Several classmates of mine from Leon Noel's 100 Devs Full-Stack Bootcamp have reached out for networking advice, so I'd like to share what's been working for me over the last few months.
(Who am I? Just a thirtysomething dude who got burned out with his career in trades and decided to change course to web development. I started learning in September 2020 and as of January 2021 I have begun freelancing as a designer and developer.)
I want to stress that I am not an expert and have honestly just been trying to push myself to go above and beyond what Leon has been advising us to do.
(I can push myself because I have the time and energy and means and resources and so on to do that. If you’re strapped for time or it’s detrimental to your mental health to lean into socializing with strangers, please don’t fault yourself for it. We will all get where we’re going at our own pace.)
It's worth noting that I live in the Bay Area, CA, about an hour south of Silicon Valley. It’s kind of impossible to avoid the tech industry here, so basically everyone who I know personally also knows multiple people in tech. That said, I only moved here 2 years ago and I honestly don’t know very many people outside the non-tech industry I’ve been working in (landscaping) up to this point.
My networking strategy has been primarily two-fold: personal connections and Twitter. LinkedIn is a distant third, and mostly only serves (for me) to reinforce the connections made IRL and on Twitter. But I have had some luck cold-messaging folks on LinkedIn and asking for a coffee chat. Your mileage may vary.
When it comes to personal connections, I just try to be upfront with everyone I know about what I’m up to when it comes to transitioning to a career in tech. Friends and acquaintances will often offer to connect me with someone they know in the industry without me asking for it, but if they don’t then I will directly ask.
These kinds of networking connections seem to go most smoothly when there’s a middle-person (your mutual acquaintance) to make the introduction, typically via email or group text. This is the only avenue that has so far led to a 100% success rate for me in terms of making a meaningful personal connection with someone, so these are by far the most valuable intros to seek.
We schedule a time to talk via phone or Zoom, and the conversations usually last about 30 minutes. Most people are curious about what I’m up to, what I’m aiming for, where I’m at in terms of skills, and how they might be able to help me out with info, resources, or career advice.
Some of my favorite questions to ask are:
- “How did you land your first job?”
- “What’s your current company like, and what’s your role there?”
- “How will I know when I’m ready to start looking for a job?”
- “After hearing about what I'm up to, do you know anybody who you think I should meet?”
I’ve talked to senior full-stack devs, CTOs, data scientists, geotech engineers, roboticists, and freelance web devs. Nearly all of them were self-taught to begin, and broke into the industry because they were passionate and dedicated. Tangential but worth mentioning.
Having these conversations with strangers feels super awkward — believe me, I get it! I’m pretty introverted and mostly keep to myself, pandemic or not. (It's not for nothing that I live alone in an off-grid cabin in the woods!)
But people in the tech industry know how the game is played, and they expect to make these kinds of connections regularly. Many use scheduling apps to streamline the process and will simply direct you to a signup page where you can pick a time on their calendar. People will appreciate that you are taking the initiative to network with them.
Every time, without fail, these individuals have stressed that they would be willing to go out of their way to help me out in any way possible. Several people have told me “I was able to get my foot in the door thanks to a handful of kind individuals who went out of their way for me. So it’s important to me to pay that forward to others.”
I bring this up not to toot my own horn, but to stress that people in this industry want to help you succeed. I’ve worked in several other industries in the past and have never witnessed this kind of ethos before. It’s really remarkable.
This ethos is also apparent on Twitter, where I’ve tapped into the incredibly supportive tech community.
To be quite honest, I don’t have a “strategy” for Twitter and I would be skeptical of anyone who says they know the secret recipe.
Since I joined in October, many people have reached out to me via DMs to offer resources, support, encouragement, and career advice. And that’s to say nothing of the hundreds of others who’ve helpfully chimed in to reply to my tweets. It's as though I've curated an audience of mentors looking over my shoulder and offering guidance.
Now that I have a decent follower count, one of my favorite things to do is respond to a tweet — especially a newbie question — from someone with fewer followers than me, even if I don’t know the answer. This way my reply will show up in the feed of my more knowledgable followers, who will proceed to hop over to the original post and help out. Everybody wins!
When it comes to networking, the only advice I feel confident giving is, BE YOURSELF!!
I’m a weird dude.
Don’t even get me started.
But the people I make the most meaningful connections with are the people who think my particular flavor of weirdness is extra-cool.
If I wasn’t open and authentic about the kind of person I am, I would never be able to forge more than superficial connections.
I hope this helps! No magic formulas, just some things I’ve learned on this journey so far. Best of luck to y’all.