Whether you are an engineer or an architect, it’s often easy to underestimate the power of networking and what it can do for your career in the long run. It’s no longer enough to be the “tech guru” and the firefighter in your organization. While many people may look up to you in times of trouble, you could find yourself left high and dry when it comes to actually going up the ladder or moving jobs.
Why is that, you may ask. That’s because career moves involve a lot more than technical skills – communication and visibility become crucial when it comes to mid-management or senior roles. The common refrain is that techies don’t require any social or networking skills. But that could be the biggest mistake that you make in your career. As you move up into senior roles, it’s no longer about sitting at your desk, sipping a latte, coding and answering emails and text and closing issues. It’s about getting out there, meeting people and having the right connect at times of need. In other words, a personal network is as important to engineers and architects as it to people in sales and product management.
If you are not much of a people-person, this may sound daunting. However, if you understand why networking is important, you will be more inclined to build your own network. And, as you go along, networking should just get ingrained into your daily role, both in the office and outside of it.
Networking gives you access to people, knowledge and resources in an informal manner. This in turn helps you connect with people faster. Note that we are not talking about social media networking here. While social media connects are useful, you also require a real-world people connect. Let’s say you want to hire an Information Architect for your team. What would be the fastest way to get the right resource for your team? You could place an advertisement on a job portal or your company intranet, or connect with a Human Resources consultant. But better yet, talk to people in the industry who are very likely to know of suitable resources. These resources already come with recommendations and a certain level of trust. Consequently, you are likely to find a good-fit, probably faster and for free. You may ask, who these “people in the industry” are. The answer is - they are part of your personal network. And this is just one example that shows possible benefits of networking.
Networking lets you reach out across your organization or the industry when you need resources or information. You can solve crisis situations faster and with greater efficiency as people are more likely to respond to you when they actually know you. By connecting with people, you get industry insights and learn about new trends. You can plan your career moves, and garner information about new opportunities, which you otherwise may have not been aware of.
A personal network doesn’t get built overnight, or even over a week or a month. Networking takes work, and you need to be a strategic player to build a strong network.
Share! First and foremost, people always remember you for the work that you do. If you have done good work earlier and stayed on the right side of ethics, your peers and seniors see you as reliable, trustworthy and as a person of integrity. So, you already have a first-level network; you just need to expand it and make it stronger. How do you do that? For example, share your knowledge often and generously so that people come back to you when they need a solution. Another way to create goodwill is to connect people to others so that they can build their networks too. This is the simplest way to start, and once you start doing this, you will get more comfortable till it becomes second nature.
Be nice! Strategizing to build a network may seem slightly goal-oriented. So, it’s important to not come across as hollow and self-serving, i.e., someone who only reaches out because they need something. If you want to build long-lasting relationships, be nice to people. Smile with your eyes, and sometimes an enquiring, “How are you?” in the middle of a busy day is appreciated. People make emotional connects, and if they like you, they’ll help you when the need arises. Likewise, when someone reaches out to you, rise to the occasion and do whatever you can to help them out.
Be assertive, not aggressive. We all know that planning and update meetings can often turn into mini war zones. The way to avoid this is to remain assertive and not aggressive. Developing negotiation skills is a good way to connect with people who would otherwise be your opponents. Avoid conflict; but if it’s unavoidable, then do make sure it remains issue-based and doesn’t get personal. Be pleasant outside the meeting room to demonstrate that there are no hard feelings. Connect to people at a personal level, when appropriate. Small talk at the coffee machine or a “Happy birthday” call are different ways to break the ice and develop a rapport.
Acknowledge. A simple strategy to earn goodwill is to proactively acknowledge people’s contribution when they’ve helped you solve a crisis. You can send appreciative emails and texts. This lets people know that you value their skills, and they will not hesitate to answer your call the next time.
If there are events sponsored by your company, ask your manager to nominate you and attend them. Become a member of a few professional organizations such as IEEE or PMI. Attending conferences organized by such communities is a good way to get started. Carry your business cards and distribute them generously. Once you meet people in person, connect with them via a professional network, such as LinkedIn®, and keep in touch with them. Keep in mind that personal networks, such as Facebook®, may not be appropriate platforms to connect with professional colleagues.
In India, there are a number of tech conferences that happen through the year, such as The AWS Global Summit, Gartner Symposium, Microsoft Tech Summit and The Annual Information Security Summit (AISS). Attend events relevant to you, and you’ll get the opportunity to meet the right people.
Use social media platforms such as Twitter® and LinkedIn® to express your opinions and share articles related to the field that you are working in. If you blog, that’s a good way to establish an industry-connect too. Make sure that your articles are original though, and provide references where necessary.
Having a personal network helps you with personal development, career advancement, and gives you an external perspective of the industry. This is not a waste of time. View it as an investment for the future, something that will last you through your professional career, and maybe even beyond.
There’s an old saying “You don’t return kindness, you just pass it on.” Think of networking as a “pay it forward” - wherein someone helps you, and you in turn help someone else. The cogs in the wheel keep turning, and everyone benefits from good deeds!
In his book Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time, Keith Ferrazzi says, “I’ve come to believe that connecting is one of the most important business—and life—skill sets you’ll ever learn. Why? Because, flat out, people do business with people they know and like. Careers—in every imaginable field—work the same”. That is the advantage of networking in a nutshell.
Besides connecting with people within your organization, you should also connect with people in the industry - your peers and other senior leaders. How do you do this? You could attend workshops, specific networking events, alumni events, meet after-hours informally, and be social.