If you are a recent graduate of a coding bootcamp, you have probably been given an overwhelming amount of advice to start networking. At first read networking may make you feel really bad. You may think you are being tasked with randomly emailing strangers desperately asking for help. You may also be thinking it has something to do with the OSI model, various layers, and interfacing with remote servers. Although I can’t help too much with the second variation, the first doesn’t have to be cold-calls and Zoom meetings over coffee.
Networking is a loaded term, and no matter what the origin is, it has evolved into a hard to swallow word for many people. To me, networking is some abstract idea that I can only acknowledge and recognize after it has happened. Unless I am explicitly speaking about it, I more or less consider any social interaction I have as networking.
At the end of July my fiancé and I moved to New York City with our two cats, and a couple bags of luggage between us. I was set to start at Flatiron School on the 24th of August, and without any local friends or connections I didn’t know where to start. I somehow stumbled upon a likely outdated resource that inferred LinkedIn was an incredibly important part of networking.
Without hesitation, I created a LinkedIn profile and aimlessly sent connection requests to anyone I could find who had recently graduated from Flatiron. After doing this for a couple days and accruing the suggestion minimum number from the old resource, I started noticing who people were interacting with. I continued spamming the connect button, and inevitably ended up with a handful of kind, generous people, and a ton of bots as connections.
This was it, I hadn’t even started my program yet and I was networking!
P.S. Sorry if you are reading this and are recalling a random LinkedIn connection from the summertime, thank you for your patience with me!
Before onboarding officially at my bootcamp, we had to complete a short pre-work course. During this time I got to experience and participate in what I would now look back on as networking. In the pre-work stage we had a Slack channel in which we all could introduce ourselves and work on labs and assignments together. I started engaging in conversation with a couple of my cohort mates and created some early bonds. Most of my experiences during and within the bootcamp bubble were similar to this example.
As bootcamp officially started, I made an intentional effort to slowly start reaching out to people and asking to work through things together on Zoom. As we all progressed through the materials, small groups of people began building peer-networks, and after the first five or six weeks, we had established a Slack channel for our entire cohort independent of the school where we could build relationships outside of the course materials.
Within the Flatiron network, a handy chatbot called Donut would message me and another random person to encourage us to strike up a conversation. Although I had begun growing my network of Flatiron friends, I always appreciated the Donut bot because it got me outside of my comfort zone and often put me in contact with people who were a cohort or two ahead of mine. This was unintended networking, many of which have flowered into great friendships!
From the encouragement of my brother I participated in Hacktoberfest during bootcamp. I didn’t want to do it alone, so I reached out to some classmates and my two best friends from home and encouraged them to participate with me. This experience opened my eyes to see how welcoming and inviting the developer community can be. The more I “networked” the more it became pursuing my genuine interests while making friends along the way.
By the time I completed my bootcamp, I had developed a fairly healthy “network”. I had gotten rid of the dozens of LinkedIn bots that would strangely comment and flock to each-others posts, and traded them for honest Flatiron connections I had made. I also started attending meetups, and participating in onboarding activities of new Flatiron students. I will link to a couple of my favorite meetups following this blogpost. I focus my time and energy now into finding people at meetups who are also looking for connections, and genuinely reading their posts, blogs, and whatever content they put out.
I have made some asks of close friends and family for help, which could also be lumped into networking. Most of those connections are not close to where I live now, but I am finding that talking with developers, especially those with non-traditional backgrounds, is an invaluable asset. I made one senior developer friend, through my cousin, that was extremely excited to share his story with me. Not unlike the open source community, the self-taught and bootcamp communities are overwhelmingly full of people looking to give back and share their experience.
This new friend crystalized for me that networking by way of asking for help or to learn from others’ experience is okay. It isn’t every day that we as humans get to tell the triumphant stories of how we changed careers and overcame obstacles to get where we are. Every person I have reached out to and expressed interest in their journey has opened up a part of that to me and given me great advice. Many developers and engineers, academic or self-taught, post blogs or have personal portfolios that outline their experiences as well.
Joining communities, seeking out people who are interested in technologies that you are, or may have answers to questions you are seeking, makes networking less “icky” and more human. I would encourage any new grad to find types of communities to belong to, join the WebEx or Zoom event, turn your camera on and be responsive in the chat.
After making a couple casual friends and mentors through networking within the communities I now belong to and seek to be more involved in, I have found some commonalities in their advice for moving forward in my job search.
You are a developer of some kind now, really carve out some real estate and establish it as your own. Personal portfolios are an opportunity for you to experiment with new technologies, as well as display some personality and interesting facts about your life and your interests. Create a blog, and blog about topics you love, or about things you are exploring to give a look at what you are actively learning about.
Lastly, the one that I heard over and over again, MAKE A TWITTER! I know it may seem unrelated, but Twitter is where (especially frontend) developers actually network. It seems simple, but you truly can hop into conversation and ask questions and get responses from seriously incredible people in the industry. You should not randomly start DMing people looking for jobs, but if you are following a thread and think you may have something of value to add, you can instantly find connections and friends amongst the crowd.
The most important part of creating your home on the internet is having it reflect an accurate image of yourself. It is okay to be new and learning, it is very common to make mistakes in public! Be true to yourself and you will find yourself amongst kindred spirits in no time.
It is great to be able to print “Hello World” in a dozen languages. New technologies and frameworks may seem sexy or better than what you are currently working with, but when you find what you love stick with it. Blogs are also great for this concept, if you can describe why you like one feature, framework, library, or other package over another using favorite language it can help demonstrate your passion and knowledge.
Understand fundamentals of the technology you are working with, and always refresh those key fundamentals. The newest, more popular frameworks are built on these concepts, and you can learn far more about these through the core concepts of the underlying language. Use built in options for everything until you absolutely need to branch out to add things that make life easier, it will allow you to start forming those opinion and understanding how these tools came to be.
Finally, seek to solve a problem with the software you are developing. Don’t only make reproductions of your favorite websites and applications. Try to find how this project could potentially contribute to something bigger than yourself. When you’re not constantly comparing your project to a well established tech unicorn, you will have a better experience. Seeking to solve issues also makes things more exciting and can encourage you to continue development. Contributing to open source projects, and volunteering to do charitable work is an excellent way to sharpen your skills, build real life experience, and help those who are asking for it.
Networking can be scary and extremely difficult, especially if you are treating people as a means to an end. Instead find friendships and develop working relationships with people who are interested in the things you are interested in. Ask for help, even if you think it is a waste of time or you are a burden, google it, tweet about your problem, write a blog post when you over come it and continue contributing to your communities. When you are successful in your individual pursuit, remember those who helped you when you were in need. Do what you can within your means to help others, and most important of all, be yourself.
Many thanks to my friends and those who have been essential in my journey so far! There are tons of you and I have deep gratitude for your patience and willingness to give me direction when I have felt lost! I am always happy to connect, you can find me on Twitter, LinkedIn, or my portfolio!
NYC Bootcampers Anonymous (New York, NY)
*If you're fresh out of a coding bootcamp, come on down! Or if you're a self-taught programmer. Or really, any developer…*www.meetup.com
Junior Developer Happy Hour (San Francisco, CA)
*The purpose of this group is to help people on their journey towards becoming a software engineer.*www.meetup.com
*Making your first open-source contribution is easier than you think. Good First Issue is a curated list of issues from…*goodfirstissue.dev
Hacktoberfest presented by DigitalOcean
*Inspired by you, the community, through your actions and stories. Everyone is welcome! Participants in Hacktoberfest…*hacktoberfest.digitalocean.com