Networking is about creating a shared bond with someone, having similar goals, values and interests. This can be professional goals and learning, shared sports and social interests or anyone you find yourself spending any significant amount of time with.
Your aim with a network should be to surround yourself with people you feel you could reasonably turn to for advice or maybe ask a favour from. Don't have a network of people that you cannot keep up to date with. Your network can and should extend past your professional sphere into every aspect of your life, friends and family are absolutely included. Don't forget to consider the barista you see every day before work, your neighbour or the cleaner at work. You never know if you will get a free coffee time to time, a parcel collected or your lunch exploded in the microwave at work and you just need a non judgemental cleanup.
Your network is not just limited to Linkedin, it is also the people in your phone book and those who you interact with on a regular basis day to day. You cannot stand on the shoulders of giants without a helping hand up.
There are the obvious benefits, that are the larger goals from networking such as: job opportunities and industry connections with specialist knowledge or access to new clients. But it is the hidden benefits that make your life easier and opportunities easier to take. New learning opportunities and directions to put you ahead of the market, invites to closed events and career advice. But also support while having a bad day whether professionally or socially, you can have someone there to just make life that little easier.
Having a network is also good for your overall health and well-being; something that we, as developers, ignore far too often. It can be used for getting help when dealing with stressful work or life situations. Helping other people with their issues and problems is also a great way to reinforce your learning, and build a stronger relationship with that person. Strong relationships are key to having good mental health.
We all know the traditional idea of networking as portrayed by films. Lots of business minded, self assured extroverts, mingling around a room, all talking themselves and others up, handing out business cards left, right and centre. Perhaps sipping on their complimentary glass of prosecco that their overpriced ticket promised. Each person trying to find others to help them climb the greasy pole. Is this really all that networking is? Well, no.
Fortunately as developers and professionals within the tech industry, there are countless ways to network and build connections with others that don't involve having to give the hard sell to someone you have just met.
Local meetups: A great way to meet local developers and events are often sponsored by local companies. Many are often free to attend and happen regularly (often monthly). If you ask around then people always seem to know one or two you haven't heard of. Meetups typically have someone giving a talk about a technology or process they are passionate about and are great for generating new ideas. Meetups also usually have an “after party” where people will go and have a few drinks and a chat. This is where you will meet new connections, a good tactic is to find the speaker to ask some directed questions about their talk. Let the conversation flow from there.
Conferences: Similar to meetups but whole day/multi day events where you have a chance to meet a lot more people from a wider area. Meeting new people at these events is often harder due to the less intimate nature, but is still possible. Worst case scenario, you have seen a few good talks and learned something new, what's to lose?
Mentors: If you get a good mentor to help guide you, they will often have their own network to pull resources from. Use them to augment your own network as you learn and grow with your mentors help. You can find mentors in many places, asking someone more senior at work or someone you look up to online. Finding a mentor is another topic in itself though and there are resources out there that can help you with that.
Forums: Developer platforms such as Medium, Dev.to, Github and others are great for communicating and learning from other developers. Follow and interact with content from those you look up to and learn from. Engage with their content and ask questions, maybe even reach out with a private message or request. It’s a less traditional form of networking, but highly effective for small requests and help.
Colleagues: An obvious one, I know. But still important, especially for day to day survival.
Friends and Family: Friends of friends and friends of family can lead to some interesting connections outside your field, and you can be recommended or talked up in circles you don't even know about. Opportunities can seemingly present themselves from nowhere for very little effort on your part.
Stay in regular contact: There is nothing worse than someone asking a significant effort from you when you have not spoken in years. Monthly contact goes a huge way to keeping relationships alive, and keeps your connection with them relevant and meaningful. A “Hey, how is going?” is enough.
Don’t ask for too much: You wouldn't ask someone you just met to lend you a large sum of money. They don't know you, or your situation, why would they lend you anything? Ask for favours relative to the time you have invested in that connection.
Just met someone, ask if they know of any positions open at their company.
Regularly kept up to date with someone, ask if they can refer you for a position or recommend you for an internal role.
Worked for years alongside someone, and have a mutual trust and respect, ask them to risk their career and join your startup.
Don't ask too often: A larger network will help here, asking the same person for advice and guidance day after day will wear a relationship thin. If you have a lot to ask, spread it out across your network as appropriate. Don't risk burning bridges over minor requests.
Return favours: You can't take without giving. By building a network, you will be exposing yourself to the same kind of expectations as you expect from others. Be polite and helpful and set an example as to what you would want from others. Don't be afraid to decline requests, but be polite and apologetic while doing it. If you can't help, then can you point them in the right direction?
This article is inherently selfish and talks about the benefits to you, it is important to remember that every relationship works two ways. If you give back an grow your network alongside your own progression then you will always keep your network relevant, but crucially you will help your local community grow, benefiting everyone.