18 Networking “There are three ways to ultimate success. The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.” Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers) We have covered networking briefly in previous chapters, but I want to take a deeper dive here since it is such an important part of landing your first job. Referrals are still the number one way to get your foot in the door at a new company. Not only that, but they will also let you know about other companies that are hiring so you can go and apply. The more people you positively interact with, the higher your chances of making the right connection that will lead to employment. Since networking deals with humans instead of computers, this topic is much more delicate and complex than learning to code on its own. This chapter will cover some of these intricacies and give some tips on dealing with the toughest – and most important – part of software development: people. Where to Network You only have so much time in your schedule to do all of your learning, and then there’s networking stacked on top of that. To do both effectively, you have to do a little planning to figure out where your energy will be best spent. Some events might be enjoyable, but not very fruitful in helping you meet the right people for finding your first job. You want to start attending events where there will be people who can help you achieve your goals. Let’s spend some time going over each type of event to network at, and the type of people to connect with at each one. Coding Groups This is the first type of event you will probably attend to build relationships when you are a beginner. These groups usually meet weekly or monthly and you can find them by looking on Meetup.com, Facebook Groups, etc. They are great places to meet other developers of all levels and start to make friends who can recommend you for jobs later. When you are seriously looking for jobs and have decided on the type of company you want to work for, make an effort to con- nect with people at events who work at these companies. Invite them out to coffee with you. You should ask them what they like or dislike about the company, what their responsibilities are, what their schedule is like, and any other information that is important to you in considering employment. If you have picked out a list of specific companies you would like to work for, try to find their employees on LinkedIn and Twit- ter. See if they post about specific group meetings or events that they are going to attend. Look at the companies’ job postings on LinkedIn or their career pages. If you can see what tech stacks they use (and you will usually be able to find that information just by searching online), then you know which meetups to start checking out in order to connect with their employees. Tech Events There are many one-time, annual, or finite series events with technical or entrepreneurial focuses. The themes will vary widely, but some examples are diversity in tech, business-related seminars, and technical workshops. You might find these events hosted by local libraries, community centers, churches, or non-profit groups in your area. Search on sites like Eventbrite, which is a great place for finding one-off events, since they are usually not hosted by monthly user groups that you would find on Meetup.com. These events offer you the opportunity to meet people who run companies, who are not always programmers. So many people get stuck in a bubble of always being around software engineers, and they likely will not be the best connections as far as employ- ment goes. You have to get out of your comfort zone. Conferences Tech conferences generally last between two and five days, although some specialized ones can be only one day. The conference schedule is packed with six to eight talks per day and one or two full days of workshops with back-to-back with short breaks to get from one talk to the next. They almost always have nightly activities too, like dinners, game nights, nerd comedy (yes, it is both pop- ular and funny for tech workers), or parties. While conferences can have thousands of attendees, you will find that people usually fit into just a few categories. Many medi- um-to-large companies will pay for their employees to attend to receive training for new skills, make connections, recruit, and get fresh ideas. There are also tech start-ups who attend with the goals of handing out their business cards and getting more people to sign up for their services. Then there are those who go by themselves or with other people from a local meetup group looking for training, networking, and jobs. Finally, there are speakers and workshop hosts who get to go for free in exchange for presenting at the conference. I highly recommend networking with this last group of people as much as possible. Conference speakers are usually well- connected, and most of the time they have a big influence on recruiting and hiring at their companies. Before you attend the confer- ence you should try to have the talks you want to attend picked out so you know where to go and do not have to waste time in the hallways making those decisions. Take the time to look up the speakers for the talks you are going to attend and see if you can find mutual interests or come up with questions that you want to ask them. After the talk, approach them and start a conversation. If they are local, try to get them to meet you for coffee, but either way, make sure you get their business card and follow up with them on- line. One other