The panel dives into a topic that makes most software developers cringe: Professional networking. Starting with a definition - what does it even mean? - they go into hacks they’ve found for getting more comfortable with networking, building your network in person or online, and then using your network to find new job opportunities or consulting work.
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|Chapter Number||Chapter Start Time||Chapter Title|
|1||00:00||It's party time, y'all|
|3||05:42||Defining "professional network"|
|4||11:49||Just a developer thing?|
|5||13:22||A super smart question from the chat|
|6||16:33||When you need to be transactional|
|7||20:09||Another super smart chat question|
|8||23:15||Nick's magical Borders story|
|9||26:17||The best article about good conversations|
|11||29:20||It's all networking, right?|
|12||33:02||Utilizing your network|
|13||38:10||You can totally practice these things|
|14||40:17||How Amelia practices talking to humans|
|15||41:37||Awkward online interactions|
|17||48:32||Next up on the pod|
Play the audio to listen along while you enjoy the transcript. 🎧
Hello, JS Party people. Welcome to this week’s JS Party. I’m Kball, I’ll be your host and MC today, and I am joined by two of my friends, internet friends, as Jerod likes to say, and fellow panelists. First off, Amelia Wattenberger. Amelia, how are you?
I’m good, joining from sunny Oakland. It’s finally sunny.
I know, right? Oh my gosh, I’m so tired of the rain, and it’s so nice to have warmth.
And somebody who maybe knows about warmth, and has heard of that ocasionally… Nick Nisi, how are you?
Ahoy-hoy! I’ve occasionally heard about that. Hopefully I’m gonna hear about it and then be sick of it very soon…
Indeed. So today’s topic is professional networking as a software developer. Now, let me start with just like gut reactions; what happens in your body when you hear professional networking?
My neck gets really tense, I start sweating, I curl up in a ball in a corner… That’s just my gut instinct. What about you, Nick?
I immediately picture the email that I would get from LinkedIn, asking to be added to a professional network…
Yeah… Amelia, I think your response is very common. I brought this as a topic here because I had something like six or eight conversations in the last month, whether it was people I was coaching, or just people I was hanging out with, or whatever, where they were like “Man, I need to find a new job, and applying online sucks…” And then they’d stop there. I’d be like “Have you talked to people in your network?” and they go “Uh… Oh…” And they’d have that reaction that you have there, or like curling up in a ball, or just being – I mean, metaphorically, but yeah definitely this reaction.
I think we all have a little bit of that reaction, of like “That feels gross, and intimidating.” So I thought maybe it would be worth us talking about our experiences, how we think about it, what makes it work, what doesn’t… Nick, you had a little bit less of a cringe immediately. How do you think about networking?
I think I do… I have a lot of anxiety around it, probably. But I’m also more of a social developer, I guess, meaning like I like to talk about development and to developers a lot. It comes with running a meetup, and things like that; hosting a conference… So I don’t know, from that perspective I like doing that. I like building the network. I don’t know how to utilize a network for finding a new job, or anything. I guess I have done that, but not directly, if that makes sense.
So you will be our resource for hacks for building a network. Okay. Amelia, how do you think about networking?
Yeah, maybe I was being a little bit dramatic… I think for me the word “networking” is not my favorite word, but if you think about it – if I think about it as like “Oh, I’m a developer, and here’s the friends I’ve made along the way. I love talking about my work with other people…” And if you wanna call people you’ve talked to as your network, then networkign is great.
That completely is how I reframed networking for myself… Because I very much when I was early in my career had your reaction, of like curl up in a ball… And I’ve come to peace with networking. Possibly why I end up in all these conversations now about it… And it was exactly that reframe, of like networking doesn’t have to be this slimy transactional thing. It could be just talking with people who are interested in the same kinds of stuff that I’m interested in.
I think one of my favorite early networking hacks was a meetup, and hosting a meetup and going to a meetup, and just talking to developers about development. That’s networking, right? We’re connecting with people…
Yeah. One of the notes I had - it’s interesting to think about what are the different types of networking. There’s going to meetups and talking to people, there’s your existing teammates, and they become ex teammates when one of them moves on to a different job. And there’s Twitter, which is some form of networking… There’s so many different ways to do this verb. Maybe it’s worth listing them out, because I feel like I’ve never thought about – you know, I just engage in activities that I enjoy, but which ones of them fall under the term “networking”.
Mm-hm. Well, can we define what a professional network is?
