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Does anyone out there actually get benefit from "networking" activities? Perhaps it's because I work in IT/Engineering. But I'm wondering if this is much ado about nothing.

About two months ago, I sat in on my umpteenth workshop on "growing your network" in my long-ish career. My professional network is lousy; it consists mainly of former colleagues who are trying to hire whenever I'm trying to hire and looking for work whenever I'm looking for work. I've always thought I've suffered professionally from my poor network. However, after many years, I'm wondering if I should spend my efforts elsewhere.

My question is - has anyone out there used networking to be more successful in IT? I'm being serious. After every networking workshop I collect a todo list that I dutifully work through - send short emails to old colleagues, try to set up lunches with useful work colleagues, etc., all this "networking stuff." All little effect: the emails and lunch invites go unanswered, the business cards from the networking events get shoved in a drawer, and I give up after a few months.

The thing is, if this is what everyone is supposed to be doing, how come I've never been at the receiving end of this attention, in spite of being fairly senior? Unless I'm thoroughly detestable and don't know it, odds are that if other people are actually taking this career advice, I would have at least some old colleagues ringing me up in a similar manner. Yet I can count on one hand the number of times in the past fifteen years that a contact contacted me in such a manner, other than the occasional desperate "I'm out of a job, do you know anyone who's hiring" email.

Is networking an overrated waste of time, at least in my field? Or is there something essential I'm overlooking?

closed as off-topic by AGirlHasNoName, mxyzplk, gnat, Kate Gregory, Dukeling May 17 at 14:01

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  • 2
    "Is -anyone- out there successful at networking?", without using anecdote and story, how do we give a professional answer to that? Some people yes, some people no. It tell nothing about networking in general. I have work with [top 10 hardware company] because I shout "f this php bullshit" at a bartender. – user102832 May 17 at 12:13
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    Asking for the experiences of others is unfortunately not a good question for this site (upvotes notwithstanding). I would edit this to ask "How do I successfully network in IT?", but networking as a whole is a fairly broad topic (too broad) - there might be a good question if it were narrowed down to one specific goal (how to: keep in touch with former colleagues, use former colleagues to get another job, start a professional conversation with a stranger on LinkedIn, do the same at an event, use networking to get a job at some given company, etc., etc.). – Dukeling May 17 at 14:10
  • @JoeStrazzere I concur. I got a good IT job through a friend in the same field. You don't have to have a huge network where you're going out and about to make contacts. Just be on good terms with everyone on your team as most likely they'll be branching out to other companies and will remember working with you. A good way is to get contact information from people who are leaving or even accidentally where you apply to a new job and the person remembers you. – Dan May 17 at 18:04
40

Networking only works amongst people who want to network. If the motivation is all from one person, then it isn't going to work.

Software engineers tend not to be all that gregarious - these emails and lunch invites are probably not targeted enough at other engineers who might also interested in networking - so you get little or no response.

You're probably better off trying to find a local developer meetup or user group - almost everyone there will be more receptive to networking. Since I've started going to various local developer meetups I've gained quite a few contacts, and even made some new friends. I've also learnt a lot about software engineering and design, so that's a bonus.

At the meetups, I simply have conversations with other attendees - I don't "target" contacts for lunches or anything.

Eventually some of the people you talk to will form the basis of your network - and it will begin to grow - but it needs to be done "organically" rather than however these workshops seem to recommend.

  • Question was "Is anyone out there successful at networking in IT?". What is the answer? Yes? No? Do you actually know somebody that it worked for? I feel like you have written a bunch of BS theory without answering the question. – axsvl77 May 17 at 13:43
  • my experience: don't go to 'networking events', go to hack days or tech talks. – Woodrow Barlow May 17 at 13:52
  • @axsvl77 well, this has worked for me... I'll make that clearer in my answer – HorusKol May 17 at 14:04
26

This whole "Hey, we haven't talked in years, but let's go have lunch together" feels absurdly unnatural to me. I would also probably ignore it.

On the other hand, I'd have no problem recommending old colleagues with whom I haven't talked in years but am well aware that they are good at their jobs. I have done that a few times.

My point is, networking isn't about random activities just to say "hey, I'm still alive", or "hey, I still remember you". It is more about leaving a good impression when you part ways with your colleagues so that they remember you when they see a vacancy, for example.

