:

Hi, I’m Monica! I’m passionate about making open source more approachable, elevating people through technology, and cultivating communities. I enjoy working with ReactJSJamstack, JavaScript, APIs + Markup, and GraphQL. I built React Ladies as a safe space for women and non-binary ReactJS developers to create and collaborate together. I like contributing directly to the open source software I’m using and also enjoy creating supplemental educational materials on my website. I’m also a GitHub Star ⭐️.

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