A few tips for #networking

Last month, I got an email from my alma mater about a new networking forum that they developed (if you’re a Syracuse University engineering or computer science alumnus or student, check it out). I signed up for it, and I’ve been fairly active on it, posting about some of my own activities and dispensing my thoughts to students asking alumni about career advice.

I have a presentation that I do about networking, and it’s one of my more popular presentations. Indeed, networking is likely one of the most critical business skills to develop in today’s environment, even if you’re not looking for a job.

With that, I wanted to write a few tips for people who are looking to get better at networking.

Learn how to break the ice

Initiating contact is probably one of the most difficult of aspects of networking. But it is not impossible, even if you’re introverted. It might require you stepping out of your comfort zone. However, it doesn’t mean you need to go through great pains or effort to do so. It could be as simple as saying “hi” or smiling at someone. It could involve asking a question. It could be a discussion about your current event. There are a number of different ways to break the ice.

One of those ways to break the ice is…

Your clothes can be a conversation piece

I wear my heart on my sleeve — literally. I commonly wear clothing that’s representative of my sports teams, my alma mater, my fraternity, organizations that are close or important to me, and so on. When I attended PASS Summit in Seattle, a number of people stopped me and told me they were from such-and-such town, or identified themselves as fellow fraternity brothers, or even said “how about those (name of favorite team)?” This all came about because of what I was wearing. Even one of my friends once posted on my Facebook, “Ray is always reppin’!”

If you’re attending an event, be cognizant of what you wear; it can be enough to break the ice.

Any time you interact with someone is a networking opportunity

If you’re looking to interact with people with similar interests, attending events — user group meetings, conferences, etc. — is the most obvious place to do so. But what about places that are not so obvious? Examples include your book club, your gym, your church group, your extracurricular activities, your workplace, and so on.

I’ve had conversations with people in my CrossFit gym and discovered that they work in similar industries to mine. I’ve even gotten them involved in events such as my local user group and PASS Summit.

Bottom line: any time you interact with other people is an opportunity to network.

It doesn’t even have to be in-person. Keep in mind that…

Online networking is still networking

Do you have, say, 100+ friends to whom your connected over Facebook (or your favorite social media of choice)?

Guess what? That’s a network!

I once spoke with a friend about networking, and I suggested tapping into her Facebook feed. It never even occurred to her to use Facebook for that purpose. I said, “why not? You have a bunch of friends with whom you’re connected. They might have leads or information that might be helpful to you professionally. Tap into that!”

I once landed a job through one of my Facebook friends. I posted that my previous employer had let me go, and I was seeking new employment. One of my friends direct-messaged me, saying “I might have something for you. Let’s talk.” We got the ball rolling, and sure enough, I ended up working for my friend!

If you have an established online social network, don’t be afraid to tap into that. Your online network doesn’t have to be strictly social; you can use it for professional purposes as well.

You don’t have to be friends to be networked

Ideally, you’d want to be friends with your networking contacts. The stronger the relationship between you and your contacts, the stronger your network will be.

That said, you don’t have to be buddies with your networking contacts. Being acquainted is just fine. I’ve connected to a number of people whom I probably wouldn’t know if I bumped into them on the street. All that matters is that you’ve established some kind of relationship with the other person.

Speaking of relationships…

“Connected” does NOT mean “networked”

I once had this happen to me after a weekend where I spoke at a SQL Saturday. I won’t rehash the details here; go ahead and read my article.

In my honest opinion, in order to have a network, you need to have some kind of relationship. Networking is a two-way street, where each side can assist the other. It doesn’t have to be anything big; it can be as simple as “so-and-so is looking for a job, and I’m forwarding his/her post as to what (s)he wants,” or even “I saw you’re looking for help with such-and-such; maybe this will help.” To me, “I think you’re cool and I want to connect with you” is NOT a good reason to network. Hey, I like Derek Jeter, but just because I’m following him doesn’t mean he’s part of my network.

Always have a way to continue the conversation

Let’s say you just met someone whom you either admire or can help you professionally. You talk for a while, end with “nice meeting you,” shake hands, and move on.

Did you create a networking contact? My answer is no.

