“Increasing Your Odds of Career Success with a ‘Brag Sheet’”: Erica Pisani, Senior Software Engineer at Netlify (Video + Transcript)

March 19, 2023

Erica Pisani (Senior Software Engineer at Netlify) talks about why and how you can keep a “brag sheet” to maximize your chances for career success.


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Angie Chang: Erica Pisani is a senior software engineer at Netlify. She’s on the frameworks team helping build tools, and she will be telling us about career brag sheets. I’m gonna hand the mic over to her. Welcome, Erica.

Erica Pisani: Hi. Thank you. Hello, everyone. I’m just gonna get this started. So yeah, welcome to increasing your odds of career success with a brag sheet. To give an overview of what we’re gonna be talking about over the next 20 minutes, we’re first gonna start off with what is a brag sheet. Some of you might never have heard of what a brag sheet is before. Maybe, maybe you’ve heard the term thrown around, but not quite sure what it is. So we’re just gonna start from square one

Erica Pisani: We’re gonna look at some of the elements that make up your brag sheet, how they can help you in your career and increase your odds of success in reaching your career goals, whatever they may be. I have a demo of a couple templates that I put together. At the end of the session, I’m gonna have a link to those templates, so you can use them to get started with your own break sheets if you don’t have any already. You can use them to kind of enhance existing ones that you have. And then at the end, we’ll likely have a couple minutes for folks to ask any questions if anyone has any.

Erica Pisani: Let’s get started. Before hopping into the, the brag sheet part though, a little bit about me. As mentioned at the top, my name is Erica. I am a senior software engineer at Netlify. I’ve since switched from the frameworks to team, to the integrations team. That’s quite a recent move actually.

Erica Pisani: I’m based in Toronto, Canada, so if you ever hear me say the word sorry, and it sounds a little bit weird, that would be why. Previously, I worked out a few other startups like Lever, which was a US based startup, and BenchSci, and Wave Financial, which are based in Canada. And the reason I mentioned the jobs, is because the advice I’m gonna be giving today is shaped by my experience working in startups, and more specifically in small to medium size startups.

Erica Pisani: It’s been a very long time since I’ve worked at a company larger than 300 people, so take the advice with, with that context in mind. But a lot of this can be repurposed to whatever context you’re working in, whether it’s a very small 10 person shop or you’re working at like the Microsoft or Amazons of the world. And last but not least, if you’re a little bit shy asking me questions at the end of the session, or you run out of time or you you’d like to gimme feedback on how this went, feel free to reach out to me at my website, EricaPisani.dev. I have my email and all my social media handles there.

Erica Pisani: Let’s get right into things. What is a brag sheet? It’s a resume of sorts. You picture a resume. You’ve got your the past companies that you’ve worked at, the various things that you’ve worked at those companies and in the roles that you held there.

Erica Pisani: And a brag sheet is much like that except rather than all the different companies that you’ve worked at. It’s focusing specifically on your role at your current company. Some of the things that you might list on a brag sheet are the products and features that you’ve delivered and worked on. Maybe you are a a member of an employee resource group or a technical working group which shows your investment and participation in shaping company culture or rolling out best practices across the engineering organization. Interviewing.

Erica Pisani: Interviewing is a huge thing in startups. It kind of goes through waves, but when it’s on the upswing, you are probably spending about half your time interviewing because they’re trying to hire so many people in such a short amount of time. But you’re having really like a huge impact with that because you’re not only bringing in people with the skills that the company needs to grow, you’re also bringing in people that help shape and evolve the company’s culture.

Erica Pisani: Mentoring teammates and colleagues across the company is another big one. If you are an intermediate engineer looking to move into a senior role being able to demonstrate that you are leveling up the people around you through maybe a formal mentorship program or mentoring within the team itself can help you in in that transition.

Erica Pisani: And then last but not least, and this is where I think a brag sheet really shines, is highlighting the important glue work that you might be doing in your day-to-day. For those who aren’t familiar with the term glue work, it’s the work that tend to be a bit on the smaller end, but they really add up and they help ensure the smooth running of a project or a team. So think if you have to do a manual deploy every Monday at 10 AM for your product area, doing that without being asked is one of those things.