  • 4
    This. And when it feels unnatural, it is not really networking in my opinion. You need to get across as someone who genuinely is interested by the other person, or their work: we are humans, not robots. – Ara May 17 at 8:49
  • What is so unnatural about asking another person to consume food together? "absurdly unnatural" is pretty extreme when considering how mundane this behavior really is. – Behacad May 17 at 11:41
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    @Behacad well sure when you intentionally take that out of context, it does sound extreme. However that's clearly not the case. When it's to someone you don't bother keeping contact with on a regular basis, it is unnatural. It's forced. – Emobe May 17 at 12:04
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    @Behacad a stranger and an old acquaintance are different things. Note the OP didn't mention whether they were even old friends, just that they were colleagues. Also considering they most likely work in the same industry still, they probably know it's just networking for career's sake rather than friendship being 100% the reason. – Emobe May 17 at 12:17
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    @Behacad my answer isn't an absolute truth, it is my opinion, which may be up or down voted, according to how you perceive the word. For me, and 14 more people at the moment I write this, this feels unnatural. – undefined May 17 at 12:27
10

Networking, at least how I understand it, isn't about forming actual meaningful relationships, or directly hooking people up with jobs. The main benefit to networking is to get your name out there.

People are strange in that we like the familiar more than the unfamiliar, even if we don't know much else. Companies spend billions of dollars on "brand awareness" for this exact reason - if you've heard a brand name before, you'll be more likely to buy it. And it's much the same for networking - if someone recognizes your name from somewhere, even if they only met you briefly, they'll think more highly of you than if they'd never met you at all. Which means you'll be more likely to get an interview, to be hired, etc.

  • You have clearly explained the theory behind networking. Probably Joe Bradley heard a similar explanation in the workshops that he followed. But in Joe Bradley's experience, this theory does not work in practice. Can you add something related to that to your answer? – Pakk May 17 at 11:31
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    @Pakk I'm not sure that that's accurate. OP seems to expect to continue relationships with people through networking (the lunches) and to be called up out of the blue for recommendation requests or job offers. Which is exactly what I refuted in my answer. – scatter May 17 at 12:00
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    Oh, now I see what you mean. In my own words, your answer can be summarized as "You are expecting the wrong benefits of networking. The real benefit is increased recognition." I was confused because I am fully aware that networking is said to benefit you because of increased name recognition, but I have never seen any empirical evidence that networking is good far a career. All I have seen are claims by 'experts' who happen to sell courses/workshops to become better in networking. Your answer to Joe Bradley's question is excellent, excuse me for the previous comment. – Pakk May 17 at 12:18
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TL;DR: I would never recommend someone I met casually at a tech workshop, but I might help them get a foot in the door.

There is a difference between "recommend" and "refer". If I causally know you and think you are a good person, I might refer you to an opportunity. And I would make it clear to the hiring manager that I'm only referring you. I might say, "I happen to know that Christian is looking for a new gig. He's a nice guy, but he should definitely go through the full interview process." From there, it is up to you to be able nail the interview, or take it to the next level.

For me to recommend you, I have to be confident in your abilities. In this situation, I would tell a hiring manager, "Christian can do the job for which you are hiring. Even if skills X/Y/Z are missing from his resume, I am confident that he can pick it up in no time." In my experience, if a current employee in good standing makes such a recommendation, you will almost assuredly get a job offer.

There are many people in my "network" that I would specifically NOT recommend (but I might refer) to a hiring manager. After all, my recommendation is a reflection on me and my assessment of talent.

  • 1
    Is there a case where recommendations lead to not conducting the full interview? From my understanding anything a recommendation does is lead to the interview, not past it. – lucasgcb May 17 at 10:22
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    @lucasgcb It skips initial phone screens etc. – user11153 May 17 at 12:44
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I got my last two jobs through networking despite not even really trying it and I know a few people where at least part of the success stems from networking.

In my case I got an E-Mail along the lines of "Hey, we're redoing a project from scratch and I know you like to do green field stuff. Interested?"

Networking is not about constantly talking to ex-colleagues, writing E-Mails and making appointments. It's about being remembered even when you didn't have contact for years. It's about being the "guy" when someone says "I know a guy for that."

The way to go about it, in my limited experience, is through talking to colleagues about non-work stuff, maybe organizing after-work events and in general being friendly and memorable. Maybe even add people on Facebook and comment on their profile photos or whatever once a month. This means that you should also be likable enough that people want to connect to you on social media without you appearing creepy, i.e. don't add all colleagues on Facebook the day you join a company.

The actual job skills are still important, because no one will recommend you if you suck at your job, no matter how nice and memorable you are, but your skill alone is worthless if people struggle to remember your name a few weeks after either of you leave the company.

In my 15 years of professional software engineering experience through various companies, networking is really important, but you can't force it, especially not retroactively.

