15 In-person Meetings  “You can’t sit back at an event and expect to build connections out of the blue. In order to build connections, you need to get out of your shell and strike up conversations with as many people as possible. Though this is easier said than done, remember that networking is all about hustling and the hardest things in life are the most rewarding.” Thomas Griffin, from Forbes Real, human interaction is often undervalued in the tech industry, even though it can have a profound effect on your career. I would not be where I am today without the help of many people I have met over the years at meetups, conferences, and other events. You need to connect with as many people as possible to thrive in this industry. Note: Because of the 2020 pandemic, many of these events are now being held online. While sometimes it can be hard to have genuine interactions at online events, it still can be done. Try out different groups and events until you find the ones that work the best for you. Being shy is not an acceptable excuse to forego networking; I am extremely introverted but I made the effort to get out of my comfort zone and connect with other people at these events. Yes, I had some awkward interactions. Yes, I did not always say the right things. Sometimes I felt anxious after an event. In the end, all of that was peanuts compared to the payoff. Once I realized that other people were just as nervous as me, I was able to get over the fear of introducing myself to new people.  Which Meetups to Attend There are tens of thousands of tech meetups all over the world, and there will likely be a variety to choose from depending on where you are located. Where I live, there are language-specific meetups for JavaScript, Python, Rust, Go, C#, etc., in addition to more gen- eral meetups for things like blockchain, functional programming, or artificial intelligence. There are also meetups that are focused on specific technologies or frameworks like Vue.js, React.js, Django, or Node.js. Finally, there are meetup groups that target specific skill levels and types of people: for example, the local freeCodeCamp chapter targets beginners and Code Black tries to encourage more people of color to learn tech skills. Which of these should you attend? Start with the ones that most closely relate to what you are learning as well as any groups you identify with and set a goal to attend a few meetings per month. Do not be afraid to attend events that are beyond your skill level, as exposure to more advanced concepts can be very helpful for learning. Do not be afraid to ask questions when you do not understand something. At most meetups, the audience stays pretty quiet and many speakers are happy to receive questions about the topic they are presenting. Asking questions shows you are interested and helps you stand out among the attendees. Some meetups are less formal and more general. Code and coffees, for example, are usually hosted at a cafe where a group of technologists (mostly programmers) get together to chat about technology-related topics and sometimes work on a light coding project together. You can generally expect to show up at the location, order a beverage, sit down, introduce yourself, tell them about your goals, and get to know everyone. These are great events for connecting and forming relationships with people in your area: I highly recommend checking out as many code-and-coffee-style meetups as possible. Most of them are early in the morning so it might only be possible if you are available (and awake!) and close to an urban area that hosts one of these groups.  How to Find Meetups There are numerous places to find groups online: meetup.com, Facebook events, even Twitter. It’s also good to check out commu- nity centers like your local library and any coding bootcamps in your area, as they usually keep lists of relevant events, meetups, and tech groups. Keep a running list of the meetups you are interested in and review them weekly or monthly to see what upcoming events you might be able to attend. When you meet people at these events, ask them about their favorite local meetups. You may find great communities where you least expect. Just because you are not studying a certain language or framework does not mean those groups will not be helpful to you. Go to the event, even if you do not know the topic, or aren’t at the experience level, you can still learn something and connect with other industry professionals. Once you try out several meetup groups, you will have a feel for the communities that best fit your interests and goals.  Networking at Meetups “Every man I meet is my superior in some way. In that, I learn of him.” Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People When you arrive at a meetup, introduce yourself to anyone in the room and ask them about the technologies they use or some- thing else related to programming. It doesn’t matter what you ask them about, just that you start the conversation. People always like to talk about themselves so asking them about what they are doing is a great way to make a positive connection. Do not forget to ask people for their business cards or contact information and stay in touch; connect with them on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Github if you can. If you have trouble meeting people, make sure to set a goal to introduce yourself to at least two or three new people during the event. If you attend one meetup per week, you will make at least 8-10 new connections per month. Connecting with people in your local scene is a great way to understand the nuances where you live. For example, if you live in an area where a major company promoted a certain language or technology for a long time, there will probably be a shortage of peo- ple who can, or want to, work in those older systems. When you meet locals who are knowledgeable, well-connected, or interesting, invite them out to coffee or lunch to continue the conversation. You will not only learn a lot, but you will also be more memorable to that person. Speaking of ‘connecting with connectors,’ the meetup organizers should know who you are. They are usually some of the most well-connected people in the community. By forming relationships, you can also find collaboration partners and mentors who volunteer their time to help people learn. Try to cultivate these relationships with mentors who can advise you on areas and skills you want to develop. TIP: What it is Like as a Minority in Tech I have been the only female programmer on several teams and one of the minority female tech speakers at many conferences, and I can say that most developers and other professionals I’ve connected with have done a great deal to help me. Some of the more experienced men I have worked with have donated their time and energy to provide me with feedback and encouragement, for which I am extremely grateful. Sometimes people make out-of-line comments, and you will probably encounter this whether you are a minority in tech or not, but I believe that most instigators are not trying to be hurtful. The best thing to do when you are faced with a situation that makes you uncomfortable is to step back and try to understand where the person is coming from. Fortunately, most meetups, conferences, and organizations will have code of conduct documents and a means of reporting any behavior that can be constituted as harassment. Most mid-to-large-size companies actively seek out diverse candidates, which can be great if you fit into a minority category. Many minority engineers are recruited heavily first from computer science programs at colleges, which is great for those students. Unfortunately, it also hurts minorities overall since a disproportionate number of them come into the industry from non-traditional backgrounds because they did not go to college, or went for something non-technical and are career changers. The industry is chang- ing, but slowly, and we need to keep encouraging companies to rethink their hiring practices and look for diverse candidates with di- verse backgrounds. Everyone is going through their own journey and feels out of place sometimes. You will meet people, make great connections, and, in turn, help others. If you do not see your particular community represented, start your own group or meetup as I explain below. The best way to make tech more diverse is to start working in it and then encourage your connections to do the same. Organizing a Meetup What do you do if there are not many meetups in your area, or the community you are looking for doesn’t exist? Start your own. The organizers who run meetups are not any better than you. Maybe they have been in the industry longer, but they do not have your unique personality or appeal to the same communities. Sign up for a free account on Meetup.com or create a Facebook group or do both. Then start promoting your meetup at every event you go to, hang up flyers about it at your local library or coding bootcamp, and post about it on your local subreddit or community Facebook group. If you want to start a meetup targeted at a specific demographic or group, then you can apply to become a chapter of a larger non- profit like Women Who Code or freeCodeCamp. They will have branding and some of the details already figured out so it will be easier for you to get started. Many of these groups already have international communities, which will boost your network. If you live in an area where there are lots of meetups already, consider reaching out to one of your favorites and asking if you can help out. There are lots of ways to help, from finding people who will speaking about a certain topic to being the event host. If there is an online community for the group, you can also help moderate the forum, group page, or chatroom. Whether you start your own group or volunteer to help one that already exists, it is a great way to start putting yourself out there as a thought leader in the community. It will also help with networking and look great on your resume. Once you get the hang of it, it only takes a few hours per month to organize most meetups.  Conclusion Even in technology, human interaction is vital for your career. As Jeff Atwood famously said about the importance of humans in software, “No matter what they tell you, it is a people problem.” Action Steps:  1.Make a list of the meetups you want to try. 2.Every month/week review the upcoming meetups and see which ones you will be able to attend. You should shoot for one per week if you live near a city, or at least two per month if they are a farther drive. 3.Set a goal for the number of people you would like to connect with per event. 4.Consider starting your own meetup or helping out with one that already exists.