When I decided to change careers into tech, I knew exactly one person in the industry. As an extrovert who gets a lot of their energy from interacting with others, this made me nervous. I needed to make friends and I needed to do it fast.
Networking does not always come naturally to everyone, and even as an extrovert with a background in sales, I felt uncomfortable at certain points. But I put myself out there and in 7 months I've met some pretty great people, learned a lot, and landed a job. So I thought I'd compile a list of some of my best tips for how to build a community when you're starting from scratch.
I did this on the first day of my bootcamp because it seemed like the least intimidating and low effort way to go. I quickly learned that by hashtagging #100DaysOfCode, #WomenWhoCode and #CodeNewbie, I could connect with people going through a similar journey. By simply writing about what I was learning and what my interests were, I was able to make connections and start to build a community, making me feel less alone. I connected with people in my city and then began meeting those people IRL at meetups and conferences. This not only became a great networking tool, but a way to be up to date with the trends and lingo that made me feel like I could talk about tech in a more natural way.
- Go to the LinkedIn page of the company you'd like to work at (doesn't matter if they're currently hiring or not).
- Click on "See all employees on LinkedIn".
- Filter based on location.
- Filter down to your first or second connections to see if you have any, if not that's fine.
- Start reading profiles and looking for commonalities.
From there, I went the route of looking for people who shared a similar background as me, specifically coming from a bootcamp. I looked for people who were in the first few years of their career because I (rightly or not) assumed they might not have as many time constraints, and honestly I'd be less intimidated by meeting with them. Once you've found your target person, send them a nice intro message that is personalized, points out what you have in common, and lets them know that you are looking to learn from them (not just ask for a job). And then you can ask them to coffee!
Once you've found someone you'd like to chat more with, whether it's through LinkedIn, Twitter or at a Meetup, the next step is getting them to sit down with you so you can really pick their brain. This can be scary because you could get rejected, or what if they say yes and then you have to figure out what to say?! Chances are, this person is going to know exactly what you are going through and how you feel (if you've picked someone with a similar background), and meeting up with them will help assuage these fears.
If you already have a job, but just want to make more connections without the pressure of being in a room full of 100+ people, this is a great way to go. If you're still on the job hunt, this person could give you a glimpse into your future life in which you've successfully made the career switch, and maybe even help you make that career switch. Let them know that you're on the lookout for a great opportunity and that admire their company. As you're saying goodbye, don't be afraid to ask for who you should send a resume to in case anything ever opens up. Then make sure to send a thank you note afterward.
This was one of the best and most surprising things I did while I was in bootcamp. I sent a tweet out asking if I might be able to shadow anyone, and I ended up with 6 opportunities to meet with people in 6 different companies.
Not only did this give me an in at each of these companies, but it was a great way to learn which direction I wanted to take my career in. I realized I was much more excited by my days shadowing those focusing on front end, and got intimidated by places that felt too quiet and spent 90% of their time in heads down. I also met some really great people with inspiring stories and careers!
Conferences can be a great learning experience, not to mention the networking opportunities. Some conferences are more geared towards newbies and include talks on accelerating your career, sometimes even having mentors available to give individual resume and portfolio advice. Even if a conference seems more advanced, there will be booths sponsored by companies where you can ask directly about job opportunities. Plus, free food!
Conference tickets can be expensive. One way to get in for free is to volunteer. You'll usually have to work a shift or two, but then you'll get to spend the rest of your time hopping between talks and networking. Women Who Code and Diversify Tech list some ticket giveaways and sponsorships as well.
Slack channels are a great way to make personal connections with people you don't know at all. Many of the community tech slack channels you can join will also have specific job boards, where you can set an alert every time someone posts. When you see a job posting you're interested in, reach out via direct slack message to the person who posted it to introduce yourself and ask a thoughtful question about the position or application process. This can help your resume rise to the top, and give you more insight into what the company is looking for. In Portland, the slack channels I kept a close eye on were PDX Women in Tech, Women Who Code Portland, and PDX Startups. Ask around to see which channels you should watch in your area.
These are some of the techniques I used to build a community, but it by no means is a complete list. If you have some other tips and tricks that have worked for you, leave them below in the comments!