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    "Networking is not about constantly talking to ex-colleagues, writing E-Mails and making appointments. It's about being remembered even when you didn't have contact for years." - great quote – user11153 May 17 at 12:45
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    Good point but it's also important to maintain the links in your network. If you've moved house and job, changed phone number and email address a few times, your old contacts might not be able to find you. – Robin Bennett May 17 at 12:48
  • This answer actually attempted to answer OP's question, which is "Is anyone out there successful at networking in IT?" – axsvl77 May 17 at 13:44
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As a software developer also, I've been more successful networking with Product Managers, CEOs, CTOs, Entrepreneurs, etc. I've even attended Meetup groups of Devs as mentioned above, and whilst we always get on well at the event, afterwards they fail to keep their end of the deal. I think devs are just inherently unsociable people and many don't care about networking.

The list of roles mentioned above are always interested in finding and employing/working with developers. Developers aren't so much interested in finding someone to write code for their cool new project, since they can do it themselves.

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    +1 This is an interesting point, devs are typically self-reliant. The only time they may need to actively reach out to others is when looking for work. Managers on the other hand are constantly having to find new workers for their teams and they need good, reliable people so they form networks of such people to put them in contact with other good, reliable people. When looking to network, managers are your best bet. – Lord Jebus VII May 17 at 13:29
3

Seems like no one has answered the question flat out:

Yes

Networking does work in IT. I got all of my jobs since graduation via networking. But I never went to a single networking seminar or any lunches or gathered business cards or any of the things you describe.

To me, networking in IT is about working with other people - who don't even need to be IT people. Here's a three step process for successful IT networking:

  1. Get smart
  2. Work hard
  3. Repeat

Get Smart

Study, learn, get certified, and above all, do everything you can to be the best at your job. Potential network contacts will be good network contacts when they have seen you excel at your work. Be humble, and also try to be the best IT person you've ever met. That means both technical mastery and a high level of customer service.

(May I humbly suggest my customer service 101 answer for that: How to handle incompetent/aggressive customers incapable of describing a problem?)

It may sound strange, but two things I recommend in this area are: Never do anything "the way it has already been done" unless you've checked and researched that it is actually the best way, and then document why it's the best way; and generally look at doing things the "hard" way instead of the easy way. By that I mean, instead of just real quick making a new user account and then going back to browsing the web, take a long time making the account while at the same time documenting every part of the account creation process and/or writing a script to automate creating the account. Use the same approach to every task. That's my advice on how to get smart.

Work Hard

It might sound obvious and yet it still bears repeating. Show up on time. Stay until your shift is done or your work is done. Don't give up easily on a task - follow through as best you can. If things are slow, create work for yourself (cleaning, organizing, and documentation always need more attention).

Above all, "take out the trash". What does that mean? It means do all the jobs that no one else wants to do, and do them with a smile. When the help desk call comes in from that coworker that no one wants deal with, jump on it and help them just like they were your favorite. When someone has to go around to every computer, including all the ones in the scary basement with the rats, and write down the serial numbers, volunteer to do that task. Whatever is the worst stuff that has to be done by your team, fight to be the one who does it. This will both help you get smart and also make everyone love you. I mean LOVE you.

Repeat

Keep it up. IT is always changing. You have to keep working hard and getting good as much as you can. You're never too high up the ladder to take out the trash, and the higher up you are, the more it means when you do it. Management will notice. And yes, you are networking with management also, not just other IT people. I'm 22 years in at this point and still I'm repeating these same fundamentals and maintaining and building my brand as best I can.

3

My question is - has anyone out there used networking to be more successful in IT?

Me, networking and community has been huge for me. I met a ton of interesting people, interacted with people in open source, got my current job and my last one and I'm literally writing this answer from a fancy(ish) hotel room the conference I'm speaking and paid for. The conference is at a country I always wanted to see and them paying for travel and expenses made the difference.

The thing is, if this is what everyone is supposed to be doing, how come I've never been at the receiving end of this attention, in spite of being fairly senior?

This is literally not what anyone I know is doing.

I am genuinely passionate about engineering and I am fortunate enough to have some free time so I do a bunch of open source, answer things here, review books and do public speaking and meetups.

I don't do these "to network", I do them because I love the community, the people and the challenge. None of this is with the explicit purpose of networking - all of it is because I love it. Chasing your passions and things you care about is what worked for me while practicing a lot of mindful disengagement where appropriate.

Is networking an overrated waste of time, at least in my field? Or is there something essential I'm overlooking?

You're looking at networking in a very cynical way here in my opinion - if you start answering questions in Stack Overflow, contribute to GitHub and go speak and talk at local tech meetups it might not "land you a job" right away but you'll meet some of the kindest people you'll know (hopefully), you might learn we have a lot in common and that almost everyone is a little bit terrified of their own incompetence (ala imposter syndrome).

I owe my career to some of those people and your experience might be different than mine (what worked for me might not work for others).

  • Upvoted for calling out the OP's approach as cynical. Now that you look at it like that - I'd rather chat aith someone passionate about things instead of someone wanting to network with me. – Džuris May 18 at 14:40

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