Contents

How to Network

Maybe you’re about to graduate, just graduated, or have been teaching yourself to code for the last few years, and you don’t know how to get your foot in the door with that first job. You see all those “entry-level” jobs that expect a year or three of experience. Networking is incredibly important, especially if you don’t have any professional experience in the tech industry yet.

We’ve all heard it: “it’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” I, personally, have gotten only two jobs (in a 14-year career) from a cold start. And frankly, one wasn’t a true cold start; a recruiter asked if he could show my 2017 resume to the company where I’d done my first internship, way back in 2007.

The thing to remember is that a lot of resumes get thrown out before the phone screen phase. If you have a personal recommendation from someone inside the company saying “give this person a try,” you pretty much automatically skip to the next round.

Networking comes pretty natural to me. I come from a family of sales people. I was literally taught to talk to strangers.

If that’s not you, how do you network? How do you make a name for yourself in the tech community?

In person

Where to go

I’m a big fan of meetups. Go to Meetup.com and find the local meetups for the technologies you use. Maybe that’s a Linux Users Group (I spent so much time with DCLUG). Maybe that’s a Ruby Users Group. Maybe it’s a frontend developer group. Whatever your thing is, there’s probably a group. These are free. They might pass a hat if they rent space.

I also like to go to conferences from time to time. These range from free (LinuxFests) to thousands of dollars (big corporate things where they expect your employer to pay). The ones with admission fees always have ways to lower the price.

In either case, the primary purpose of the event is usually to learn something new from the presenter. Be sure to bring a notebook and take some good notes. You can write down questions as you think of them (and answers as they get answered). Still have a good question left at the end? If you were paying close enough attention to take notes, it’s likely to be a good question. (There’s always someone who gets the answer “I addressed that on slide 7.")

What to do

You’re going to want to have some cards printed up to bring with you. You can get more than you need for $10 from VistaPrint. Get the kind that aren’t shiny, so you can write on the back. (Making them memorable doesn’t hurt. My first set had my name in pastel pink binary on the back.)

Show up a bit early. That gives you time to chat with the other early arrivers. Stay late. If some folks go out for food or drinks afterward, tag along. It gives you more time to chat with people, and often it’ll be the same group going out to the same place each time, so you’ll be able to build a stronger connection with those folks.

“Chat with folks” isn’t helpful advice for everyone, so here are some tips:

  • “What have you been working on lately?” is a question you want to feel comfortable both asking and answering. Maybe your answer sounds like “I’ve been working on a {tech}-based app that {verbs} with data from {source}. Trying to get into {specialization}, you know?”
  • At a conference, good hallway conversation starters include: “so what talk did you just go to?” and “what’s your favorite talk so far?” You can learn a lot that way. Be sure you have an answer to “how about you?”
  • If someone tells you where they work, “how do you like it there?” is a good follow-up. If they like it, then “do you know of any openings?” is your next question.
  • Ask good technical questions. If you can relate the tech topic to something else and ask how X affects Y, great.
  • Be helpful. If you can solve a problem someone is having, they’ll remember that. Fix their wifi. Recommend a library.
  • “Hey, by the way, do you have a card?” while holding out yours is a fine note on which to end a conversation.

Online

In these, the plague years, many meetups are happening online. Folks are attending meetups in other cities via Zoom and Google Meet. That’s great! Definitely take advantage of that.

But there are other options too, mainly in the form of what we used to call chat rooms but now call Slack, IRC, and Discord.

Here in the DC area, we have the DC Tech Slack. There’s a handly list of geographic tech Slack servers. And there’s the Women in Tech Chat on Slack too. Back in 2006, I was on LinuxChix’s IRC server all the time and spent a ton of time on FreeNode IRC.

Forums and message boards may seem a bit 90s, but languages still have them. (I know Elixir has a forum.)

Building a reputation

Don’t neglect to make your work easy to find online. Most importantly: do you have a homepage? Do you blog, tweet, or stream?

I started tech blogging probably in 2006 when I started using Ubuntu. I wanted somewhere to put the things I was learning and the records of “how did I fix that the first time?” If I broke my computer, I wanted the instructions to be online for when I set it back up!

That blog became one of the most popular Ubuntu blogs out there. You know whose blogs you land on repeatedly when trying to solve a problem, right? And if their resume came across your desk, you’d say “oh yeah, they know their stuff. Bring them in!”

Speaking at meetups and conferences is also a great way to get a solid reputation. I’ve never spoken at a meetup, only at conferences, but I hear doing your talk once at a meetup before the conference can be a good way to work out the timing and the kinks. It’s a much smaller crowd, and meetups always need more speakers.

Good luck with your job hunt!