Students: build your brand and get your dream job

I had the opportunity to visit many colleges and meet with the students as a Yahoo! Developer Evangelist. During these visits, I worked with students and helped them prepare their first hack, set up a private server, and begin their process of establishing their unique identity on the web.

Creating an online “brand” is critical for college students, as companies have a large pool of applicants to choose from and you need to make sure your resume rises to the top. I believe this is especially important for students with a disability, as this online brand can open doors and provide better opportunities than cattle-call recruitment fairs.

Over the years, I’ve also been a part of resume screening and job interviews for dozens of positions. From this vantage point I’ve learned a candidate’s resume is just a starting point. I search their online history to find what they’ve learned from their classes. A candidate that only has a resume is not going to be impressive as one that also has a blog, Twitter, GitHub, and other points of reference.

With that in mind, I visited UC Berkeley recently to give this presentation. It’s a topic I’ve discussed many times over coffee with interns, students, and my family.

On the internet…nobody knows you’re a dog.

SeeingY took a picture!

But you can make sure they know you’re a superstar.

This was a photo shot by Pecan, Lucy Greco’s guide dog, at the 2010 CSUN conference in San Diego. This presentation was created for the students at UC Berkeley, October 2015 and is the opinions of Ted Drake and do not represent Intuit, Inc.

Ted Drake, Principal Engineer Intuit Accessibility

Headshot at Palomar CollegeI came to the technology world in a non-standard path, which inspires me to work with students to expand their opportunities by controlling their persona. I was a professional student, but finally settled on photography, radio telecommunications, and fine art as my degrees. With that I knew I could work at Michaels. So I also began building web sites on the side. With my art degree, I got my foot into the door at the San Diego Museum of Art and eventually convinced them I could manage their web site. I still didn’t know how to write code, but I knew how to build a good website via a WYSIWYG editor.

Standards- Based Web Development

The web development world shifted around 2001 when developers stopped fighting the browsers and began adopting web standards. I was a fairly early adopter and absorbed everything I could find. I participated in forums, built prototypes, and asked questions to the biggest names in the industry.
I was not a leader, rather an active participant. I created my first blog,, where I started owning my opinions and content. I shared my experiences, test pages, failures, and successes. I still own that content and update it regularly.

However, I moved my professional voice to a new blog: because was turning into a mixture of personal and professional and I found it better to keep them separate

Laying the Foundation

  • Blog:
  • Networking at conferences
  • CSS, HTML, JavaScript Forums
  • Comments on other blogs

In late 2004 I received a phone call from an engineer at Yahoo that had seen my comments in a mailing list. He researched my name, found my blog and other resources. I was hired and began my career in the Bay Area. I never applied to Yahoo and my online persona was the reason I was discovered.

Jennison Asuncion

Jennison Asuncion also created an online reputation that resulted in a dream job. Jennison was working in the Royal Bank of Canada’s accessibility team. During his personal time, he was busy building an accessibility community within Toronto and his international reputation via Twitter and online forums. While in Toronto, Jennison organized accessibility MeetUps, the Accessibility Camp, Global Accessibility Awareness Day, and became a social kingpin at accessibility conferences. In 2013, Jennison was hired by LinkedIn and moved to the United States to lead their accessibility efforts.

Toronto Foundation

  • Bank employee
  • MeetUp leader
  • Accessibility Camp organizer
  • GAAD
  • Influential Twitter
  • Conferences

Kevin Chao

Kevin Chao was the poster child for building an online persona while he was in college. He had a very influential Twitter account that represented his passion for accessible technology. He provided great feedback to companies as he tested their applications, web sites, and devices. Before graduating, Kevin was well known to accessibility teams within all major tech companies. In fact, he came to the Bay Area for a short visit and had to carefully coordinate his schedules due to the large number of invitations to visit Yahoo, Google, and other high tech campuses.

Kevin’s network of connections led him to careers at Georgia Institute of Technology, JP Morgan Chase, and is now doing quality engineering at Google.

Most Connected Student

  • Very influential Twitter account
  • Great interest in technology
  • Provided constructive accessibility feedback
  • 500+ LinkedIn connections
  • Visited Bay Area and invited to every major company

Own your online persona

Graph of Ted Drake's online persona

Google: Your Name

The first stage in controlling your persona is to see what information is currently available about yourself. Go to Google and search for your name. What did you find: What do you see?

  • Who else has your name?
  • Are they more prominent?
  • Is there something bad?
  • Does it represent you?

Most importantly, did the search result inspire confidence that you have an area of expertise, passion, or direction? If you were a recruiter, would you look any further?

Now add your focus

You probably found a lot of extraneous information. This is especially true if you have a common name. The next step is to add your specialty. For instance, I could search for “Ted Drake Accessibility”. With this query, you should filter out the non-relevant individuals. Google search for Ted Drake AccessibilityThis is the search query you need to master. Don’t stop at this query, you should do similar searches for other facets of your future career?

  • Would you hire yourself?
  • Do the results reflect a well-balanced understanding of the topic?
  • Does this inspire confidence in a recruiter? Would you look further?

You should be seeing a full representation of your persona.

Mastering the search results

connected networks represented by circles and linesYou are a content creator and owner. The most important factor of owning the search results is to have a wide spectrum of resources and tie them together to build a social web of information. For instance, your LinkedIn account must point to your Twitter account.

How much Klout do you have?

Google search isn’t the only way to understand your relevance. If you have a twitter account, go to and search for your account, for instance: KloutBetter yet, create an account and connect Klout to your various social media channels. It will analyze your posts, your connections, and the strength of your connections to determine your influence power and areas of expertise.

This is helpful as you build your persona and should be mandatory for anyone working in marketing.

