Networking is hard. It is even worse when you’re an introvert at an event. In order to build meaningful relationships personally and professionally, we have to step outside our comfort zone and start networking. In this article, I will share the steps I take to network effectively at tech events and how it’s helped my developer career.
How I started networking
My networking journey started during my university days when I joined a student developer society. This was a society that organised tech events for students, ‘lunchtime tech talks’ and two yearly #breaktherules events. Not knowing what I was getting myself into, I volunteered to be part of the organising committee. But being introverted meant that I would attend events without talking to anyone or making any connections.
This changed when a fellow student who was part of the organising committee explained why the tech events were being hosted. They showed me that tech events are a space to meet fellow developers and potentially connect and build professional connections. With this knowledge in mind, I decided to start talking more at events and connecting with other developers. While this was difficult at first, I can now see the huge benefit it’s had on my career.
How networking has helped my career as a developer
Now, as a senior software engineer, I have been able to see the significant role that networking has played in shaping and advancing my developer career, including:
Building professional connections:
Networking has allowed me to build valuable connections within the software industry. By attending conferences and meetups, I can meet fellow developers and industry experts. I started building a strong professional network which opened doors for collaboration, mentorship, job opportunities and insights into the latest tech trends.
Learning and knowledge sharing:
Networking has also opened doors to sharing knowledge and learning from others in the field. Actively participating in discussions during events has exposed me to different perspectives, ideas and approaches. Through these interactions, I have expanded my understanding of various technologies and industry best practices.
During the early days of my career, one of the most important aspects of networking was to know about opportunities that exist within the industry. Attending tech events helped me to be aware of job openings, freelance projects, and other career opportunities that may not be publicly advertised. Word-of-mouth referrals and recommendations from professional contacts have proven to be invaluable in finding new employment.
Another important aspect of networking is being able to build a support system. When faced with challenges or obstacles in my career, I can turn to my network for guidance, support and encouragement. Being part of a community of like-minded individuals who understand the unique challenges and opportunities in the industry has been invaluable in navigating my career path.
Now that we understand what value networking can bring to the table in terms of professional growth. Let me share the process I go through when attending tech events to network.
The steps I take to network effectively
#1 Find developer communities and events.
Professional networking often takes place in informal settings. This could be in a company social lunch, planned in-person or online meetup, or on social networks. Therefore, one of the first steps that you will have to take to find developer events is to look for a community which shares similar interests to yours. You can do this by searching for online developer communities - either in your local area or tech-specific. Aside from sharing events, these communities are also great spaces for networking, where you can directly connect with other developers online and ask for advice, guidance or help.
As a South African developer, I started by joining the ZATech Slack community. ZATech is a community for individuals working within the South African tech industry and its surrounding areas to come together, exchange knowledge, and mutually benefit from one another’s experiences. There are various channels with different topics and domains to join. I first started joining channels such as #announcements, #developers, and #programming-language-specific channels.
Through these channels, I can learn of planned in-person and online meetups, which would often be hosted through various platforms like Meetup. I also found that OfferZen has a tech events page that shows upcoming planned events.
All the above platforms have other tech groups which piqued my interest, including GDG Cape Town, Tech Leadership Meetup, Deep South Devs. Each group is unique and discusses topics around a particular domain.
Once I find a few events I am interested in, the next step is to attend them. But first, I need to prepare.
#2 Mentally preparing myself for an event.
I started attending both online and in-person events with the intention of talking to others, sharing opinions as well as learning. As an introvert, I usually prepare for an event by thinking of some questions I could ask or topics I could talk about with the speakers/attendees. This helps me draft my thoughts and shows me what I could get out of the event.
Here are some questions I ask myself to help me prepare:
- What is the event/presentation going to be about?
- What am I hoping to get out of the event?
- Who am I likely to meet during the event?
By doing this preparation, I feel calmer going to events and more ready to ask my questions and connect with the speaker or other attendees.