group of people you want to look for are developer advocates. These people are paid by their companies to promote their technologies. Usually, they have good social skills and are looking for diverse candidates to recruit for their companies. While you’re there, try to stop at every booth set up at the conference. Some of them will be trying to sell something but most of them are there to recruit talent. If you are shy, just practice one intro that you will use with every booth, such as, “Hi, I’m a software developer and I’m curious about your company, could you tell me more about what you do.” Keep asking questions and engaging, especially if you are interested in working there. Do not forget to get contact information and exchange business cards. Meal times are not the time to sit by yourself unless you really feel like you need to take a break. These are the best times to net- work. If you see a speaker or someone you wanted to talk to but didn’t get a chance to yet, go and sit with them. Do not let things be awkwardly silent either. Ask them questions about themselves and they will love talking with you. Practice really listening and engaging and, like Dale Carnegie says, they will think you are a great conversationalist. A big non-starter for beginners is the price tag of conferences. Most of the time you can ask for a discount, but it will only be 10-20% off, which is still expensive. A good way to get around the price tag is to offer to volunteer. Usually, conferences only require you to work for one day to get a free ticket to attend the whole conference. Being a volunteer means you get to network with all of the people running the conference behind the scenes. Use that to your advantage and ask the organizers if you can speak at the next one. If you are there early or late as a volunteer, you may also get the opportunity to network with speakers during off times while there aren’t many other people at the venue. Awards Ceremonies These events are less common, but you can find the “who’s who” of connected individuals in your community at these types of events, and it’s a great place to network if you can attend. Wear something nice, bring your business cards, and be as friendly as pos- sible. The same networking rules apply as other types of events, and take the extra initiative to follow up with the connections you make as they are all probably busy with their careers. Entrepreneurship Classes & Groups You will find many business owners and aspiring business owners at these types of events. These are exactly the type of people you want to connect with. If you can form relationships with some of them, they might take a chance on hiring you for your first software development role on a small team where you can ask lots of questions and make lots of mistakes. If there are entrepreneurship classes being offered at your local library or community center, try signing up for them. Usually, the time commitment and costs are low, and you will learn a lot about your options for starting a company. Also, most importantly, you can make great connections with other motivated people who might hire you when they start their own companies. Networking & Social Events Many events are created solely for the purpose of networking with no other presentations or objectives. Some examples of these types of events are tech happy hours, holiday socials, and start-up/small business networking events. Be careful going to these though, if you do not plan and go in with a strategy, then you might just end up talking the whole time and not getting much out of it. Make it a point to go to the ones that have something to do with tech, startups, or entrepreneurship. Regular social events out- side of these genres seem to be mostly for making friends, partying, and matchmaking (from my experience anyways). Before you attend, look up the event and see if you can find a list of people who have RSVP’d. Search for them on LinkedIn and make note of the ones you want to talk with during the event. Be sure to arrive at these types of events as early as possible. It is much easier to speak with people when you are one of a few versus after people have already formed groups later on and you have to figure out how to insert yourself. If you do not have anyone to talk to at the moment, scan the room and look for people at the edges who might be by themselves. Go and strike up a conver- sation. After fifteen minutes or so, exchange information and politely excuse yourself and look for the next person to talk to. This strategy will maximize the people you can make an impression on during the few hours that you have at the event. Hack-a-thons At hack-a-thons, try to connect with other people as much as possible and introduce yourself to the people who come to watch the presentations at the end as they are sometimes looking to hire. If there are mentors who are available to help you, then make sure you exchange information with them as well and follow up online after the hack-a-thon ends. Online There are tons of interest groups on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn where you can meet people. While there are many poten- tial connections to be made, it is also easy to get distracted online so you have to guard your time and make sure you do not get car- ried away scrolling through feeds. I recommend starting by finding some groups on Reddit, Facebook, or LinkedIn that align with your career goals and join them. You want to be around the people who are where you want to be as much as possible and