Own your content

You need to own your content. You shouldn’t depend on hosting your projects, blogs, etc on free services and certainly not the University servers. These leave you vulnerable to losing that data and you’ll have little to no control on archiving the data. Own your content and use social networks for distribution. A site like is a great way to expose your views to a larger audience, but you need to connect it to your other social networks. For instance, write a summary of the article on your blog, share a link on Twitter, add it to your LinkedIn profile, and more.

Go to a host and buy a domain that references your name, preferably a .com address.
Create an email address from this domain to use for official purposes. You could make this forward to gmail if needed. Try to use this domain as the basis for your twitter, github, and other accounts.
For instance For example, Dirk Ginader has the following accounts:

Your Blog – The key to a social hub

WordPress is the most common blogging platform and it’s a great skill to learn.
Wordpress also provides good accessibility and there are many accessible themes.
Use the wp-accessibility plugin for increased accessibility. Drupal is also good, but it is more of a content management system than a blogging platform. It’s easy to start writing posts on your blog.Did you learn something important in class?

  • Do a bit of research and write a blog post that summarized what you learned. Include links to the sources you discovered.
  • What did you learn that would help the next student researching the topic?
  • Share what you created with what you learned.


Twitter has become a critical platform for distributing information, engaging in conversations, requesting feedback, and establishing your domain. Tweets are public and permanent.

Don’t use it for nonsense. Expect every tweet could be used for or against you. Keep your tweets positive and avoid using it to send non-constructive criticism. Follow people that are relevant for your passion and share links to relevant information. Don’t spam your tweets with excessive hashtags and tagging unrelated people. The goal is to provide great, insightful content that will build your particular network and raise your profile. Staying on topic will also help you build influence.


LinkedIn is going to be your number one reference for recruiters. You must spend some time making this complete and update it regularly.

  • Create your custom URL
  • Add a decent photo
  • Connect it to your blog, twitter, and other resources
  • Share your publications and join appropriate groups
  • Start connecting with colleagues and request endorsements. Don’t wait until you apply for a job.


GitHub is the most popular platform for sharing code.
It’s critical to have a profile if you are in engineering. You can expect recruiters and resume screeners to review your Github account. You need to be active:

  • Fork repositories and make pull requests
  • Leave comments and create issues on projects
  • Create new repositories for your projects. This is a great way to show how you’ve adapted a school project to extend functionality.
  • Use GitHub consistently. Don’t ignore your account throughout the year and only publish in spurts.

Community Participation

Participating in community events is as important as creating your online documentation. These community events build your social network that will be critical as you move forward. Here are some resources to expand your community.

  • MeetUp = find groups in your area that share your interests
  • Lanyrd = conferences and events. Register and keep track of events you attend
  • Slideshare and SpeakerDeck = Did you give a presentation? Share the slides
  • YouTube = Share videos you create about your topic. Create playlists.

Social Activities

Bay Area Accessibility Dinners MeetUp

  • Hack Days
  • Start Up Weekend
  • Bar Camps
  • Volunteer Opportunities
  • Community Organizing

Non-professional platforms

These platforms may not be related to your field. If they don’t build your brand, don’t connect them to your network. For instance, I use Facebook informally and don’t include many work and industry colleagues as friends.

Don’t put anything on these platforms that you don’t want a recruiter to see. Use them as part of your network if these are appropriate for your field, for instance Flickr for artists.

Dirty little secrets

Here are some tips from the viewpoint of a person that has reviewed hundreds of resumes over the years. You won’t always hear this from your college advisors.

Nobody cares about your school assignments

Every student in your class is going to have the same project. We want to know what you built the following weekend from that assignment. Many times your examples and projects won’t even be available to recruiters.

We will look for signs of bad character

  • Most companies won’t care if you got drunk at party. But are you posting booze photos constantly?
  • Don’t post racist, sexist, and insulting content on Twitter, Facebook, SnapChat, or other places. It can and will come back to haunt you.
  • Are your comments and reviews constructive or mean spirited?
  • Does your online persona reflect your private personality?

The Internet is Permanent

Content published on the internet is stored on servers around the globe. That cache is searchable. Visit Internet Archive’s wayback machine for older versions of pages. Twitter is archived and searchable. Screenshots can capture your private conversations. Remember, today’s friend could be tomorrow’s enemy. Do you trust them with your witty remarks?

Independent projects are more important than grade point average

Show us what you know and can do. Your GPA is a small portion of your resume. This is especially true for engineering, art, and other fields that value talent. Mileage may vary with your career choice.

Bad grammar and spelling will kill your potential

Learn to communicate effectively.

  • Join the college radio station and newspaper. Listen to your instructor’s comments about your writing; an editor is a valuable tool.
  • Communication skills are not learned, they require practice. Read books and write continually. Your blog is going to be your best asset.
  • Practice talking and record yourself. Give a presentation whenever possible, as this will build your confidence and you’ll ace interviews.

Connect with Me

Fork this presentation on GitHub

Published by Ted

Accessibility is more than making sure images have alternate text. I work with engineers, product managers, and designers to understand how accessibility impacts the users, set realistic deadlines, and create the solutions to provide a delightful experience to all users, regardless of their physical, sensory, or cognitive ability.

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

  1. This panel at the Watermark Leadership Conference focused on branding for women leaders:

    The Art of Branding: Positioning Yourself for YOUR Future

    Whether you are trying to ace a job interview, sign a new client or promote your business, it is critical to sell yourself. Often times, professionals fall into the trap of regurgitating bullets about their past jobs instead of sharing the value they can offer as a result of their experiences. Bringing together a diverse group of powerhouse women, this interactive session will share best practices and lessons learned from experts around branding and selling yourself professionally. From portraying a physical presence to speaking the language, attendees will walk away armed with the ability to position your value…not just your resume.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.