Networking is the most impactful thing you can do to find a new job. It's something that I get asked about a lot so I figured it was worth writing about! It's time to teach you how to do it in the middle of a pandemic.
Why networking is important is probably a multi-part series alone and I'd like to focus more on the "how" than the "why" in this article but expect some overlap.
Let's start off by addressing the thought that's on most people's minds at the moment:
I can't network in the middle of a pandemic
Luckily, we can with some creativity and patience. Sure, we don't have the in-person networking events where you can hang out with devs, recruiters, and employees from the companies that you want to work at. Conferences and meetups are great but they were never the only way and honestly, not very approachable for most people considering how expensive they can be. (Seriously, we don't need events that cost $800+ bucks for you to tell us about your new library. Let's get these cheaper and more affordable.)
Since everybody is inside, we have to get creative and adapt. The convenient part is that all of these methods have existed before and were already being leveraged by many developers in the industry. That means that the things you hopefully learn by investing your time into networking will still be useful if and/or when we get out of this mess.
Networking in 2020 is all about how you can use various forms of communication on the internet to build your brand and make connections with others. I'm going to talk about my recommended methods of doing this. Don't feel pressured to do everything that I mention. You should mix and match the options in a way that works best for you. Try not to shy away from the more social strategies while experimenting to determine what is comfortable for you.
Getting Started: Easy
Benefiting from this: A slow grind
This is the big one that you're probably familiar with. Twitter is what I'd consider an easy thing to get started with but not an easy thing to master. Building an account on twitter is not something that happens overnight. It takes consistent work and commitment while being able to tune out the draining parts.
All kinds of developers are on Twitter from junior devs to senior engineers and beyond. Pretty much all of the major open-source projects have at least one if not more developers/contributors active on Twitter. You'll also find many newcomers trying to break in especially if you check hashtags like #100DaysOfCode. The community is getting better about finding newcomers and signal boosting them. My suggestion is to put yourself out there and get to know other people. Interact with those providing positive value to you. Thank them for their work and ask questions! Often these developers love to talk about what they're working on even if you've never spoken with them before. Many interesting technical discussions happen on twitter.
Just be mindful of how you approach this stuff. If you see a famous developer talking about a new update to their project, what do you think they'd rather see in their mentions? A question about your favorite new feature or some generic "how do I learn react" question they've probably been asked a million times? There is a time and a place for basic questions like that and learning when that time is will be important. Try to read how each person uses their timeline to get an idea of what they enjoy talking about since it will be different for everybody.
Get a big enough following from building meaningful connections and you can leverage the signal boosting to help you in your job hunt. Sometimes people will direct message you if they're interested in working with you. Maybe they'll retweet your "Hi I am X and I'm looking for work with Y" post (I see this happening ALL THE TIME). Other times you'll just happen to naturally find those who are hiring once you have a well-curated timeline which is a great way to skip the application process and give you a leg up on the competition.
One trend to to be aware of is that sometimes people will make threads like "reply if you're looking for work" and then they will retweet the replies. You should definitely be involved in those if possible.
Something to keep in mind is the algorithm. It will show you the content that it thinks you want to see. If you like, reply, and retweet content that you like, it will find more like it. It will also show you content that people in your community are interacting with so you'll find interesting posts from people that you don't even follow. With tools like TweetDeck, you can even optimize this further by putting people into different lists and having separate columns to view those specific posts.
Getting Started: Medium/Hard
Benefiting from this: Depends on your ability to contribute
You might be wondering how Github is a networking tool. Github is a place that's often recommended for job hunters to show off your skills to jobs that you apply for and build a portfolio.
Making your own projects is a great way to improve your chances of landing a job but it's not the only way or even the most effective way to use GitHub. I don't recommend spending time on more than one or two very polished projects personally if your goal is just getting hired. (by all means, work on all of the ideas that you want if you have them!) Quality over quantity is the name of the game here. You're often lucky if a hiring manager or interviewer even checks one of your projects so it's best not to put too much time into these.
