Networking for Developers

Getting over the hump of actually talking to other humans.

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We need to take a minute to talk about networking because of how useful it can be.

Here's a fact of life: well connected people always have an easier time getting hired than unknown quantities. It's not even close.

That's because they skip rungs in the hiring funnel. When someone knows who you are and knows that you're a smart person, they can recommend you to a friend. Congratulations, you've just skipped over the Filter of Despair and gotten an interview:

Hiring Funnel

Not only that, but the halo of being recommended by someone gives you positive momentum going into that interview. So don't underestimate the power of knowing other people.

It's also incredibly useful at this stage of your learning process to start getting on the radar of other developers. We will discuss other methods for doing this later on but, for now, there's no substitute for just meeting or talking to someone in person. When they see you 3 or 4 or 6 months from now, it will feel like very little time has passed but you have grown an enormous amount. Then you are officially "a line, not a point."

Building a Network

You're in a tough spot because you probably don't know that many people in the web development world. Lucky for you, other developers hate "networking" as much as you do.

As we've said before, the best "networking" is actually just genuine human connections. If you geek out about sci fi, bitcoin, skinny jeans, brewing beer, cats, the origins of the universe, public policy, hiking... anything, you've got a way to connect with other people. If you go out of your way to pursue what you're interested in and keep your eyes open for others who do too, you'll start to develop a good organic network.

At this point, your interests have likely expanded (I bet you didn't expect to be so curious about HTML5 or JavaScript frameworks, etc). and you're in a good spot to try out new things. Join some local Meetup groups, go to tech talks and reach out to people. If you're a smart and friendly person surrounding yourself with smart friendly people, you can assume that each conversation you have is more likely than not to be a good one. If each conversation is likely to be a good one, shouldn't you maximize the number of conversations you have?

This is just a long way of saying "Shake off the rust and start talking to real human beings"! Doing so will certainly be nice personally and might even pay off professionally as well.

Building a Virtual Network

It may not be feasible for you to meet developers in person or you may just prefer working online. The best way to build a virtual network (sorry to sound like a broken record) is to write. Blog about things that interest you and, as importantly, publish your posts on forums where like-minded people might find them valuable (e.g. Reddit or Hacker News).

If blogging's not your thing, be an active participant online. That means commenting on other people's posts, answering Stack Overflow questions, answering Quora questions, and engaging people on Twitter.

How Much Time to Spend "Networking"

This is a question that depends entirely on you. If you're an outgoing person who makes connections relatively easily, it's well worth your time to put yourself out there and start connecting with people. The time spent doing this might be more valuable than an equivalent amount of time spent sending resumes.

If it feels forced and you just can't seem to get yourself to care, then focus your energy on building. Not everyone is great at growing a network, so don't worry about it if it's just not you. That said, going to events and talking to at least a few developers can be really interesting just to figure out what they actually do all day long, so it's worth getting yourself out there at least a few times.

Using Your Existing Network

Regardless of whether you've met developers or tech people, everyone starts with a network of family and friends. They may not be well connected to developers or dev jobs but you never know unless you ask. You might be surprised when your college roommate's current roommate is actually working at a successful consultancy or your uncle's drinking buddy is a developer. So don't be afraid to reach out to people and let them know where you're at. They usually want to help.

Networking Events

Attending meetups or other networking events can be difficult, especially if you're an introvert. The keys are preparing yourself and letting your questions follow your natural nerdy tendencies instead of some fake script you think you should use.

This piece from Paulina Ploquin on business networking for introverts is spot on and applies to developers as well.

Hack your Psyche

Especially for introverts, talking to other people in person (even other developers) can be tough. One way to hack your own psyche is to simply gamify what you are doing. Give yourself 1 points for every conversation you have, 5 points for every exchange of contact information and 10 points for actually getting a followup. Don't let yourself go home from an event without collecting at least 10 points.

The point isn't exactly what scoring system you use, but rather to use the excuse of your internal game as a justification for taking actions which would otherwise be socially awkward. It's amazing how effective this can be.

Keep Learning

  • How to Win Friends and Influence People is an essential classic that relates to business and networking but is applicable to all facets of the social world around you. It's a must-read for everyone (and it's an easy read).

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