It’s probably the people that you connect to in your field, that know – either you know something about what they’re doing, or… I don’t know, you connect on a professional level. [laughs] I don’t think that was helpful at all…
[05:59] Yeah, that may be part of the challenge here, it’s like, what is the definition of this thing that we’re trying to talk about here…? I think you’re in the right direction. The people who – well, I guess that’s the first thing. It’s about people. And it’s about people who your relationship, the core way that you think about them or relate with them is professional… Though I feel like there can also be overlap, right? Like, I am friends with a lot of the people that I have worked with, and there are people that I am friends with who are in a similar industry than me, even though our relationship is purely about friendship. So there is a blurry line there.
Right, and it doesn’t always have to be just with developers, right? People I talk to on the marketing team, or designers - they are also in my network, I assume.
Totally. I mean, if they were to go to some new company, and be looking for a developer, you could connect through them.
I like this definition… [laughs] This works for me.
I feel like maybe one of the best things we could do here is just simplify it. A professional network is all the people where your relationship has something to do with work, and networking is just talking with those people. [laughs]
I have a question… So you mentioned LinkedIn. When I think of what is a professional network, I think of LinkedIn – what are they, follow requests, or friend requests? Like, how do you all handle – like, do you get the same number of inbounds that I get, and I’m like “I don’t even know, we’ve never even met… I don’t even know what you work on…” Do you say yes to these things? Is that your network?
It’s a fantastic question, I think, because I’m very curious about how y’all handle it… But the way I do is if I get a connection request, or whatever they’re called on there, I say yes. And then I’ll get the follow-up message or email that’s like – a lot of times it’s like “Oh, I’ve got this job”, or whatever. I almost never respond to those… I’ll connect all day, and then I’m a bad connection, I guess.
That’s so funny, I have the opposite. I’m always like “No, don’t dilute my feed”, because sometimes maybe I wanna read my feed, and if half of it is people I don’t know… And that’s also partially because I feel like I have to respond when they ask me questions, and… There’s a lot of that.
Yeah… I at some point switched my profile type to be a creator type, so now people can follow me without connecting…
So that helped a little bit with that, Amelia, of like maybe I’m not interested in the type of stuff you’re gonna tell me about… But okay, we can still be like kind of connected.
Oh, interesting. I didn’t know that was an option.
I had no idea until I did it.
I thought you had to “make it”. Not that you haven’t, but…
No, I just have to – it’s the original “fake it before you make it” thing. I have to say that that’s what I am… And LinkedIn is like “Alright, sure.”
LinkedIn is a peculiar place for me, I think, just because - yeah, I do connect with everyone, so my feed is just random noise, and I don’t go there to really look at the feed… And maybe that’s a part of it, but I also don’t really interact there much at all. I started posting about my meetup, and stuff, just to get that out there a little bit more… But otherwise I almost never post there. And it’s – I think it’s just the nature of LinkedIn; it feels so – I don’t know, to me, this is my perspective of it, and it’s probably completely wrong, but I always feel like “Oh, I don’t wanna interact too much here”, and a lot of times I’m connected to a lot of current co-workers, and if they see my activity spike on LinkedIn, is that some kind of signal that I don’t want out there? Is it not? And then there’s this whole voyeuristic portion of LinkedIn, where you can see who’s looking at your profile, and all of that too, which also make it like “Oh, I wanna look at your profile, but I’m not going to, because it’s gonna let you know…” [laughs]
[10:05] Oh yeah, that’s my least favorite thing. I’ll open an incognito window to look at people’s LinkedIn profiles… [laughs]
Totally. Yeah, I’ve been playing a lot with LinkedIn recently because of the dumpster fire that is Twitter, and because I’m back in this “Run your own business”, “Gotta self-promote” etc. It’s interesting. Yeah, there’s definitely some weird features about it. I have found there are - just like with Twitter there are sub-communities that engage in really interesting conversations, and the depth of the back and forth can be higher, because there’s fewer content limits… But it’s definitely sub-communities, and there’s also parts that have exactly that, a very transactional feel.
And actually, getting back to your question, Amelia, with connection requests I will say no mostly to people who are reaching out with a transactional request. They connect and they’re like “I thought you might be interested in this thing that I’m doing”, and I’m like “Nope. Sorry.” But people who are like “You’re kind of doing interesting stuff, I’m kind of doing interesting stuff. Let’s connect”, I look at them and I’m like “Oh yeah, you are kind of doing stuff that might be interesting. Sure, let’s connect.” And I’ve even had a couple of those folks where I’m like “Your stuff looks really cool. Do you wanna hop on a call? Let’s get to know each other”, and they’ve turned into friends.