The real benefit of Github comes from connecting with other developers by contributing to projects that aren't your own. I highly recommend looking at projects that are at least somewhat popular. Bonus points if it's a project by a major company.
Documentation changes are great and a very meaningful way to show your ability to read and understand the code of someone else but I recommend going beyond this. If you can make meaningful code changes to a repo, you're showing your ability to get into a new codebase, understand and improve/fix/add to code written by someone else, and work with existing developers to get it passing a review process.
This is a SUPER important set of skills to show off because it is exactly what you rely on when starting a new job. It's public validation of one of the most important skills that can't be tested thoroughly in an interview. This is so so valuable to have. Imagine walking into an interview and telling them that they are already using your code.
Not only are you able to show this to any company that you apply for, but you are also building connections by working with the other developers on their projects. If you're someone familiar to a company when they want to hire someone new, they may reach out to you before even posting a job listing because having someone they are familiar with and work with already is preferable to going through the entire hiring process.
Lastly, recruiters do look at open source contributors to find potential hires. It has happened to me before. Look into having contact info (make a separate email for recruiting purposes) on your GitHub profile page and set one of those up if you haven't already.
Another and much harder way to use Github is to make a popular library yourself. This can give you massive attention from all kinds of people but this is much harder to do because you need to create value for lots of people (or the right people). Often, these ideas come from experience with problems and the solutions you come up with to deal with them. One cool effect is that you get the experience (and trials) of being a maintainer and you'll have a massive surface area of code for others to try and improve if it does become popular. It's like the ultimate code review!
Getting Started: Easy to start, hard to grow
Benefiting from this: A slow grind
This by itself isn't "networking" but it's something that you can do to build a brand that I highly recommend considering. Becoming "known" for something or even just being the top result for some technical questions can lead to work. Start a youtube channel, build a blog, make a course. Whatever you decide to do, make sure that you have a way to capture people who find the things that you make. Some platforms have this built-in like Twitter followers or Youtube subscribers but I recommend having an email list regardless.
Even if something has been talked about before, your own experience will allow you to have a different perspective on it. This means that just writing about something in your own words can end up helping others. The key is to try and add value.
This section is short because it's the most open and depends a lot on the things that you care about. Try to look at things that people are interested in that have limited resources. In the react community, for example, you'll see tons of content creators making posts whenever a new feature is even hinted at because people find it exciting.
Look for trends and what's working while trying to figure out how to carve your own niche. Maybe some content has already been done but not in video or written format yet. Maybe the content exists but not in a language that you know! There are lots of ways to go about this! Leave comments if you have your own ideas about what to do and want to discuss it with others!
Getting Started: Easy
Benefiting from this: Varies depending on location, experience, and your ability to get out there and talk to people
LinkedIn is an underrated platform for networking by many devs. It's something that I ignored for a long while as well until I learned more about how powerful it can be. Even just passively having a profile can bring you leads for jobs.
LinkedIn is trying to increasingly become more of a social network and it's a lot easier to gain an audience on it because so few people are doing it. There will be many people besides devs on this platform as well.
This video is a great watch on the subject and I'm linking to a timestamped section discussing LinkedIn but I'd recommend watching the whole thing if you can spare the time. I personally know someone who was able to get a job right after watching this leveraging the techniques discussed here. Ethan and Devin are both great and super experienced on both sides of the hiring equation.
Learning how to reach out and interact with people without just begging people for jobs can be a powerful network building tool that I highly recommend you invest time into.
Content creation (and code creation) is great because you can spread what you do to other platforms. Make a cool open source contribution? Write a blog about it and post it on twitter. Have a good discussion and learn new concepts on Twitter? Write about it or make an example app to demonstrate it! There are tons of ways for you to mix and match these methods.
The big thing to keep in mind is to create value and add a positive impact. Don't be a negative force. Make connections with people instead of just asking for things and expecting to receive things for free.