If you're a serious, old-school nerd, the usual way to get ahead is to invent your own stuff, or to acquire the following over twenty or thirty years of business experience. (In my case, thirty years.)
They don't teach you this at school.
If you have normal social affect, you might know all this already, or will pick it up much faster than your nerdy co-workers.
In any case, people will quickly decide to perceive you one way or the other, and it'll be hard to change that perception, which is what the marketing folks rightly call a "brand."
You're responsible for your own branding from the beginning, and if you can get it done well, right at the start, and then protect it, that's good.
We nerds aren't good at that, and tend to be perceived unfairly. That can be corrected over time, particularly if you have a sense of humor. Publicly identifying with Dilbert helps.
In a small company, 150 employees or less, people tend to know each other, and view themselves as a team. They actually work with each other, collaborating.
That might be the best way to start a career.
I'd consider a company over 150 people a large one, so large that people can't know everyone else. People organize into smaller units as a form of emergent behavior. They form teams, tribes, silos, stovepipes, whatever you'd like to call 'em.
In any case, what emerges is "us versus them" attitudes, and the teams will only reluctantly work with each other, competing for resources. Teams might organize by ambition and values. Commonly, you'll see one group motivated by a desire to build great products and to serve the customer well. Other groups might be motivated only to climb the corporate ladder, while faking an interest in good product. (A good sign of this is a neglect of customer service.)
My young nerds, here's the deal:
- Take control of your image, your branding, from the beginning. It even includes how you dress, since people judge you that way.
- Decide on a small versus large company; I'd recommend small, starting out.
(It was a mistake for me to start with IBM.)
- If you go large, do what you can to identify the teams or silos, and decide where you want your ambitions to go. Might be happier to find the people who want to do the job well. Bear in mind that the ambition-focused tribes might find it useful to destroy the tribes who believe in good product; that's happened to me, maybe more than once.
You, my nerd, are responsible for your career. Take charge of it.