So yeah, it depends… There’s definitely a lot of that transactional… Skeevy, yuck. And I don’t like– Well, I feel like that’s– when we talk about professional networking in general, a networking event - like, yuck! What is that about? But going to a meetup where we’re talking about tech with cool people - that to me is the interesting networking. Not the transactional “I’m gonna give you my business card” etc.
I wonder, is this just a developer thing? Do people in the corporate world who have other types of jobs feel happy when they hear the term “networking event”? Is this just like a euphemism that we need for ourselves, or is this like nobody likes that?
I don’t know… I mean, y’all are my people; I like hanging out with technical people. I don’t know any technical person who likes professional networking events.
Yeah, agreed. And that’s how I treat conferences, too. The reason to go to a conference specifically is for the networking. I almost never will go to talks if i can avoid it, because I can watch them usually on YouTube later… And it’s more about meeting and connecting with people, but it’s – I don’t know, something about that feels more natural.
I saw an Instagram reel today that was like “People in their 30s have friends based on sports, it’s based on work, or it’s based on something.” There’s a transactional piece to having a friendship in your 30s, and it’s because it gives you that distraction away from “We’re just trying to connect and have fun.” You get that with the conference. “Well, we’re just here, having fun at the conference, but we’re here together, and now we can meet and talk and pretend like that’s not why we’re here.”
Yeah, I think that was a huge issue during the pandemic, where they’d have these online conferences, and it was like “There’s no hallway track.” I’m sitting at my computer, just like I do every day. [laughter]
We do have a question in the Slack from long-time listener Jerod Santo… It says “What’s the most valuable use of your networking time, most bang for your buck?”
[13:32] I think my answer, if this counts as networking, is Twitter. It scales infinitely. I’ll just try to continuously post things that I find are interesting, or something I’m just working on, and that’s been so helpful for me… Just finding people that like the things that I like, or getting interest from people who would be fun to collaborate with. I love that, because it’s just infinitely scalable. I post something and any number of people can see it. Whereas like a one-to-one conversation - it doesn’t scale so well.
I feel like it depends a lot on your goals. Are you trying to build a network? Are you trying to achieve something specific through your network, like find a new job, or find something else? And do you think creating something is a great networking hack, whether it’s writing, posting things on Twitter, giving talks?
This is my favorite conference networking hack - give a talk. Because if you are shy, and introverted, like many of us are, it’s hard to go up and start talking with somebody. I even agree with you, Nick, that I love the hallway track and talking with people… I to this day struggle to go up to somebody and be like “Hey, let’s talk.” “Hey, I don’t know you”, or whatever. But if you give a talk, people come to you, and they wanna talk about your talk. So it’s a natural starting place for the conversation. People are coming to you, you don’t have to initiate anything. It’s like the best get to know people networking hack I’ve ever seen.
Yeah, for sure. Another hack though around that excuse - like, we’re not here to… I don’t know what I’m saying. We’re not here to connect. I don’t know, it makes it feel less transactional, I think is what I’m trying to say, because at the end of the day it always boils down to like it might be too transactional in this.
Well, and I think that’s a worthwhile frame to think about, right? If what you’re doing is transactional, then you’re being too transactional. If you’re going into a conversation with a goal to get something in particular and that’s the whole point of the conversation - yuck. And I think that’s where a lot of people run into trouble with reaching out to their network for something… You know, I’ve gotten almost every job that I’ve ever gotten through my network. And it’s never I’m going to people and being like “Hey, can you give me a job?” That’s gross, and I think that’s what a lot of people imagine, is like “I need a job. I’m gonna go and reach out to these people who are my friends, and then ask them for a job.” Like, how yucky can that get…?
It’s going and just like talking to people, and then saying clearly “Okay, I’m looking for this type of thing. Do you know anyone I should talk to?” Because if they have a job that fits what you’re looking for, they’re gonna tell you about it. And if they see something, they’ll point you in that direction. You don’t have to go and be like “Here I am, begging you on my knees for a job”, or anything like that.
Yeah. But in a climate like the one we’re in right now, potentially, how do you engage that when you do need it to be a bit more urgent or transactional?
I think there’s a couple of things… So one piece that I run into is like the clearer you can get on what it is you’re looking for, and what value you would bring to that, the better. And practice saying that. Like, “I am looking for a senior engineering job at a startup that is at least series A, but no more than series D, like 20 to 400 people, and I will be especially a good fit for like an infrastructure position”, or something like that. Very, very crystal. Not just like “I’m looking for a tech job, right?” So are we all. But “This is the type of company I’m looking for.” Maybe I don’t care about a vertical, or maybe I do care about a vertical… Here’s the type of position where I’m gonna be particularly valuable. Do you know anyone in that space?”
