Teach a Developer to Fish

I’ve never quit my job without having another one lined up. Okay, actually, there are two exceptions:

  1. I was laid off my grocery store job at 19, but supplemented the month between jobs with babysitting and grunt work in my mom’s office. My next job came along because my dad had a great relationship with the founders of a nonprofit he’d been donating to for decades. These opportunities came along thanks to my parents’ networks.
  2. I quit my job in customer service to learn how to code. Passion overrides the safety net, my friends.

I’ve already had a job offer at the company I left, because my reputation is good and I accidentally networked with most of the office. I didn’t really think about it at the time, but making friends with people in all departments served me well for my time there — invites to semi-secret whiskey parties on Friday afternoons anyone? — and for when I left. Even if I don’t end up working at that company again, I know a handful of developers who would happily connect me to their friends, and I would do the same for them. Without putting a name to it, I was building my professional network.

Me and my crew

The great thing about working in a field that you love is you want to talk about your work, even when you’re not at work. I started realizing how much I was thinking about code around my second day of school, when I found myself reciting a Ruby loop in my head. I was trying to write a method to randomly pick which candle I should light next. People like talking about what they’re interested in, and it’s easy to build relationships when you both like the same things. David Brady calls this tying nets — when the focus in on connecting with people and contributing to the conversation. Once the nets are tied, you can go fish.

I personally, am 110% bad at selling myself. What I am good at is having interesting one-on-one conversations. The way to fish is not to beg for jobs, but to tuck that bit of information into the conversation you’re having with someone. Absolutely mention that you’re looking, but if there’s not a bite, forcing it does more harm than good. Someone who wants to help, will. Take my last job for example: my old coworker texted me out of the blue, saying another old coworker had told him I was looking for a job. He spent the next two months talking me up and giving me tips for the interviews. That probably wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t stop to talk in his office every few days when we worked together — or if I hadn’t kept in touch with the coworker who told him in the first place.

Half of my goal after I graduate is to go tie some nets — partly to build my professional network, and partly because it’s harder to explain this really cool way I solved a problem to a partner who isn’t technologically inclined in the least. In the meantime, you can find me hunched over my laptop with the lights turned off, figuring out how to turn my beautiful (haha) app into React components.

This is how it works… right?