When you start out, you’ll have no job, no professional experience, no proven track record, and likely very few connections in the industry. Things will change rapidly after you land your first position, but getting it takes some work. That’s where networking comes in.
Networking is a bit of a dirty word. People associate networking with that guy at events who just walks up and hands strangers his business cards. It doesn’t have to be like that. Here’s everything you need to know to network like a boss.
There are generally two types of places where you’ll be able to do serious networking. Here we go:
Local Meetup Groups
If you live in a city, there are likely some pretty large meetup groups, where seasoned developers will get together to talk tech and about some cutting edge technologies in the industry. Generally, these groups will meet around once a month and will have anywhere from 30 to 100 people in attendance. If you’re looking to grow your network, make sure to go to events that would interest experienced developers.
Pro-tip: Go to the meetups that seem scariest and most out-of-your-comfort-zone. A meetup with a talk about HTML & CSS and a supportive environment will likely have an audience of mostly people who are just starting out. In turn, this means that they likely won’t have a very large network. Instead, you’ll want to attend events with topics like: The Soft Underbelly: The Uncommon Attack Vectors You’re Not Looking For, which will attract much more experienced developers.
Know that it’s okay not to know everything. In general, developers are nice and comprise an inclusive community. It’s never too soon to start getting out into your community.
How Meetups Work
Meetup pages will generally look like this, and most meetups will follow a pretty similar format.
First, it’s an informal environment. Developers will show up in jeans and a t-shirt, or just whatever they were wearing earlier that day. If you show up on time, there’s usually free pizza available, provided by local dev shops that are often hiring. The act of buying the pizza gives the company a quick chance to plug any open positions they have.
Meetups generally get started 15 to 30 minutes after the scheduled start time. During that period is when developers start arriving, hanging out, eating pizza and talking.
Some developers will come by themselves, and other developers might come with a handful of coworkers, and they will hang out.
Once the meetup kicks off, two or three 20- to 30-minute talks will take place. Usually, they will be technical in nature, and there will be time for Q&A from the audience after each talk.
If you’re confused by the topic that is covered, know that that is okay. People are generally a little afraid about attending events like these, and some talk about how “imposter syndrome” can kick in. In reality, there really isn’t anything to worry about, so long as you don’t lie or try to act like a know-it-all.
If anyone asks you what your story is, saying something like:
“I’m just getting my feet wet in web development. I haven’t gotten my first job yet, but I hope to in the next couple of months or so.”
sets the stage up well.
While the talks might be interesting, and you might learn something from them (or just end up totally confused), remember that meeting people and having conversations with other developers is the most important reason for attending.
At the end of some meetups, they’ll allow companies who are hiring to plug their openings. In other cases, they’ll flip it, and give potential candidates looking for a switch a chance to pitch themselves and talk about the type of experience they’ve had and what they’re looking for. (Meetups often have the candidates pitch themselves instead of the companies if there are more companies who are hiring than people who are looking).
For your first meetup, it’s okay if you don’t talk to too many people. Just get a feel for the environment, and learn what you can expect for next time. Show up, eat some pizza, listen to some talks, and then take off. After your first meetup, though, you should be a lot more proactive about starting conversations with other developers.
Conferences are like meetups on steroids. These are multi-day events and generally attract a lot of developers. The most popular ones will attract hundreds (or even thousands!) of people. The downside of conferences is their cost.
Check out this list of Ruby Conferences. Many of the larger conferences, like RubyConf and RailsConf will attract developers from all over the country (not just the area). Unfortunately, the price tag for event tickets is usually pretty steep— sometimes just over a thousand dollars.
These conferences will often have many talks happening in parallel, so you have to choose which speakers you want to listen to. There is also time between talks to hang out and meet the other developers.
Most of the attendees are there as a perk of their job. Their employer likely footed the bill and flew them out to the event. The kinds of companies that treat their developers like this (sending them to conferences, etc) are likely doing well from a financial standpoint and very frequently hiring.
Job boards at conferences like these are super interesting. Most of the attendees are super happy with their current position, and not looking to switch jobs.
Imagine yourself in the shoes of most attendees: you’re currently at a conference which is super fun, you flew out to a new city, you’re living in a hotel, and you’re talking code by day and drinking with other coders by night. And yeah, you didn’t have to put in for time off, so you’re not using vacation time to do this— rather, you’re getting paid. Meals, food, and sometimes even drinks can be expensed to the company.