Because once again, I said I got every job through my network… It’s never the first degree connection. It’s like, okay, this person’s husband was working at a place that was hiring someone. Or this person heard of something over here and they happen to know someone they can introduce you to, or whatever. So even when you’re that urgent, you’re not asking the people directly in your network for the job. You’re sharing as clearly as you can what it is you’re looking for, and asking them… But the ask is like “Who else should I talk to about this?”
[18:10] Yeah. That reframing - it can feel hard, especially if you just got laid off and you’re like “I need a job. This is what I need. I’ll take whatever I can get.” If you reframe it more as like “This is what I bring to the table. Who would be interested in that?” It feels better, I think, for you, and also for the poeple who would be interested. Because companies need employees, right? It’s a symbiotic relationship.
Totally. I mean, having been a hiring manager, if you introduce me to someone who’s a good fit for what I’m looking for - that’s incredibly valuable! So it’s not a one-to-one, like I’m giving you something… This is a win/win type of situation.
Yeah. And everyone’s getting something out of that, too. I’d be flattered to play matchmaker between this person in this company, and introduce that, set that up, or whatever… So you get something out of that too, even though you’re not directly hiring the person. So that’s a really good way to think about it. And who knows - you’re only six steps away from being Kevin Bacon’s personal programmer.
The dream… [laughter]
Even by the time you get to two steps out, that’s so many people.
Say you’re early in your career and you haven’t done a lot of networking… You’ve probably worked with – if you’re two jobs in, maybe you’ve worked with 30 or 40 people that you have good relationships with… But each of those people has probably worked with 30 or 40 people… It compounds really fast.
Yeah, that’s definitely something I’ve noticed… I’ve mostly worked at startups, so like 100 people, and then how many of those people do I work with day to day… And now I’m working at GitHub, which is part of Microsoft, right? And that network is way larger. It’s interesting, if you’re trying to maximize your network, I suppose larger companies are better places to do that.
I see we have another question in the chat, which is around good resources to become better at networking. Is this something y’all have recommendations on?
I was gonna say Twitter, again. That historically, at least, has been such a good place to learn from, and then just like dip in at any level to jump into it. You can lurk for a long time, and then you can just start replying to people, and kind of building from there, and then that can create deeper relationships, potentially…
I know a lot of people by their Twitter handles, not their real names, which is always fun… But that’s not really a resource.
I mean, your Twitter handle is basically your rapper name, right? So…
I think the other thing with Twitter is there’s so much modeling of good networking. Like, it’s all online, so if there’s someone who you admire, or you think does a really good job at this, all of their messages are on there, so you can go and check out how is it that they do this, and kind of figure out some strategies that work for you. I haven’t done this, but now that I’m saying this, it’s like “Hm… Maybe that’s a really good way to do that.”
Yeah. I’m trying to think if there’s a good resource for this… I often will try to move – if there’s somebody that I want to get better connected with, I try to move from a social network conversation to an in-person conversation. And this actually gets a little bit to your question, Amelia, about like networking within a company as well. Like, find some excuse, whether it’s a thread they were talking about on Twitter, or you’re working at a company and you were both in a meeting together, or you were talking back and forth on a ticket, or something… Or being like “Hey, I realized we’re chatting back and forth, and we’ve never actually met. Could we do a quick call and get to know each other?”
[22:08] I’ve done that inside companies, I’ve done that with people I’ve met on Twitter or LinkedIn, and to me the difference in actually seeing a person and connecting with them, instead of just text, is huge. I really value that a lot, and I feel like I’m able to – then actually when we’re talking in text, I feel like I have a much more three-dimensional picture of who this person is and what’s gonna be helpful or resonate with them.
Yeah, I like that. Now that I’m thinking about it, at GitHub we also have resources, which I’m sure most large companies have like bagels, where they randomly pair people, or there’s like a keyboard group, where people talk about keyboards… It feels like if you move away from transactional interactions, where you just take every opportunity you can to meet with people, not thinking forward like “Is this gonna get me anything in the future?” Just like “Hey, this person’s interested in things that I’m interested in”, or they work at the same company, and taking those opportunities… I feel like it always ends up being beneficial in some way down the road.