Erica Pisani: Or keeping meeting notes or helping facilitate and coordinate across various teams in the project that you’re leading to ensure that people aren’t stepping on each other’s toes or to ensure that everyone’s unblocked at the right time so no one’s waiting on another team. The elements of a spreadsheet are really, it’s really quite lighted. It boils down to what you did and the impact of what you did. And if this sounds like what you’d be doing in the context of an interview, it’s because it is particularly when you’re going for that promotion that you’ve been eyeing for a little while. You need to talk about yourself and your accomplishments as if you’re interviewing for the next level without it being a formal interview.

Erica Pisani: And personally, as I was transitioning into a senior engineer role, I found that writing out these points on a somewhat regular basis as part of maintaining my break sheet to also help me build my skills in evaluating of certain pieces of work were really the most impactful thing that my team and I could be doing at that point, or if there was other work that I should be doing instead that might be more valuable.

Erica Pisani: Let’s look at a couple of examples of what you might see on a brag sheet. The first one is more focused on, let’s say, like your classic product and feature being shipped. The ” “what you did” it doesn’t need to be too detailed, but just enough to paint a a picture for the reader. In this example, I worked on adding a new set of impact contract. So a lot of moula for the company, really important. And then one customer had a renewal worth about 400,000 that was coming up the month after these endpoints were released, and they were actually at risk for, for a competitor if it wasn’t released on time. Beyond the kind of like, obviously media monetary impacts that that project had for the company talking about things like this shows that you’re thinking about the bigger picture, whether that’s your team’s general mandate from the company you might like hear it termed as the north star or company-wide goals for the fiscal quarter a year.

Erica Pisani: Let’s take a look at a second example. And this one’s more focused on enabling other teams to do their best work. The ” “what you did here”, I wrote several runbooks for the support team related to the new API endpoints. And for those who haven’t heard the term runbook before, they’re, they’re generally guides. Sometimes they’re for like troubleshooting common issues. Other ones could be, here’s how to deploy this product manually.

Erica Pisani: The impact of this is that support members are able to diagnose common issues in minutes and resolve support tickets in under three average under three hours on average compared to an average of maybe eight hours across the rest of the, the product areas. You’re saving the support team a lot of time, which means they can do more things. And then also as a result of that, your team was able to start a project sooner ahead of schedule because there were less bugs than expected.

Erica Pisani: I don’t know about you all, but I have yet to meet a product manager that does not love to hear the words that things launch smoothly, smoothly, and ahead of schedule. If you have this happen a few times in projects that you lead or play a major role in, it looks really good on you as you’re, you’re pushing to go maybe further in your career and get a promotion because you’re helping give the time the team more time to do things. And that could be career development, and or that could be something like experimenting in your product area to maybe improve some things.

how brag sheets can help your career

Erica Pisani: Generally, how brag sheets can help help you with your career and increase your odds of success is it can help you map what you’re doing to maybe levels on a career ladder or matrix. At the shops I’ve been at, they tend to be pretty easy to find. But if you’re not sure of where you can find one, be sure to reach out to maybe your manager or the HR folks.

Erica Pisani: But especially when you’re earlier in your career as a junior engineer, and I know I I speak from experience in this, it was really hard to get a sense of where I stood in the company relative to kind of the metrics they had from more senior engineers like transitioning to into intermediate and then from intermediate to senior. Related to that, it can help your manager advocate for you during performance review cycles.

Erica Pisani: If you’re looking at the things on your brag sheet and you’re looking at like the the things that make an intermediate engineer at your at your current company, your manager’s likely gonna be doing something similar. If you have like a one page brag sheet that shows all the things you’ve done in the past cycle, whether that’s four months, six months, a year, it can help them argue for you more effectively. It can bring awareness to the type of work that you may be doing more of at the expense of growth opportunities.

Erica Pisani: Going back to my earlier example of how startups sometimes go, like really hard into interviewing over short periods of time, you can sometimes end up spending if you’re heavily involved in that, maybe half your work week just doing interviews, whether it’s prepping for them, the actual interview, and then leaving the feedback after.

Erica Pisani: And if for whatever reason you maybe got passed over for a promotion because you weren’t able to demonstrate maybe technical leadership, maybe because you had to sacrifice some time with the working group at your company in favor of interviewing, you can have that constructive conversation with your manager about maybe reducing the amount of time you’re spending interviewing in favor of more technical leadership stuff so that you can push for that if that’s what you’d like to do in the short to medium term they can help minimize the impact of manager turnover.

