At a recent event somebody asked me how I used to find work as a freelancer. My answer to them was basically “networking”. This drew some startled, even dubious looks from my fellow devs – too polite to call me on it, though. This made me realize the subject might require some explanation.
The first step of anyone’s version of networking is to attend lots of events and conferences – not limited to just your favourite technologies, but also – gasp – non-tech events. Startup, early adopter meets, pecha kucha, UX, it sounds interesting, then show up.
The second thing is to (in my case) overcome a shy, introverted nature and avoid doing the wallflower thing. Mingle, boldly join random groups of conversations – what’s the worst that could happen? By being genuinely curious, wanting to hear people’s story, you go a long way without having supply too much of the dialogue yourself. Most people are happy to talk to a friendly, attentive face. Most people don’t know that many people either, so you might be doing them a favour by approaching them for a chat.
That’s where most people think it goes wrong: they equate networking to schmoozing shamelessly, sucking up to people who might provide you with whatever you need. Your mileage may vary, but I couldn’t really stomach doing that. Besides, life is too short to spend too much time with unpleasant individuals.
My theory is simple: you meet many people, there’s bound to be a percentage of people there you like, have common interests with, and enjoy hanging out with. I go for those people – one never has too many friends. If I meet people I could have an enjoyable lunch with, or go to a photo exhibition with, I consider my goal achieved.
I do know that the number of “real friends” one has in life can usually be counted on the fingers of one hand – but there are a lot of shades between perfect stranger and friend for life.
It’s give and take
Friendship goes both ways. Naturally, you’ll want the people you like to do well in life, and they’ll feel the same about you. This means you’ll share information and opportunities as they arise. This is taking networking again a step away from self-centered connection gathering to something that works for all parties involved. Being genuine pays off all the way.
I hope this convinces you that my version of “networking” is not dirty. It’s more about expanding the number of people you know and like, to the advantage of everyone involved. Thoughts welcome.