First of all, I love that story… RIP Borders; that is some genius growth-hacking… I feel like that ties a little bit back to what you were talking about, Kball - there’s like a spectrum of the quality or significance of different connections. If you’re in-person, you live in the same place and you’re interested in the same thing, that’s like a very strong connection… Versus like hey, there’s someone I saw tweeted something one time. I love the idea of moving up that spectrum, and having a more significant connection to people, and that leading to things probably way more fruitfully than the random connections we have kind of at the edges.
And the other thing is we’re all bad at this, I think… I mean, maybe there’s somebody out there who’s actually good at this, and they’re probably not a software developer; they’re probably like a salesperson, or something… But we’re all bad at this, so give yourself a little slack, and don’t feel like “Oh my gosh, this is gonna be the perfect conversation” or “Oh my gosh, they’re gonna think I’m so weird”, or whatever… Like, we’re just all introverted humans trying to figure out how to talk to people.
[25:47] And I think a good hack to kind of go along with that is try and listen more than you speak, or try and be engaged in what they’re saying more than trying to think about what you’re going to say next. That’s hard, but it’s way more fruitful, and you’re way more memorable if you’re engaged actively in the conversation, asking follow-up questions, and getting the person to talk about them more than you trying to promote your own stuff… Which also feels kind of weird.
Oh my gosh, that reminds me of like the best article I ever saw about good conversations. I’ll put a link in the show notes; the title is “Good conversations have lots of doorknobs.” And the idea is – well, there’s a couple pieces. So one was around this asking versus telling or talking. And different people have different styles. Some people very naturally just want to ask all the time, and some people very naturally just want to talk all the time. So becoming aware of like “What’s my natural style? Okay, what’s this person’s natural style? Maybe I can adjust to that.”
But the other was this concept of door knobs, which is like “Here’s a conversational tidbit, whether it’s an interesting question, or it’s a bizarre statement, that we can take and open doors to places to talk about.”
So tech context, it might be like “Hey, I’ve built an app the other day for the first time using Next.” Alright, that’s a doorknob. We can go down this whole conversation, in a couple directions. We can talk about Next, we can talk about the app you built, we could talk about side projects… But yo’ve just dropped this opening. And they can choose to take it or not. But if you’re in a conversation, being aware of this concept of door knobs, looking for them, following them, or dropping them yourself to help make the conversation flow.
I like that.
Yeah, I wanna read that. That sounds really interesting. I guess I’ve never thought of it like that. I feel like often someone will drop something – like, the other day we were having a conversation in a group and I said “I’ve only played one video game”, and then the conversation moved on… [laughter] Most people were like “Wait…!” [laughter]
“Don’t wanna open that door… What was in that video game?!”
[laughs] Nobody knows. That’s fine with me.
I’m just picturing that meme of – it’s like a cartoon drawing of people dancing, and then there’s just like a weird guy in the corner… And you put different things in there, but the one I’m thinking of immediately is like “These people don’t even know I use Vim”, or something like that. [laughs]
Okay, so coming back a little bit to networking… I mean, this is all networking, right? We’re coming back to what is professional networking - it’s relationships with people that there’s something professional, and it’s just having conversations. Nick, you had mentioned a lot about building your network, and Amelia, you talked about building your network online… Are there other things when you think of like building a professional network? What have you done that’s been effective there?
I think maybe this isn’t so much networking, and this is also not something that I personally do, so this is probably not a good answer to your question, but it’s what came to mind for me… Especially with Twitter, a lot of people are focused on establishing a niche, so that next time someone thinks of “Oh man, I need a data visualization.” Your name, if it’s the first one that comes to their mind, you won it; you’re the first person they’re gonna go and ask. And you don’t have to be the best, you just have to establish this really strong connection between your name and what it is that you like to do. If you do that, you’ll find people - next time they need that thing, they’ll come to you, which is… I feel like that’s a great hack.
And it’s similar to what I was describing in terms of how you reach out to your network, right? It’s like, get really clear on who you’re looking for, what you have to offer, and say it as many times as you can… [laughs]
I feel like the strongest points in my network are probably co-workers and ex co-workers, for various reasons… It’s like, they’ve worked with you, they’ve seen how you work, and they know that you can get stuff done, or things like that. So they’re probably the strongest ones to reach out to for new opportunities if you’re looking for those connections to other places… Because they are in the unique position of “Oh, I’ve actually worked with them and I can vouch for them”, which is really good.
And also just keeping that pipeline clean and good, not burning bridges, I guess… As someone who is boomering twice, I would say it’s good to not burn bridges.
