Professional Networking for the Future Programmer
So you’ve been studying computer science or a related field, and you are hoping to get a job as a programmer when you graduate. You do your best to keep a good GPA, and you are planning on applying to some internships. Maybe you have some hobby projects that you are working on to augment your resume.
But there’s another important part of the job-seeking process. The career services all tell you that networking is important, that you should “network” with professionals in your field, and develop those all-important contacts that lead to interviews and jobs. I’d guess that 90% of aspiring programmers make no effort to build a professional network before graduation, and that 90% of those that do try are completely ineffective. After all, if you enjoyed talking to strangers and building relationships, you wouldn’t be a computer science major, right?
Building a professional networking is actually not that difficult, it just looks very different from your imagination.
Why networking is actually fun
Professional networking amounts to building relationships with people that share your geeky interests. This isn’t AmWay here, this is talking about programming, software, languages, frameworks, and platforms! But how to begin?
Start with the people you already know
Do you know anyone that hires software developers and system engineers? Great! But most of you don’t. But you might know someone that knows such a person. And if you don’t, you surely know someone that knows someone that knows a hiring manager. So work through your network. Do your parents have friends in technology? Do your friends have parents in technology? Any relatives, or acquaintances from church that could help?
Don’t be too picky. Don’t imagine that you need to be connected to a engineer or a manager. Maybe your mom’s cousin works as a receptionist at tech company. Or maybe your neighbor is the maintenance man for an office building that houses several start-ups.
Start meeting people in the industry
Contact your mom’s cousin, and tell her what you are doing. Ask her for the name of an engineer that might be willing to meet with you. Make it clear that you are not asking for a job, just a chance to talk about what sort of work he does, what the company and industry are like, and what sort of things they look for in students coming out of college.
Participate in user groups and conferences
Find out what technology user groups are in your area, and pick one or two to attend regularly. Make sure to spend time every month working with the technologies, so that you have questions to ask. Bring your laptop, and be ready to open it up and ask questions about your code. Volunteering to help with the work of the group, whether giving a five minute talk or manning a registration table, can help to establish you as part of the community.
Don’t be boring
When you get an opportunity to talk with a programmer, keep the conversation on things he is interested in. Hopefully, he is interested in programming, technologies, software development, etc, so focus on these things. Ask him what he does specifically, and then keep asking him to dumb it down until you are learning something. If you don’t get to the point of understanding something of what he actually does, this will be rightly perceived as a lack of interest.
Remember that most people find themselves far more interesting than they find you, so don’t talk about yourself any more than necessary. If you want to ask questions about your future path, express them in terms of his experience: “What do you wish you knew when you were a sophomore in college?” If you want to talk about projects you have done, ask for his insight on how they can be improved.
Avoid asking for a job.
At some point, you will need to ask for a job, but put that off for as long as possible. Asking too early will establish you as a job-seeker in their mind. No one wants to hire the guy that wants to be given a job, we are looking for the guy that wants to do a job. So make sure your eagerness to do work is understood before you talk about positions or resumes.
Think long term
This is not a project to begin your senior year. And it doesn’t end when you get your first job. You should start building your network when you decide on your future profession, and you should work to maintain it until you retire. If you have waited to long, start now, but think towards your second job, don’t let your fear of unemployment stunt the growth of your network.