#3 Chatting with the person next to me or in the room.
First impressions are important. This means that you have to put your best foot forward when meeting new people. One way is to smile, greet and ask the other person how they are doing.
When attending a tech event, especially in a physical setting, I often find myself seated beside either an individual or a group of people. It is during these moments that I seize the chance to initiate a friendly greeting and engage in a conversation.
The conversation can be about anything - both about the event and beyond it. This is the opportunity to learn more about the other person and also share more about yourself.
Some of the things I ask them include:
- The person’s name and if they are in the tech industry.
- What they hope to gain from the event.
- From here, I continue asking questions about the person and let the natural flow of conversation take place.
- If the person and I get along and find some common ground, I can also ask them to exchange contact details.
By talking to the person next to me or in the same room, I am able to build a connection with someone who may share the same interest as me or be in the same industry as me. This allows me to then build up my network and form fruitful relationships.
#4 Approaching a speaker at an event with questions
In some events, it can happen that you have opinions or questions about the topic that the speaker is presenting. Most of the time, there is an opportunity to ask questions at the end of a presentation. In these cases, you should feel free to share your insights and ask your questions, while also keeping an open mind to learn from the speaker and the other attendees asking questions.
In certain instances, often when there is a huge crowd and you’re unable to ask your questions, you can also directly grab the speaker for a quick chat after the presentation.
These conversations are great to introduce yourself to the speaker and build a connection with them. This is also an opportunity to ask if you can get a hold of the speaker after the event/conference for further discussions on the topic or something else.
#5 Connect with speakers or attendees outside of the event.
In order to have sustainable connections, you have to think about the long-term, not just a once-off transactional conversation. It is really important that you make sure that you follow up with the connection that you have just created in order to build a meaningful relationship.
My approach to follow-up is to use social media or the contact details we exchanged and reach out to the connection with a personalised message. This can be about what we had discussed during the event/conference or just extending the conversation. Sometimes all you want to do is thank the person for chatting with you.
This is one of the ways I have seen that works best to get people to remember who I am and why they should connect with me. After following these steps at a particular event, I was once fortunate to make contact with a person who actually helped me to land a job.
#6 Think of how you could add value to others.
In today’s world, it is all about providing value. This also means that you have to think about what value you bring to the table when forming connections. This can be in the form of sharing ideas or collaborating on a project. Be sure to keep an eye out for something you can also offer the other person without expecting anything in return.
Do not worry if you cannot think of something during the encounter: If you can show that you bring value to the table, even when reaching out afterwards, it will be easy to build relationships. This will also encourage people to continue reaching out to you to maintain the relationship.
Last year, I attended a DevFest conference where I had the opportunity to connect with various professionals in the field. During the event, I struck up a conversation with a software developer named Khomotjo. As we chatted, Khomotjo mentioned that he was struggling with optimising the performance of Firebase cloud functions in one of his projects.
Having experience in working with Firebase cloud functions, I offered to help Khomotjo with his project. We exchanged contact information, and a few days later, I reached out to him to learn more about the specifics of his cloud functions and the challenges he was facing. We scheduled a time to meet and worked on resolving and optimising how his cloud functions work.
This experience showcased the value of building connections and offering assistance based on one’s expertise. By leveraging my skills to help someone solve a problem, I not only contributed to their success but also established myself as a knowledgeable and reliable resource within my network.
By following all of the above steps over the years, I have seen my network grow and improve. I have made connections and built relationships where I have had opportunities to collaborate on projects and even landed a job.
Think of building a network as one of the ways you can level up in your career. Once you have taken the step to start networking, always think about how you can build relationships that will be sustainable. The more people you associate yourself with, the more you are likely to be exposed to opportunities you never imagined.
Sibabalwe Qamata is a Software Engineer working for Loop. He is passionate about using technology to build solutions that are impactful. He has mentored junior developers through various mentoring programs.
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