Well, and keeping in touch with folks a little bit, right? I have somebody that I worked with 15 years ago, who lives in Austin. And every time I’m going to Austin for something else, I hit him up with an email and I’m like “Hey, I’m gonna be in Austin. Do you wanna grab a coffee or dinner?” And we hang out, and we chat. And with like no agenda… But it’s keeping that connection warm, plus it’s just fun.
Okay, this is a hack for developers, to scratch the developer itch… But you can automate all of this. You can geofence your phone, and when you arrive in Austin, it sends out text messages to everyone you know who’s in Austin, saying “Hey, I’m in Austin.”
Or you can do like a yearly thing. Every six months or every year, reach out to these people. And it can automatically send these messages without confirming, or anything; like, through the Shortcuts app.
Shortcuts… Can I do it with email?
Okay. Because I periodically do this, where I just reach out to a bunch of people and I’ll be like “Hey, it’s been a long time. Do you wanna catch up? Let’s schedule a time. Here’s my Calendly.” And I can have that on automation, being like “Hey, it’s a long time since we’ve last chatted. I’d love to catch up with you. The easiest way to schedule a meeting is with this Calendly link, but if that doesn’t work, write me back and we’ll figure something else out.” Now it’s like all automated. The scheduling is automated… I just have to show up each day and look at my calendar. [laughs]
I like that.
Okay. I guess our episode notes is not the right place to put personal to-do’s, but I definitely wanna make that happen… [laughs] Okay. So building networks, we’ve talked a lot about. What about now you wanna utilize your network? You have something you’re trying to achieve… Maybe your current job is suddenly sucking, and you’re like “Yeah, I kind of wanna find something new.” Or maybe you’re switching tracks and you’re like “Okay, I’m tired of working for somebody else. I wanna be a consultant”, or whatever. How do you do it?
That’s tough. I don’t know the answer, honestly… But the things that I would think about in that situation are like – I don’t know, it’s so sensitive, or it seems so sensitive to you in the moment when you’re doing it, because you don’t want maybe your current employer to find out that you’re actively looking for something else. And once it’s out, once you tell someone, you can’t necessarily fully control it, so that’s tough…
But also, I wouldn’t want to reach out to one of you, for example, and then you feel like “Oh, this has become too transactional.” That would be going through my mind.
[34:07] Yeah, I have a hard time with that, with like - there’s someone you’ve worked with before, you want something from them… I feel like it’s controversial. Do you put like the pleasantries in front? You’re like “Hey, how are you doing? I wanted to check up on this thing you were working on… By the way… Are you hiring, or do you know anyone who’s hiring?” Do you do it that way, or are you just like “Hey, how are you doing? Are you hiring?” and then later you can have the small talk where you’re catching up? I don’t think there’s a good answer…
Well, one thing that I think Kball brought up earlier, and you just did as well - like, “Do you know anyone who’s hiring?” Not necessarily coming to you directly and being like “Can you hire me? Can you use your clout to help me in some way?” It’s more like “Oh, do you just happen to know…?” Keeping it casual like that I think is probably really good.
Yeah. I bias heavily towards the one you’d mentioned, of like do the chit-chat first… Except I don’t think of it as chit-chat. Like, that’s just as much a part of why I wanna talk with them. It’s like “Hey, I’m thinking of this person because I liked working with them”, or something like that. And there’s actually – I have it in my head like, there’s some people you reach out to and they’re not the type you would chit-chat with, right? For them, I ask for advice. Because everybody likes giving advice. Like, “Hey, I’m in this situation. I’d love to get your advice on it”, or whatever. And there’s a few others of these that you can do, depending on who you’re reaching out to. But something where the thing that you’re asking for in the conversation is something they’re gonna enjoy, whether it’s catching up, or it’s advice, or it’s “I’m looking at different types of jobs, and your jobs is different than my job. Can you tell me what it’s like?” People like to talk about themselves.
And then, once again, sharing what you’re looking for, and asking “Who should I talk to?” Or “Do you know anyone who’s looking?” or whatever. Because you’re not – Nick, you said it; people love to be a matchmaker. “Yeah, I’ll match-make. You and this person? That’s great.” If they have a job for you, they will tell you. You don’t have to directly ask for that.
Yeah, I think that’s the hack. Not that I’m looking for hacks for that, but it’s –
Nick, are you looking for a job…?!
[laughs] It’s like coming at it more subtly, or framing it in the right way, to not put them in some awkward position, but to give them easy outs if they have nothing, no jobs to give, no matches to make, things like that… Like, keeping it casual; a pleasant conversation has its own reward in it as well, so at least you get that out of it.
And maybe three months later they’ll stumble across somebody who has that type of job, and they’ll reach back out to you and be like “Hey, are you still looking?”
