Building your career through networking: An engineer’s journey

Q. How do you tell an introverted software engineer from an extroverted software engineer?

A. An extroverted software engineer looks at your shoes when she talks to you.

Aaah, I crack myself up sometimes. As an introverted, computer science graduate who started out my career in very technical roles, I’ve slowly, very slowly, learnt a few things Luke Skywalkerabout the importance of my actively building my professional network. It’s funny, I look back at how I approached my first jobs and I thought I was like Luke Skywalker; fighting the good fight against evil, building mastery of my craft, and engaging with rebels, ewoks and other good guys. I never saw Luke stop to ask about Hans Solo’s family, he wasn’t checking on how Princess Leia was finding her role after the destruction of Alderaan and he wasn’t interested in agreeing goals for Yoda’s teaching sessions. And yet, it is these types of activities that build affiliation with other people, these are important steps towards building a network that supports any professional in building their careers.

Somehow my formal training and on-the-job learning hadn’t equipped me with the skills to build the kinds of relationships that enabled me to work collaboratively within a large organisation, or the kinds of networks that lead to new, more challenging jobs.

The meeting doesn’t finish when the agenda is complete

Working in some large organisations has taught me the improtance of building my internal network. Some of the most useful advice I’ve taken on, has been to understand the meeting doesn’t finish when the agenda is complete: when I’m working with other people, it’s important to allow some time after the meeting to shoot the breeze. These off-topic discussions let us share information about each other: what our interests are, what challenges we might be facing. Spending this time works to build trust and build a common foundation of similar goals for some of the harder discussions that might come up when we’re on the last sprint of a high-pressure project.

Networking is scary, get there early and face your fears

Networking events can be intimidating, particularly when there’s a large group of strangers. One strategy is to arrive early when there’s a smaller number ofcantina_denizens_4 people who haven’t yet had the chance to connect with each other. It’s easier to walk up to a person on their own, or smaller groups of two or three, introduce myself and find out a little about them. Something I found works well, is to ask people to introduce me to someone else they know, I much prefer to be introduced than to go in cold, hand-outstretched to someone I don’t know. Interestingly, research suggests that doing more of the things that scare us actually gets easier as the brain adapts and learns.

Don’t wait to be given what you want

Princess_Leia_1As a woman working in IT, I’ve unlearnt some of the behaviours that I was taught (however unconsciously) as a girl. I’ll no longer wait for the right person to approach me about my ideal job, nor will I sit back and bask in a job well done, confident that my work will speak for itself. Similarly, I’ve actively identified the people I admire, who I want to learn from through a mentoring relationship. I’ve learnt to consciously act as the driver of my destiny, rather than a passenger being taken along someone else’s path. This means taking ownership of my career, and making the first move in setting up mentoring relationships that have helped me along my path towards more challenging and rewarding work. OVer my career, I’ve been fortunate to have worked with some fantastic mentors, who have challenged my thinking and helped me grow in a professional capacity.

Professional networking platforms

Meeting people in real life is an important part of building strong and vibrant personal connections that have made my professional network an important support for me. And yet, my linkedin network, is an invaluable source of new reading, general updates about people I know changing jobs, and has helped me find out more about job candidates who are connections of my connections. While I’m in a yoda kinda mood, I encourage you to keep your profile reasonably up-to-date, and continue to connect with colleagues and connections through online networking platforms.

So far it’s working …

My most rewarding jobs, in fact all my jobs except one, have come about as a result of my professional network. I’ve moved cities, and even countries, and been able to establish myself through my hard-learnt lessons on building up my network. I do wonder if my online, Linkedin, network will become more important than my real-life networking efforts as the platform becomes more and more ubiquitous – will real-life networking events ever be complete replaced by google hangouts, twitter hashtags and Linkedin posts??


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