On networking

Networking is a critical component of your job — and I don't think that's a hot take.

On networking
Photo by Alex Avalos / Unsplash

Recently, someone sent me a cold message to the tune of: hey, we met briefly last year; I like this project you work on; want to connect and chat sometime?

My personal rule is that I must always say yes to these kinds of questions — I essentially view it as a moral obligation. It's conversations like these that got me to where I am in the first place — I need to make sure I share a little bit of my time in order to never pull the ladder up after myself. It costs me essentially nothing to grab a coffee with someone and share some of the large collection of opinions that I've earned over time. Granted, I'll only set up mettings within reasonable constraints: I'll schedule them for a time that I'm not too busy, and in a physical or digital location that's convenient for me, and I'll be up front about how I can and can't help.

Besides: I find these kinds of chats immensely fun. I worked hard to have a lot of opinions! I'm always delighted to share my hot takes, especially when I get to tell people that I'm about to tell them a garbage opinion that they should take with a grain of salt.

Networking is a critical component of your job — and I don't think that's a hot take. Just talking to people helps make sure you're on top of the state of the art in your field; having an extensive network means that you'll know who to turn to when you have questions.

Plus, if you want to get even deeper into your field, your network will likely become the primary way you'll advance your career. To quote Will Larson: “Most executive roles are never posted on the company’s jobs page […] It’s important to note that the most desirable roles, and roles being hired by a well-networked and well-respected CEO, will never reach an executive recruiting firm.”

I'm certainly not an expert here, but here are the approaches that have worked for me to meet new folks and have fun conversations:

Get involved in meetups. At the very minimum, you should go to one event in your field a month. The more involved you are in a club, the more chances you'll have to chat with folks, so get involved!

Go to conferences. These are going to be your best bet for meeting folks who are deeply respected in your field — you'll be exposed to a lot of great ideas, and have the opportunity to ask follow-up questions about those ideas.

Ask to be connected. Warm up those leads. If someone is working on something cool, you could send them a cold DM on LinkedIn; if you really want to talk to them, though, and you already have a mutual connection, ask that mutual friend to make a connection. Likewise, this is the inductive approach that has a deductive mirror: ask your friends and mentors who you should talk to next.

Don't expect a 100% success rate. I have had so many awkward conversations. It's a powerful skill to not be afraid that a conversation is going to go wrong; it's a separate, but equally-valuable skill to not dwell on bad conversations and instead transform them into something you can learn from. This can only come from practice, though, so get out there and earn your expertise!