I could play devil’s advocate here… [laughs]
When I’m on the other side and someone’s reaching out to me, and we’re talking for like 5-10 minutes, in the back of my head I’m like “Alright, you want something…” Like, I’m waiting until you feel like we’re in a comfortable place for you to ask what you want… But I know you’re here to ask something. We’re both just biding our time until you ask it. Like, sometimes it feels better for them to just be direct, and then it’s like, “Okay, let’s catch up after.”
Totally. I mean, I feel like it depends on your relationship with that person. There are people I’ll reach out to and just be like “Hey, I’m looking for this. Do you know anything? Do you know anyone?” Those are probably your closest connections, in some ways; the people you have a really strong relationship. Or it’s somebody where that was how you established your relationship; like, this is a “You scratch my back, I scratch yours” relationship, that’s what we have. I don’t know. Or – I mean, you could probably ask them, too. You’re like “I’d love catching up with you. Also, I feel like you’re looking for something. Let’s just get it out on the table. I’ll help you if I can, but tell me what you need.”
Any other networking discomforts or situations or questions y’all wanna talk about, or other hacks you’ve found?
Do it…! Is it about TypeScript?
Yeah, are you talking about TypeScript, Nick?
“How TypeScript will help you with your professional network…” [laughter] “When you’re strongly-typed, you know what they want, because they’ve…
Okay, yes, actually – nah… [laughter] This is gonna sound so weird, I guess; or it feels so weird saying it, but you can totally practice these things. I feel like this is a thing that ChatGPT is actually really good at, practicing scenarios like this… And you can ask it to play different roles. It can do that pretty well.
I didn’t wanna be the one bringing up AI again, I’m sorry…
Well, that kind of immersive experience is one of the really interesting things with both AI and kind of VR stuff; in the intersection of that for things like exposure therapy, for things like practicing situations… All those sorts of things are really interesting.
You can also find a buddy to practice stuff with. I mean, especially if you’re in that place where you’re like “I’m trying to figure out how to say the thing that I want, in a way that is clear, but doesn’t feel needy…” It’s way easier to do that with somebody else. So find a trusted peer. If you’re in Nick’s situation where you don’t want your co-workers to know that you’re looking outside, you could go and hire a coach, or go to a Toastmasters club, or I don’t know…
Disclaimer - that’s not my situation, co-workers…
I think on LinkedIn you can set “I’m looking for work” in a way that your current employer can’t see it… So Nick, just so you know… [laughter]
Or you just talk about it on a podcast, and it’s a really good way to hack your network… [laughs] Yeah, I feel like practice is really big for this one. Like, don’t wait till you actually need something to become comfortable asking for things, or talk to people. Regular practice, talking to other humans… It’s a great thing to do.
How do you regularly practice talking to human beings?
[laughs] Well, I go to ChatGPT… [laughter] I don’t know, I think the first thing that comes to mind is just the word bagel. Like, I get to talk to salespeople, and legal people… And it’s just really interesting just hearing those sides of the company, with these things that I don’t know anything about, or think anything about. I think I’d probably take that same attitude to like conferences, or meetups. Genuine curiosity about what the other person is interested in.
Mm-hm. I do that with kid functions, too. When I’m standing around at a soccer game, talking to other parents - just trying to genuinely be interested in what they have to say about what they do, or usually about kids… Things like that. Great way to strike up conversations. And I’ve actually serendipitously met other developers that way as well, which is pretty cool.
Kids are a great conversation hack. If you don’t know what to talk about and you know the other person is a parent, whether or not you are, ask them about their kids. They’ll almost certainly be happy to talk about them.
They’ll also bring out the photos, which is a great conversation starter.
Hey, I’ve got some – do you wanna see some photos right now? I can… [laughter]
Cool. One thing, Amelia, you brought up was kind of online – and we talked about that a little bit with Twitter, but internal networking in a remote environment, or remote-first environment. The bagels - assuming those are virtual… But are there other tools, or tactics, or approaches y’all have used in the last three years where we’re all just faces behind glass squares.
[42:06] It’s a really tough one. I think the remote companies I’ve been at - it’s just like a concerted effort to not just always talk about work. You have a stand-up on a Monday morning where you kind of talk about “What did you do this weekend?” and maybe that feels a little bit forced, but… I don’t know, I find it important to know about my co-workers other than the work that they contribute to the team. I’m curious about you all…
That reminded me of another Instagram reel… I’m not cool enough for TikTok, I guess, but… It’s some guy who’s answering that question, like “Oh, what did you do this weekend?” and then he breaks away from the scene, and talks to the camera, and he’s like “I can’t go too deep on what I did, because then I’m just the weird guy. I have to like just give vague pleasantries on that. I can’t be like “Oh, it was crap. I had kids yelling all the time, and all of this…” I’ll try and find that [unintelligible 00:43:00.03] it’s pretty funny.