it is easier to do this online. Every few days, look through the feeds and like or comment on a couple of posts. If you find an article or resource that you think might inter- est that group, post it. As you interact with more people, try to find opportunities to ask for recommendations in companies. How to Network with People Nobody gets hired in a vacuum. It is not only important to meet people, but to practice social skills and awareness. Here are some tips on how to interact with people at events to maximize your effectiveness as you are trying to get your first job. Types of People There’s a whole spectrum of people between introverted and extroverted, with most people lying somewhere in the middle. If talking to strangers intimidates you, try starting out with the other shy people sitting in the back or standing at the edges of the room. Once you get used to initiating conversations, it will become easier and you can progress to talking to everyone in the room. Breaking the Ice The best thing you can do to sound confident is to not hesitate. Insert yourself by greeting the person or people and asking a question right away if possible. Just start by saying ”hi” and grinning or giving a friendly smile. Then follow up by asking a question like, ”What did you think about the presentation?” or, ”What industry do you work in?” In some instances, it is not considered good manners to ask a stranger about their employment, but at a tech meetup, it is an acceptable topic of conversation. Refrain from asking questions like, ”How are you?” because they usually lead to one-word answers like ”good” and then it can stifle the conversation if you are already nervous or awkward. Keeping it Classy You might find this obvious, but do not talk negatively about other people or be antagonistic toward someone else’s point of view. Try to steer the conversation toward events, activities, technologies, etc. You may get accidentally roped into a conversation where someone unabashedly expresses their views on a certain technology, sometimes to the point that makes others uncom- fortable. If that happens, be polite and absorb the information, and try to remain neutral until the topic has passed. Try to ask lots of questions and show interest in who you are talking to. Being on top of your game in terms of manners and eti- quette will score big points for you when people are thinking about giving referrals or companies are considering cultural fit for hir- ing. Correctly RSVP ”yes” or ”no” as appropriate. If something comes up, change your RSVP status as soon as possible. As a meetup organizer myself, I cannot tell you how frustrating it is sometimes that people RSVP ”yes” all the time and do not show up. Maximize your Time If it is a large event, you want to limit your time talking to each person. As I mentioned before, 15 minutes is a good amount of time to get to know someone and exchange information. You can keep the conversation going online later on, or by scheduling a cof- fee date in the future. Do not only talk to the same people or people you feel comfortable around. To be successful at networking, you have to branch out and force yourself to meet new people, even if that seems intimidating. How to Politely End Conversations Sometimes conversations can get to a point where they are no longer productive, and if a conversation is going on too long, say something like, “I really enjoyed getting to know you. I want to chat with a few more people right now. Can we exchange infor- mation and stay in touch?” Say goodbye, shake hands, and walk away, that is all there is to it. Sometimes I think we are afraid that being direct or removing yourself from the conversation can come across as impolite, but if you take control of the situation, there will not be an opportunity for awkwardness. I personally practiced conversation skills like this in front of the mirror to make sure I was on point when the occasion arose. Other Recommendations •Some obvious things: Always wear something that is clean and looks nice. You will stand out if you look sharp. You want to look serious but not stuffy and overdressed. •Remember that your first priority is finding a job. Always ask for the opportunity to interview. If you meet someone at a company you want to work for, ask them to connect you with the hiring manager. •Do not be shy, promote yourself and what you are doing to your whole network. You need to be confident. If they have introductions at the start of the event, then announce to the whole room that you are looking for a job as a software developer. You may be surprised how many people want to help. •Remember to be friendly and offer to help. It is not only a gracious act, but it will also benefit you greatly. People are much more likely to help you if you help them, even in a small way. •Read the book, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie for more tips on human interaction. Conclusion Get out there and network as much as your schedule allows: at least once per week if possible. Meet people who are where you want to be and from companies where you want to work. Action Steps: 1.Plan events on your calendar every week or month. 2.Correctly RSVP and show up early if possible. 3.Remember to bring business cards. 4.Keep control of conversations and meet as many people as possible. 5.Tell everyone that you are (or will soon be) looking for a job. 6.Do not forget to follow up with people you met within 48 hours. Send them a note and connect with them on LinkedIn and other social media platforms.