The Startup
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The Startup

Skip the Coding Meetup: A Counterintuitive Approach to Tech Networking

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

While tech-centric meetups and events certainly have their place, I don’t think they are the best way to expand your professional network, especially as an aspiring developer.

Why not? Well, if you’ve ever attended a tech event determined to network like a rockstar, but instead found yourself sipping a beer in the corner and wondering how the hell you were going to attract attention in a sea of wannabe employed developers just like you, then you already know the answer.

As an inexperienced dev, it’s hard to stand out.

Like many industries, becoming a software developer isn’t just about what you know, but also about who you know. It’s likely that you’ve heard this opinion a thousand times if you’re new to the tech world and are navigating the path to landing your first job. And following that old cliché, I’d be willing to bet that again and again you have been advised to attend tech events as a great way to network.

There are guaranteed to be dozens, perhaps hundreds, of other hopeful souls at a large tech meetup. All with a similar portfolio of bootcamp or university projects, and a similar level of experience in a similar stack of technologies as you.

Oh, and they all want the same kind of job that you want too.

You at the last tech event you went to.

This is a pain point for many (i.e. all those other hopeful souls that are just like you), but instead of developing a strategy to overcome it, most of the time you’ll hear this networking woe just be chalked up to being a “numbers game”.

People cave to the idea that, sure, most of the time you’ll be someone that doesn’t stick out in a field of indistinguishable people all wanting that same job, but play the game long enough, and you’ll eventually meet that one magical person who will end up hiring you for your first job.

As a programmer, I say to hell with this mentality. I like to work smarter, not harder. And I apply that principle to how I network too.

My advice: skip the coding meetup, and go to the non-tech meetup instead. Be a big fish in a small pond. Or rather — be the ONLY fish hanging out in a tree full of birds. Maybe that’s a worse analogy, but the point is, don’t be another non-distinct fish in a sea of fish that all look exactly like you.

Here are my four reasons why non-tech meetups are an excellent tool for expanding your tech network:

1. You stand out.

Meet a dozen new people through a local cooking class, running club, or meditation group and there’s a good chance that people will remember you as “that one unemployed computer person who is looking for a job” that they met a couple of weeks ago when they hear that their brother-in-law’s company is looking for someone to hire.

Meet a dozen new people at a tech meetup, and all of them met “that one unemployed computer person who is looking for a job” fifty times over on the same night they met you.

The most unremarkable thing about you at a tech event instantly becomes a talking point and something that people will remember about you in a non-tech space.

2. You evade imposter syndrome.

Do you ever feel like an imposter at tech meetups because you’re new to the game, and feel like you don’t have anything interesting to contribute to the conversation with “real” developers? Well kazaam! You may as well introduce yourself as Bill Gates at your poetry night, because to non-tech folk, just saying you do something with computers instantly makes you a wizard in their eyes.

Away with your imposter syndrome!

3. You get a break from code.

I’ll oftentimes hear about a tech meetup that sounds interesting, bookmark it on my calendar, and be excited to put on my networking pants and go. Then, as the event scheduled from 6–8 pm approaches, I start coming up with a bunch of excuses not to attend: I should call my sister tonight instead. It’s really nice out, I’d be stupid not to take advantage and go for a bike ride. I could use tonight to go to the grocery store and do a bunch of meal prepping, thus freeing up my time to network later in the week! I know that I should go to the event, but I easily persuade myself not to because I’m fried from my workday and need a break from anything tech-related.

If that sounds like you, maybe you need a break too. One of the beauties of getting yourself involved in non-tech events is that you get to network WHILE taking a break.

Just as work doesn’t feel like work when you’re doing a job you love, networking doesn’t feel like networking when you’re having fun doing something non-work related.

4. You make friends easier.

At the end of the day, networking is all about making friends. For tech events, it’s common advice to find a topic of conversation that allows you to connect with someone you’re meeting on a personal level. Perhaps a shared interest, hobby, or favorite TV show. The obvious idea is to form a connection that will be memorable. You know, cast about for something that will make you stand out from all the other fish.

Well, what if you could go to an event comprised entirely of people with whom you’re guaranteed to have a shared personal interest? Turns out you can! In my experience, non-tech meetups are infinitely more effective for forming deeper, more interesting connections.

A tech meetup is filled with people who have shared professional interests, and a diverse range of personal hobbies. On the other hand, a hobby-specific meetup offers the complete opposite. You get to drop all the professional formalities right away, and instantly connect with new people who also love one of your favorite pastimes.

Networking is an integral part of any new developer’s professional journey. Again, I believe that tech-centric events are a valuable tool for expanding your professional network, but to me, they are just that — one available tool. Supplement your networking routine with non-tech meetups, and you’ll be shocked by how effortless it is to make new professional connections, all while enjoying something you love outside of work. Try it for yourself and see, I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.

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