That reminds me… There’s a comic of the different ways that parents and non-parents are coming back from a long weekend, with the non-parents like “Ah… Back to work…” and the parents are like “HELLO, ADULTS!” [laughter]
Definitely felt that before… It’s more just like “Hello, structured schedule.”
Anyway, I interrupted you, Nick… What were you…?
I was gonna say, one thing that I’ve done quite a bit is set up one-on-ones a lot, and just like have – those one-on-one conversations that aren’t necessarily like transactional in the way that they work typically; it’s not a hierarchical one-on-one, or somebody even within my band… But just trying to talk to different people, at different parts of the company, usually developers, and a lot of times it’s not about work, or about even tech usually, but sometimes it is as well, and that’s good… It’s just building trust and building communication and rapport with all of these people to be able to easily go to them when I do have something that’s super work-related, or whatever; we’re both kind of apprised on where each other is at, and what we’re doing, and how things are going outside of work… I mean, at the end of the day, everything is about communication and people, so maintaining those relationships and being 100% remote - that’s like one of the best things that I’ve done recently.
Totally. I find it really helpful sometimes with your customer-facing teams as well, especially if they’re filing lots of tickets… Because then I reach out and I build a relationship with this person; it’s not just “God dammit, why are they filing these stupid tickets again?” It’s like, “Oh, this is Brian, that we jammed with over music and travel, and he’s a cool guy, and I know if he’s doing this, he’s probably facing twice as much frustration from the customer on the outside. So okay.” It feels a lot less – what’s the word I’m looking for…?
[45:04] Adversarial… Adversarial, if you’ve built a little bit of that relationship, and you have something that you’ve resonated with each other on… And I’ve had it be music, travel, books… Whatever it is, but now when you’re talking back and forth on this high-stress ticket, or this thing that wasn’t specified quite right, or whatever, it’s like - once again, there’s a three-dimensional person in your head over there, not “God dammit, that idiot!”
Yeah. You know, I’ve worked since 2011 remotely, 100% remote… So I feel like I’m a veteran at remote, where everybody else has only got a couple of years under their belts now. But back in 2013, when I joined this company, we didn’t even use – we used Skype Voice; we didn’t use any kind of video chat. So for almost two years I worked without seeing a single person. I’d just hear their voice, I’d kind of know them based on that, from random meetings that we’d have… And we worked fine together.
But then, after two years, the company was like “Alright, we’re gonna do this unplugged thing”, and they flew us all to Colorado and we did a three-day white-water rafting thing down a river… And we had to go down the river, and then go set up camp, and we were all pitching in, doing all of that… And when we got back to work after that, after having lived together in the wilderness for a couple of days, and actually seeing their faces and stuff - it was totally different. Because then you’re like “Oh, there’s that person, and I know so much more.” They’re actually three-dimensional, and have a face, and legs, and… It just changes the way you think about and work with them, I feel.
So that is the important thing, is what I’m trying to get. Not the white-water rafting, or anything like that; it’s realizing that there’s humans behind these screens.
Well, if you’ve just been listening to our voice for years on the podcast, you could come to YouTube and see that we are faces behind screens… And still behind screens and little square boxes, but you know… [laughter]
Awesome. Well, I think we’ve kind of hit this topic all over the place - up, down, sideways, left, right, behind… Any parting thoughts you’d like to leave listeners with about professional networking as a software developer?
I would like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.
We are all on LinkedIn. I’ve actually had a few conversations with people who were like “Oh, you’re that person I listen to on JS Party”, and I’m like “Yeah, do you wanna set up a call and we can get to know each other?” And it’s great. So connect to us on LinkedIn; maybe we can do a call, you can see our face. Or don’t, for Amelia, because she ignores all of this… [laughter]
Yeah, I’ve outed myself… [laughs] Yeah, have low expectations if you wanna connect with me, and apologies…
Awesome. Did you have any other last tidbits you wanted to share, Amelia?
I feel like it’s all repetitive, but for me it’s just like practice, be really just interested… I love talking to people who do similar things to me, and it’s okay to be transactional, or want something in a transaction… But at the end of the day, we’re all humans.
I love it. At the end of the day, we’re all humans. I think that’s a perfect way to end this.
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