Erica Pisani: I don’t know about you all, but the great resignation is real. In my last role I had, I think it was three different managers in the span of a year and a half. And then my colleague Lori Voss, he released these he did a survey with the Jamstack community and the, there’s, like, you can find the details online, but he presented it at the Jamstack conference in November, and I think it was some like really high number, like 50% of people had changed jobs in the past year.

Erica Pisani: There’s a lot of turnover happening, and managers are no exception, and there is nothing worse than maybe being so close to maybe getting that promotion that you’ve been really working hard for. And then that manager, with all that context, suddenly leaves and brag sheets can really help mitigate that impact because the new manager, while they’re still getting settled into their role, having that brag sheet gives them the chance to kind of get a really good sense of what you’ve been up to during the past review cycle. And going back to 0.2 can help a, like, can advocate for you way more effectively than they otherwise could have, just, just because they just don’t have the conference excuse me, the context that your previous manager had. And last but not least, it can make, it can make it easier when job searching in the future.

Erica Pisani: If you have a brag sheet that you’ve been keeping track of what you’ve been doing, it’s more of a matter of copying, pasting what you have there into your resume. And then when you’re going into interviews where you’re talking about the projects that you’ve done, the impact that you had on it, the challenges that you had, the brag sheet helps refresh your memory on those finer details. You can more confidently go into those types of interviews.

Erica Pisani: Demo time! Let’s look at a couple of examples here. And as I said, I’ll be sharing a link to these at the end for you all to use.

demo time your first brag sheet template erica pisani

Erica Pisani:The first one here is very, very lightweight. This one you just kind of, let’s say you have your highlight. It could be the project that you’re working on. It could be you were part of a formal mentorship program. Anything that you wanna highlight listed there the company that you did this in.

Erica Pisani: I like to keep a long running brag sheet across my various roles, so this helps me keep things organized in that way. The dates that the project ran for. If you are beyond the obvious, like maybe you have a yearly performance review cycle, and I don’t know about you all, but my, I have a terrible memory. I can barely remember what did last week at work, let alone what I did a year ago, and be able to speak to it in like a high degree of detail. If you keep the dates, it’s easy to just kind of go back, get all the different projects that you’d worked on and put it in the break to give to your manager for that review cycle.

Erica Pisani: But if you’re a more junior engineer and you’re trying to demonstrate increased like technical leadership and competency, one of the things that I was told earlier, earlier in my career was that I had to show that I was able to take on complex technical tasks and complete them in a faster pace. And so the dates are actually really useful for demonstrating that for that kind of metric the, what you did, the things that you accomplished with the project.

Erica Pisani: So whether it’s a runbook for the support team, a new source of revenue, you kept a valuable customer list, everything there, and then the impact of what you did. Anything that anything that maybe provided business value, maybe you helped your team members onboard faster. Improved efficiency or developer experience, all that stuff listed there for the second example that I have here. It’s similar to the one at the beginning, the very basic one, which is this top section here, but there’s a retrospective component to it, which this is actually the spreadsheet I use for myself because I like to revisit everything that I had done over the course of a project or maybe it’s not a project that maybe participating in a mentorship program at my company.

Erica Pisani: I like to try and see what I could do better next time. The what went well could be, it could even be it was my first project that I had shipped ever or the first at the company or it was ahead of schedule or I was really good with testing and there there was no bugs. It’s like amazing, honestly, huge. Like anything that makes you proud listed there, the what didn’t go so well section, it’s not meant to be a blame game kind of section.

Erica Pisani: It’s meant to more note the things that you maybe didn’t expect that maybe had an impact on what you’re highlighting here. If it’s a project that you were working on, maybe there were unforeseen requirements because you just didn’t know about this hidden dependency and it put you back a little bit. If it’s something like a formal mentorship program, maybe you and your mentor or your mentee weren’t able to meet up as often as you would’ve liked and just kind of noting that. And maybe you’ll, you’ll understand and maybe mitigate the reasons for the next time you participate in the, in the program.

