How to find the best people to work with (be one)

This is a followup to my post on career paths in Silicon Valley and traditional technology companies.

The post raises an obvious question: “How do I find the best people to work with?” I actually want to examine that from the other direction. Namely, “How do I make sure others think I’m one of the best people to work with?” It’s a two-way street.

Let’s face it. Not everyone may want to work with you. Even if you find the company, group, or project of your dreams, they may not accept you in return. I haven’t gotten an offer for every job for which I’ve interviewed.

So how do you get yourself to the top of the others’ lists of people with whom I’d like to work again?

Be good at what you do

Obvious, but worth stating. A mobile app startup doesn’t want an iOS developer, they want the best iOS developer. Companies don’t want someone who can do perform all the functions listed in their job descriptions, they want someone who can do them all and then some.

Keep your skills sharp and current. Don’t coast. Just because you can do your current job with the skills you already have, doesn’t mean you should. Learn new skills. Try new techniques. Look to do your work better.

Here’s a test: Are you always asking others for help, or do they come to you?

If you’re not the expert, strive to get there. And asking others for help is actually a great way to start.

Know what you do

People have different skills, and most teams require a wide variety. Understand where you create the most value—where you can provide the most improvement over the next best alternative.

This may not be as simple as you think. Drawing again on my experience in software, if you describe yourself as, say, a Ruby developer, your ability to write Ruby code is only the beginning. How versatile are you? If your team needed to build something using C++, would you be able to help? What if they needed someone to learn Hadoop for a new project? Would they ask you first? Does your code need much maintenance? Do your colleagues read your code to learn the best way to do things? This topic probably merits an entire post of its own, just for software development.

At this point in my career, I contribute more value as a software manager than as a developer. This obviously means that some opportunities aren’t right for me—if good management is already in place, or the team is too small to need it yet, for example. But if you have a growing team that’s having a hard time keeping up with the competing demands of product management, reliability, development speed, and overall employee morale, I want to be the one you think of first.

Stay in touch

This is the easy part. Don’t lose contact with the superstars in your life. There are plenty of tools with which to do this—the best choice depends on your contacts. Go where they are, and stay in touch.