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How Much Should You Post Online About Your Life?

I’ve touched on it some in the past, but it’s a question that comes up a lot when we discuss networking at community events, and it’s worth some thought. I start by assuming that any potential employer/client/customer that deals with me directly is going to search for me on the web. I can’t control what they find absolutely, but in general any type of profile or blog will be in the top 10 hits once – and if – they narrow it down to the right person.

So we start at whatever you consider your “main” page. If you had to tell a prospective employer where to find information about you, where would you send them? Typically this is either a profile page (LinkedIn, etc) or a “personal” site. For me it’s my LinkedIn profile, or the blog here – both useful. You can probably discover a lot about me between the two; some work history, what kind of books I read, who my friends are, if I can write coherently, even a good idea of my technical ability. If you look just a little harder you can figure out my attorney and CPA.

I make conscious decisions about almost all of that. I don’t link to any politicians that I like (not that many!), no ‘causes’, no reviews of books about politics, very few rants, and not too many (but some) of my errors. It’s not that I don’t have an opinion on politics, that I don’t read books about it, that I don’t rant a bit more often than you see here, or that I don’t make mistakes. But from a marketing perspective, is that stuff you’d put on your ad in the yellow pages?

I know a few people that totally mix business and personal information online. You can read about a query one day, their dog the next. My friend Steve Jones does this remarkably well in his daily editorial and it works because you get to know him in a way you wouldn’t if it was just technical. But even Steve draws some lines, and I believe rightfully so. Others do not, and it’s not my place to criticize them – just to say that I prefer to take a different approach than they do. It comes down to this; for the space on the web that you control, you’re making a decision to show it to people that might want to hire you and living with the results.

You’ll probably never hear about opportunities missed because of something online, why would they bother to tell you if it bothered them that much? You can see that as a plus, thinking that you always want to work for people that either share or at least tolerate your views. But is that really the criteria you want to apply? I’ve worked on a couple jobs because I just needed work. It didn’t matter if we agreed on much of anything besides me being willing to to a given task in return for a given amount of cash. When jobs are plentiful it’s great to be picky, but when they aren’t – do you really want to filter some of them out?

The thing is, you can’t control how people interpret what you say in person or online. I think most people are reasonably tolerant, but we all have hot buttons that would just generate a “NO”. I certainly share some information about my personal life, and that’s because I don’t want to appear – or be – one dimensional. Even with limited information it’s possible someone won’t hire me because I’m am amateur woodworker and might cut my hand off,or because they don’t like that I’m a fan of the space program, or that I take a somewhat open position on networking. I think that would be rare, but it’s possible, and I’ve made the decision to try to take the chance…consciously.

If you’re new to putting information online, I’d say just go slow. Fill out a profile on LinkedIn or whatever, put some basic information, and then slowly grow from there. If you decide that blogging about family is something you want to link to that, go for it! But test the waters a bit, look at some other peoples work first, maybe even see what your current employer thinks about all of this just to get a view from the other side.


I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of SQLServerCentral.com and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.


Posted by Steve Jones on 18 August 2009

Nice writeup, and the other thing I'd say is that you ought to ask your family about things you put out there. My wife has gotten on me a few times about things I've posted, so I've learned where to draw lines, and where to ask permission.

Posted by Tim Mitchell on 18 August 2009

Good post.  You mentioned drawing some lines, and that's important, particularly for those who prefer a little more privacy.  I too enjoy reading many of the non-technical posts by people I know, because it provides a little insight into their lives, but I'm not bothered if a blogger that I follow doesn't want to share anything personal.

I was discussing with a friend a few weeks ago the pros and cons of building an online presence.  He said that he wanted to raise his professional profile, but expressed that he's sort of a private person and would like to keep his personal life private.  If that boundary is set from the beginning, where it's all about the career and not about your life, you can still expand your online presence and maintain a level of privacy.

Posted by bledu on 21 August 2009

I think they need to include this in college courses on Computer Ethics et al.

For me I try to have as little as possible personal info on the web even on facebook. But its very difficult to keep all the profiles that I use up to date.

Posted by jay holovacs on 21 August 2009

This is a definite place for semi-anonymous posting, under a nickname or pseudonym. All the potentially controversial stuff can go there. Your friends my know it (that's fine) but a prospective employer or customer would not find it in a Google search.

Posted by skjoldtc on 21 August 2009

One of the most difficult things people seem to forget is that what you put out there is there for a very long time. I did some embarassing things in my youth that I would not want to have to face today. My parents spoke about one's "permanent record" and that you don't want anything that will embarass you later in life. The permanency of the internet makes that "permanent record" come to life.

One more thing. Do not post about where and when you're going on vacation. People have returned finding their homes cleaned out.

Posted by Someguy on 21 August 2009

Good article, Andy. It makes a lot of sense to have a preferred location for you information and to be very careful about what goes there. Maybe I'm paranoid, but I have never felt comfortable posting a lot of things about myself online. It's too easy for prospective employers to find your postings.

Posted by Andy Warren on 21 August 2009

Skjoldtc, thats's a great tip on vacations - better to write it about afterward!

Someguy - totally understand! Jay mentions the nickname and I think that makes sense, though it's not my favorite option.

Posted by K. Brian Kelley on 21 August 2009

When I post or when I write, I try to keep in mind that others I don't know now could be reading it. So I try and weigh in how someone I don't even know might read it.

I've also determined that semi-anonymous posting doesn't really work. Because folks who know your professional and personal presences can get them crossed on you. And there's the link. So even when I'm writing or commenting about personal things, I make sure to keep in mind that what I write may come back to me later.

Posted by Andy Warren on 21 August 2009

The point of view is really important, I try to always use firstname/lastname and a link as much as possible so when I say "Steve" they aren't left guessing.

Yes, being anonymous talks a lot of discipline and probably works best if you're truly anonymous, but maybe there's value in at least making the effort.

Posted by Chopstik on 21 August 2009

I recently had the opportunity to listen to Steve Jones address this subject when he was in Richmond, VA at the SQL Server User Group.  I agree it is a very fine line and one that not many people seem to realize can have very definite consequences - there is not as much anonymity on the web as people seem to think.

I only recently started creating an online profile (external to the occasional posts on different technical forums) that includes blogging and Facebook (I was already on LinkedIn).  However, my blogging tends to be related to technology and politics - nothing personal.  And the two are on separate blogs (thanks for that advice, Steve!).  My Facebook profile is somewhat limited because I tend to be more cautious on what I put out.

It may not be the perfect solution but it helps to maintain a separate balance between personal passions and professional attitudes.

Posted by William on 25 August 2009

I have always been too paranoid on this subject. To the extent that I don't have a facebook or linkedin account. Even my postings on job sites reveals only the technical aspects of the job.But now I realise the shortcoming of this approach. I may start going public- in small steps, as suggested by Mitchell. Thanks Mitchell.

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