Networking: it isn’t just for breakfast anymore

At last weekend’s SQL Saturday, I sat in on my friend’s (Paresh Motiwala) presentation about job hunting and interviewing.  (This is yet another presentation that I highly recommend!)  Since I was also doing a presentation related to career and job search, I figured that I should sit in (even though this was the second time that I’ve been to this presentation).

As in most career-oriented presentations these days, the subject of networking came up.  Paresh asked the question: “what is networking?”  One lady answered (I don’t remember the exact wording, so I’m paraphrasing), “it’s where you get together with people that have the same interests.”

That’s where I interjected.  I told her that what she said was a myth.  I said the myth were the words “…that have the same interests.”

When I did my own presentation later that afternoon, I made it a point to bring that up.  “Networking,” I explained, “is any situation where you get together and develop some kind of relationship with people.”  Notice that I did not say anything about people who have “the same interests.”  At a SQL Saturday, most people who attend are data professionals.  Of course, that’s a networking event of data professionals.  However, I also mentioned my extracurricular activities (such as, for me, the large symphonic concert band with which I’m involved).  That’s also a networking event.  I asked, how many of you are parents who bring your kids to Little League, soccer matches, and so on?  I explained, that’s also a networking opportunity.

Now, some of you will likely argue, “well, we wouldn’t have met these people at these places if it wasn’t for some common interest,” and you would be right, so let me qualify this a little.  Obviously, people expect to meet data professionals when they attend SQL Saturday.  But if you want to meet data professionals, and you only go to events like SQL Saturday, you’re missing out.  I play with music groups on the side.  I do CrossFit.  I attend user groups.  I am very active with my college and fraternity alumni events.  Some of you are likely involved with other activities.  All of these are networking opportunities.  Data professionals (or any kind of professional) are people, too.  They have lives outside of their profession.  While you are more likely to meet data professionals at events such as SQL Saturday, a local SQL user group, or any similar event, there is nothing that says you can’t meet one of these people at a music rehearsal, a church group, a kids’ soccer practice, a CrossFit class, a book club, or an online gaming convention.  I’ve actually connected with peers outside of technical events (in fact, I obtained my current job through a Facebook contact).  So you never know whom you will meet.

We connect with people through countless different channels.  Attending events that match your interests is a great way to meet people and to network.  Bear in mind, however, that networking opportunities exist everywhere, not just at an event geared toward your interests.  Your next employee, your next job, or an answer to your question might just be a connection away — and you might not even know it.