In this scenario, you did not include a way to continue the conversation. In all likelihood, (s)he won’t even remember your name hours after you parted ways. That does nothing to build your network.

There are a number of ways you can do this. A couple of ways I’d recommend are…

Have business cards

I have my own business cards that I use for networking purposes. I used my own creativity in designing them so that they’d be eye-catching, a conversation piece, and a way for me to be remembered. Of course, they also include my contact info so that we can continue our conversation.

In a face-to-face encounter, I consider business cards to be one of the most important networking tools you can have. Why?

Consider this scenario: you’ve just finished a conversation and want to talk later. One of you says, “let me find a piece of paper to write down your email.” However, you have neither a pen or a piece of paper available. Neither of you wants to take the effort to enter the other’s contact info in your phones.

Hmmm. If only there was a way to easily exchange contact info.

Hey! Business cards!

Always have business cards available to distribute. You’ll instantly be able to provide your contact info and continue your conversation.

LinkedIn is your friend

In my honest opinion, if business cards are your most important networking tool, LinkedIn might come in second.

Professionals take LinkedIn seriously. I’ve even seen spaces for LinkedIn addresses on employment applications, which, to me, indicates that businesses take LinkedIn seriously.

A LinkedIn profile does a number of things. Like business cards, it provides a way to continue your conversation. It serves as your online resume. It provides an avenue for you to post about your accomplishments and thoughts. It is an important tool for professionals. In my opinion, if you’re serious about networking, you absolutely must have a LinkedIn account.


These are just a few ways in which you can hone your networking skills; there are many others that I haven’t even touched upon. (You can learn more if you attend my networking presentation! </plug>) We do not live in a vacuum, and no (wo)man is an island. These days, maintaining a strong network is vital for your professional health, and a way to ensure that you will be successful in your career.

Social media: should I stay or should I go?

I don’t think I have to mention just how prevalent social media is these days. If you’re reading this ‘blog, most likely you’re engaged in some form of social media. Terms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are a regular part of daily life these days. It’s gotten to the point that these terms have become verbs (e.g. “Facebook it”). Even I’ll tell people that “the best way to get a hold of me is on Facebook,” and I’m the first to admit that I generally can’t go a day without checking my Facebook app on my phone.

In these times of divisiveness, security concerns, and ‘bots, I’ve also seen a number of friends say, “I’m closing my Facebook account” or “I’m shutting down my LinkedIn.” I’m often saddened by these, because one of my main reasons for maintaining Facebook (which I’ll expand upon in a moment) is to easily keep in touch with friends and family. Any time a friend says that (s)he is shutting down his or her account is a contact that I lose. It doesn’t mean that (s)he is no longer a friend; it just means that it’s a little more difficult to keep in touch with that person.

However, a lot of people are (understandably) turned off by the negativity and political discourse that are pervasive on social media. People have written articles about how much better their lives have become after shutting down social media. I completely understand how people are disillusioned by what they see on social media.

So I get it when people ask this question about social media: should I stay or should I go?

I’ll give the standard DBA answer*: “it depends.”

(*For those who don’t understand the reference, the widespread joke among data professionals and IT people is “it depends” is the standard response when they are asked just about any question.)

Not satisfied with that answer? Let me expand on it.

I don’t think I need to get into why people want to leave social media; there are too many obvious examples of that out in the wild (and maybe a few not-so-obvious examples, such as data security and privacy, and the “need” — a very stupid reason, in my opinion — to maintain social status). People are getting stressed out over these issues. I certainly understand why people want to leave social media, and I won’t decry them for it. So instead, I’ll talk about some reasons why you might want to stay.

Like just about anything else, social media is a tool, a piece of software developed for a purpose. Mostly, that purpose is communication. People have been talking about the shrinking world for years. Social media contributes to the world shrinking even further.

I mentioned earlier that I maintain my Facebook account so that I can easily stay in touch with friends and family. It is the primary reason why I first joined Facebook, and it is why, even despite all the issues that come with it, I maintain my account today. Humans are social animals, and more often than not, humans need to maintain social contact with one another, especially so these days with the COVID-19 pandemic. I enjoy talking to people and keeping in touch with friends, so for me, personally, these reasons outweigh all the problems and tribulations that come with Facebook, and maintaining my account is worthwhile.

