Sunday, May 26, 2024

It’s Time to Start Networking

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First let me start off with the obvious, considering my target audience.

The networking I’m going to write about has nothing to do with Ethernet

or 802.11 Wi-Fi standards. The topic of this article is about the type of

networking IT professionals fear the most — person-to-person networking.

Most of us have a hard enough time saying ‘Hello’ to the person coming

down the hallway during a trip to the vending machine. The thought of

actively pursing communication with other warm blooded mammals, besides

our pets and family, is downright intimidating. (Pets are, typically,

one-way interactions and family communication also has issues, but let’s

save that analysis for another publication.)

So why willingly put yourself through this torture?

You might think networking is for people in sales, marketing and the

suits in the executive suite, but not for true, blue IT folk. Think

again. Networking is not all about sales, however, it is about selling.

Selling yourself, that is.

The most important reason for you to network is for career advancement.

Most IT pros will post their resume on an Internet job board expecting a

quick pay off. Consider a 2004 survey by CareerXroads that found the

highest percentage of hires come from referrals. This should not be a

surprise, but what are you doing about it?

The time to network is not when you are under the gun to find a new job;

it has to be an ongoing part of how you manage your career.

Making contact with other IT professionals also opens up a network of

resources for problem solving. When you come across a challenging system

architecture problem or want feedback on the latest development

methodology, you can tap into your network for their collective wisdom or

individual experience.

Networking is, in fact, a fantastic way of finding a mentor. Work on

building the confidence to introduce yourself to those you respect who

are in positions you aspire to reach, be it tech gurus or executives.

Granted, sales is a popular reason for networking. But just because you

aren’t in sales, that doesn’t mean you cannot, in the process of

networking, find customers or partners for the company you work for.

Whether you are compensated directly is not the point. You are

strengthening your employer’s financial stability, making yourself look

good to management and, by default, making more networking contacts that

you can use for your own future benefit.

Now that I have undoubtedly convinced you of the importance of

networking, let’s discuss how to do it.

Networking How-To

Although it is logical to associate networking with events outside of

work, the easiest place to start is actually inside your current company.

Start by identifying three co-workers you have a high opinion of and make

a conscious effort to strike up a conversation. If this seems insincere,

then think of it this way… Besides potentially advancing your career,

you could eventually benefit THEIR career or simply make a new friend.

Time for the hard part — networking outside of work.

Make it easy on yourself. You do not have to only network with potential

employers. Instead, focus on networking with like-minded people. Find

seminars or groups that meet to discuss topics of interest to you,

whether it is a hobby, like model trains, or a local users group for the

enterprise software your company implemented. Volunteer to represent your

company at true networking groups for the industry you work in or

community networking groups, such as chambers of commerce or local

technology councils.

Other ideas are to join an alumni association that has a local chapter or

find a happy hour where IT people hang out. If you work in a highly

concentrated technology corridor, it is easy to find these informal

events. If not, subscribe to the local technology or business journal to

keep tabs on event announcements.

Don’t feel like you must become best friends with everyone you meet.

Just exchange cards or at least collect a name and email address. Then

drop them an email the next day stating what a pleasure it was to meet

them, and if possible, provide them with some tidbit that is useful to

them. If they manage quality assurance projects, recommend an article

link about new QA techniques. If they mentioned they like Italian food,

recommend your favorite local pasta palace.

The point is to make a lasting impression, so it will be easier to

approach this person again in the future.

And being that we are all working in technology, let’s not forget the Web

for networking opportunities. Becoming more popular are the social

networking sites like Friendster with 9 million active members and

LinkedIn where 5 million searches are conducted on average every month.

It isn’t enough to just join one of these sites. You have to actively

maintain your personal profile, invite others to join your network and

use the site to search for jobs, partners, etc. These sites also are a

great repository for all the personal contacts you make and make it

easier for others to find you when looking for someone with your

expertise. If you are an ultra-introvert, these sites at least provide

you with another networking option.

I’m not going to pretend networking is easy. But if you put yourself out

there and make a conscious effort to attend events, many opportunities

will present themselves.

Case in point, I recently attended a CIO panel discussion sponsored by a

local university. Even though this event was open to the public (and

offered a free buffet), the auditorium wasn’t even half full. I found

myself with easy access to talk with each CIO afterwards. I also made

good contacts with people in the audience.

Although you can’t expect CIO access at every event (or for that matter,

free food), I can guarantee that with every business card collected you

are doing more than the average person in IT — who would prefer to keep

his head buried in the latest book on wireless networking. Just be sure

to remember the golden rule — networking is a two-way street. Make sure

you do your best to help those you meet.

The more doors you help open for others, the more incentive others will

have to help you when you need it most.

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