Companies that send their employees to coding conferences are usually growing fast. So they’re frequently trying to grow their team by several developers. Attendees will typically add a blurb about their company on a public “job board,” which nobody usually reads (since everyone is super happy with their job), but which includes the companies of all the attendees.
Not only are these companies hiring, but wouldn’t you like to work for a company that treats their employees like this? I think we all do!
Pro-tip: Reach out to the organizers and see if you can get in for free or for a discount. If you’re “trying to land your first position as a developer,” there’s a chance the organizers will hook you up to help you out (since you don’t have an employer who will foot your bill). The worst case scenario is that they’ll tell you no or not respond.
If you live far away from any local meetups, it may be more practical for you to spend the money and fly out to a major Ruby conference.
So now you know where you need to be. Let’s go a level deeper and talk about what you need to do!
There are a number of different strategies you can use when you’re at events looking to network so you can land your first job in development. If you’ve never been to a networking event like a meetup or conference before, you may not know how to behave – in a hectic and crazy environment – to maximize your chances of achieving your goals.
In a lot of ways, getting your first job is a lot like selling something – you’re really selling your time. You’re essentially just convincing someone that in exchange for 40 hours a week, you deserve a paycheck. Developers generally don’t talk a lot about selling or networking, but plenty of business folks do.
Here are a few ideas from a couple of incredibly smart guys (Tim Ferriss and Gary Vaynerchuk) about networking to find a job.
Networking Advice from Tim Ferriss
Tim Ferriss recently published a podcast in which he deconstructs how to make the most out of South By Southwest – a large technology conference that happens each year in Austin. It’s a bit explicit (there’s profanity), but it has a ton of good advice about strategies to have when going to events to network. His tips apply to networking at coding conferences and meetups as well.
Here are the cliffnotes of the talk:
Treat everyone with respect. Some people will be more interesting to network with than other people. Treat everyone with the same level of respect. You never know if the person you’re talking to could be your ticket to a job. Plus – it’s just the right thing to do.
Don’t be a jerk. Don’t dismiss people— let other people talk and don’t just talk about yourself the whole time. Don’t interrupt people. Don’t try to start a conversation in the bathroom if you end up being there at the same time as someone you respect.
Don’t rush. Often times, you’ll dismiss someone or act like a jerk because you’re in a rush and want to maximize your time. Don’t do this. Take a more relaxed approach. Also, talk to the people who look most relaxed, because these people are often times the ones who have “already made it.”
Play the long game. Try to meet people you genuinely like and can form meaningful relationships with. Don’t try to build short-term alliances that are just about “transactions.” (If you do this for me, I’ll do that for you-type relationships.)
You can listen to the whole podcast here. It’s filled with awesome advice about networking (and preventing hangovers, and other fun stuff).
Life Advice from Gary Vaynerchuk
On Gary’s YouTube channel, he frequently talks about how to make the most out of life. He has a number of big-picture ideas that apply to various facets of life – including networking.
Always try to give 51% and get 49% of the value in a relationship. Take this same mentality to networking. Most people are busy focusing on “how can I get what’s in it for me, first?” Instead, ask yourself the question, “how can I find 5 people and give them more value than I take?”
Try to give more value to people than you take in all situations. Let other people talk about themselves first, and don’t focus on getting what’s in it for you upfront. Find a way to help people first. People generally like to talk about themselves, so by listening to developers, you’re actually providing value. People also like to give advice. Ask for it.
“Hey, I’m curious what advice you have for someone trying to break into web development?”
But, in order for you to achieve your goal, you need to be comfortable taking some value. To do so, ask for things in a transparent way once you feel you’ve given some value.
“Could you introduce me to any companies you know that are hiring?”
People appreciate people who are honest and don’t tiptoe around asking for what they want. Just don’t make the mistake of making “the ask” (the favor you’re asking) the first thing out of your mouth. Build the relationship first – most of the developers will attend the same meetup each month, so don’t be afraid to ask for help the second or third time you have a conversation with the person.
Have zero expectations for people. Even if you help someone out and provide them with tremendous value, have zero expectation for what you’ll receive in return. If you ask someone you’ve helped for a favor and they tell you no, that’s just how life works. Don’t waste your energy being upset about the outcome.
And that’s everything you need to network like a boss with other developers
If you go to the right places – like meetups and conferences with the right people – and talk to the people there in the ways that we suggest, you’ll be ready to grow your network and be in a better position to find a job.
Know that it isn’t easy. It takes time, and it takes work. Make it a goal at each event to make just 1 person appreciate that you went, and you’ll find your network of developers growing slowly but steadily.
You got this!
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