Erica Pisani: And then lessons learned, it could be like one to three things that you just want to carry forward with you the next time you’re working on a similar project or participating in a mentorship program or what have you. And if you’re in a company culture that really values this or you have a really good relationship with your manager, I would really encourage you to maybe have a conversation with them about this section because there might be things that you would list as what didn’t go so well that your manager would actually say, Hey, this was actually a great thing.

Erica Pisani: And then you can talk about that and learn from that experience. Those are the two examples. Again, I’ll give a link at the end, but just to hop back, oh, and my handy note here.

Erica Pisani: If you’re keeping a long running brag sheet, be sure not to, to have any sort of identifying or proprietary information. When you’re sharing this with other managers, we don’t wanna end up in that kind of hot water. This is all to say that at the end of the day, I know a lot of us feel like especially when we’re starting out, if I just do good work and I just focus on getting the job done, the stuff will just naturally get recognized, but realistically, you are your best advocate. Even the best managers out there can’t keep detailed tabs on all of the work the reports have done.

Erica Pisani: Maintaining this brag sheet is your tool to make sure you can advocate effectively for yourself without too much work overall. And like, it’s, it’s honestly a great way to advocate for yourself, especially if you’re a bit shy, like I know, I definitely am. To wrap up brag sheets, they help capture all of the work you do, not just the shiny products and features that maybe the marketing team at your company will shout from the rooftops, but the stuff that you do in your day-to-day that keeps things running really smoothly and helps shape the technical direction of the engineering organization that you’re a part of, or the company culture it can make it easier for your managers to advocate for you, whether they’ve been around for a while or whether they’re brand new to their role on, on your team.

Erica Pisani: They can give you awareness of the level you’re performing at, which I think is particularly valuable, especially when you’re a more junior engineer and you’re still trying to get a sense of what is the difference between a junior and an intermediate engineer and an intermediate engineer to a senior. It can help facilitate conversations around your career and where you wanna go.

Erica Pisani: Maybe you wanna be going more into a managerial track and you wanna be spending more time developing those skills, but you just can’t find the time because you’re doing all this other stuff. And you can have that conversation with your manager to see what you can do less of and more of what you wanna be doing. And then at the end, it can help you in your future job searches by making it really easy for you to update your resume when you’re ready to do that, and then to go into interviews with a lot of confidence over the pro like remembering all the details of the projects that you were a part of the mentorship programs that maybe you helped lead and be able to speak in detail about that sort of thing.

Screenshot at .. PM

Erica Pisani: Thank you all so much for listening. That is the URL for the brag sheets, if you would like to use them as the basis for your first brag sheet or to enhance your your existing ones. Yeah, I think we, we still have a couple minutes for questions. I’m gonna look at the chat here. Yeah, I’m not sure how many folks have yeah, heard of a brag sheet before. I know for me it was like later in my career when I heard about them, but honestly it has been a lifesaver.

Erica Pisani: Thanks Jennifer. Could I elaborate on what not to include? When I say like maybe no names, like maybe company names, cuz that could be pretty sensitive information. Possibly like numbers around like concrete numbers… Anyway about what contracts are worth might not be a great thing to share outside of the company. It might be okay within while you’re at that current company, but if you’re sharing with another manager at a different role, you might not wanna get into the nitty gritty details, especially if they might, if the two companies that you’ve worked at are somewhat in the same field. Just be a little cautious there. Anything that you could imagine might get you into some murky waters there. Just maybe be a little bit careful and be more vague than you otherwise would have if if you were in your at that previous role.

Erica Pisani: Do I use people names or initials? I haven’t had to yet. Actually, I tend to be very, very like even broader than that sometimes. Unless it’s in like let’s say within my current role and I’m mentoring someone, then I might say like, I’ve helped these people. But then once I’ve moved on, I tend to make it more abstract and say like a person that was at a like L1 or junior engineer level and then refer to them that way. Oh sorry. Go ahead, Angie.

Angie Chang: Thank you Erica for this excellent talk on brag sheets I know is very popular in the bookmarks area. People definitely bookmark this and they can replay this talk right after it ends, which will end in like 20 seconds cuz we have our next session starting very soon. So thank you so much Erica again, and we’ll see you on the other side everyone.

Erica Pisani: No worries. Thank you so much everyone.

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