Brag Documents & Highlight Trackers – Take Control of Your Career Progression

Brag documents. It’s something that’s being talked about more and more lately — which is awesome. Now this might not be something you’ve heard of, but tools like this can have an incredibly beneficial impact on your career. It helps put you back in the driver seat of your career progression, instead of feeling like you’re constantly waiting around to see if you’ll get promoted.

But what is a brag document? What’s the purpose? Why should you care and how would you go about making one?

I’ll dive into the details in this article — but first, I wanted to call a couple of things out:

  • I don’t like the usage of “brag” because it’s already making it difficult for people to get on board with it. Many people are uncomfortable talking about accomplishments already… we don’t need to layer onto that. I prefer something like “highlight tracker”.
  • I have created a template you can get for free. I recommend you check it out and either leverage it or adapt it to your liking. The notion version might still be pending being published as a “Notion Template”… Just check back

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What’s In This Article – Brag Documents & Highlight Trackers

Reminder that you can find me on these platforms:

Some Background Before We Get Too Far…

I’m a Principal Engineering Manager at Microsoft, and I’ve been managing engineering teams for over a decade now. I tell you that not to boast, but because it’s the reality, and I want you to understand this from an engineering manager’s perspective.

I love helping lead teams. I enjoy getting to know my team members, their strengths, their areas to improve, their interests, and their dislikes. I want to help them grow in their career and break through plateaus in any area I can help with.

What I Need as a Manager

For me to do my job effectively as an Engineering Manager, it’s important I know what members of my teams are focused on. This helps me understand where they’re excelling, where they’re getting stuck, and where I can guide.

But the reality is: I can’t see everything.

As much as I wish I could, it’s impossible for me to know the status of everything. That means I’m going to be missing things that are otherwise important and those could include things that are related to career progression. This is where your highlight tracker or brag document comes in.

Why Can’t I Just… Do Better?

Believe me – people are my highest priority. It’s hard for me to prove it to you, but I hope those that I manage and have managed see it.

I learned early on in my engineering management career that people NEED to come first. And I learned the hard way… Because I was still coding every day while managing teams. The code needs to take a back seat. It’s the only way to get sufficient time to connect with the team.

But the reality is, even now I’m not coding in my role. But my responsibilities continue to grow, and I manage multiple teams at once. Just like when we have priorities change in our development sprint, I get pulled in many different directions.

I *CAN* do better at being more connected with my team — there’s no denying that. But depending on how our responsibilities grow in our roles and in our organizations, sometimes there are missed opportunities.

But you can help me (or… I mean… your manager) help you.

Why You Should Use a Highlight Tracker

The reality is that even if your manager wanted to with all of their effort see everything that you and your teammates do… it’s infeasible. They aren’t in every conversation, every code review, every design session… They can try, but it likely won’t ever pan out that way.

This means you have an AWESOME opportunity to take back that reins a bit and help drive some of your career progression. Using a highlight tracker or a brag document allows you to capture what you believe are the important milestones you want to call attention to.

If you’re having conversations with your manager for alignment, you should have a good idea what’s considered important to highlight. If not, that’s another problem to address outside of this.

What is a Brag Document?

A brag document — wait, remember, we said we’d call it a highlight tracker — is a document where you can record important milestones. The idea here is that you can keep this and build it up over a period of time so that when you sit down with your manager for a conversation, you have some content to go over together.

Remember when I said as a manager that I can’t possibly know all the details for my team? This will be the same for your manager — as much as we try and as much as we want to be fully connected to your work streams and progress. The brag document highlight tracker helps to fill some of those gaps.

Some Tangible Ideas

In your highlight tracker, you can capture progression in ANY milestone that you’re proud of. If you’re using it to help with demonstrating progression to your manager, I’d recommend focusing on the key things you’ve aligned on.

This could include things like:

  • Getting exposure to other parts of the code base
  • Opportunities for cross-team collaboration
  • Leading a project on your team with some members that might be more junior
  • Participating in design reviews
  • Driving your OWN design review
  • Landing large positive business-impacting changes
  • Demonstrating cross-org impact
  • … and many more

Depending on your level, your org, and whatever you and your manager have discussed… this will look different for everyone. It’s a very individual thing, which is why I can’t tell you exactly what to do — I can only give you some guidelines.

Alignment With Your Manager is Critical

It’s worth repeating this because of the importance:

You need to get alignment with your manager on what’s important in your career progression

You must have level-set expectations with your manager — something I talk about extensively with my co-host on the “Dude, Where’s My Code?” Podcast extensively. If you know what the focus areas are supposed to be for progression, you can try to ensure you’re highlighting things that align with that.

If that hasn’t happened or isn’t happening at a cadence that works for you, I highly recommend you focus on trying to get that part on track. Otherwise, you might have a lot of evidence to go bring to them that doesn’t match up with their expectations. If your manager is like me, I need to bring as much evidence as I can to my peers & leadership to promote people — so providing examples of goodness is key.

How to Create a Brag Document or Highlight Tracker

The easy way: Use the templates I’ve provided and tune them to your liking. Remember, any tool we use is supposed to help us, not hinder us. If my template doesn’t fit your style perfectly… adapt it! Use it as inspiration!

The longer way is to build a template from scratch. Some things that I think are important:

  • Try to keep track of time. I don’t mean down to the minute or the hour, but I mean to think about events and when they happened/started/completed so you can have a chronology in mind. It helps tell a story.
  • Try to include names of contacts/teammates/stakeholders. This is very helpful, especially from my perspective as a manager, because now there’s a circle of influence being described.
  • Relate back to your aligned expectations with your manager. Why is this note important in the brag document? Does it tie back to some key deliverables?
  • Discuss learnings. Keep in mind not everything needs to be perfect sunshine and rainbows… if you have a great learning (regardless of success or fail…) CALL IT OUT!
  • Try to include variety. Personal growth and learning. Key deliverables. Mentoring. Teamwork and collaboration. It’s all valuable!

What’s Next?

Start recording things! Give some thought to the cadence that you’re having conversations with your manager as well. I like doing one-on-ones with my team members every one to two weeks, but this will look different for everyone.

Maybe this is something you want to bring up periodically, or maybe it’s something you want to have every time. Maybe you want a flavor of this that you can bring up at at a less granular level periodically if there’s performance review “seasons”.

I can’t prescribe things and it’s challenging to know what’s “best” for you without working with you. But check out the templates because I provide one you can use periodically, along with a version that you can use more infrequently that could capture goals as well.

Brag documents are a SUPER helpful tool that you don’t want to sleep on! I highly recommend you leverage them.

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Nick Cosentino Principal Software Engineering Manager
Principal Software Engineering Manager at Microsoft. Views are my own.

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