Some people seem to think they have to maintain some level of status on social media, like trying to compete in some type of popularity contest. Personally, I think this is one of the biggest bullshit reasons to be on social media. I could not care less about how popular I am. I’ll post about personal news that’s happening in my life, something on my mind that I want to get off my chest, ask a question about an issue I can’t seem to solve on my own, or occasionally express an opinion (although I do try to avoid anything having to do with politics; personally, I despise politics passionately). If you’re on social media to maintain social standing, I think you’re on it for the wrong reason. (Trying to sell yourself is a different matter; I’ll get into that shortly.) If I don’t care about my social standing (and I don’t), then I don’t have to concern myself with maintaining it on social media.

That is why I want to be on social media. However, I also think there are reasons why you should be on social media.

Love it or hate it, social media is prevalent in our society today, and I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon. Because so many people use social media, it’s probably the single largest and most effective communication device in the world.

I think you have to be on social media if you’re at all serious about any of the following: marketing, networking, sales, job hunting, problem solving, news and information (not the fake kind, but I digress), running a business, customer service, recruiting, and maybe a lot of other things I haven’t thought about — essentially, anything that involves communication on a large scale. Most business sites that sell products or services include links to “like us on (insert your favorite social medium here).” Many job applications include a form field for your LinkedIn profile, a sign that they take it seriously. Organizations such as PASS make extensive use of media such as Twitter to communicate with their members. I’ve also written before about online networking; I won’t rehash that here.

One of the big complaints I often hear is that people are sick of being bombarded with ads and politics. Facebook (and other media, I’m sure) does include tools to suppress things you don’t want to see; for example, there are tools to “hide” or “block all from (name of account).” There are a number of such tools available. I won’t get into them right now, but I will say that using them has made my online experience much more palatable.

So should you maintain a social media presence or not? These are the reasons why, despite their issues, I continue to do so. Social media are communication tools. How — and whether you decide — to use them is completely up to you.

Putting the “professional” in professional networking

I recently saw a couple of posts that left me shaking my head.

The first was a tweet from a couple of weeks ago. This came from a #SQLFamily person whom I follow on Twitter. I don’t really know her well, but we do have several mutual friends, and I know her by reputation. She posted the following tweet.

And if that wasn’t enough, earlier today, I stumbled across the following post on LinkedIn.

When it comes to professional networking, do people really need to be told not to do this? Apparently, the answer is “yes.”

I specifically mention this in my networking presentation. I dedicate a few slides to talk about how to break the ice — probably the most difficult thing to do when trying to initiate a conversation, especially if you consider yourself introverted. I list dos and don’ts when trying to break the ice, and this qualifies as a don’t.

Professional networking is exactly that — it’s an opportunity to connect with people professionally. It is not an opportunity to pick up members of the opposite sex (or the same sex, if that’s what you’re into). This kind of behavior is unprofessional and immature, and it does not belong in a professional environment — ever.

There are certain manners that need to be upheld when you’re trying to connect with people professionally. Things like this will do more to repulse people from you than connect with them. Save the cheesy pickup lines for the dive bars. Better yet, don’t save them at all.

PASS Summit, travel plans, #SQLFamily, and Twitter chatter

It’s three months away, and I’m counting the days.

My prep work for my very first PASS Summit continues. I’m still waiting to hear as to whether or not my PowerPoint slides are accepted and good to go, or if I need to make any tweaks to them. I’m waiting to announce my presentation schedule (per PASS rules, I’m not allowed to announce it until they do). (Edit: the schedule has been released! I’m speaking on Friday, November 8 at 8 am PST!) There has been plenty of chatter on Twitter (which I’ll get to in a little bit) in regards to the approaching event.

I did have one setback, which didn’t make me happy. I had originally scheduled my flight home for the morning on Saturday, November 9 (which reminds me — travel tip — I discovered that it was actually cheaper for me to buy two one-way tickets, not one round-trip ticket). Per the advice of nearly everyone who’s been to PASS Summit before me (especially Matt Cushing), I was told that I should stay through Friday night and book my flight home for Saturday. I took that advice to heart, and booked a flight back to the East Coast for Saturday morning.

Unfortunately for me, American had other ideas. My flight, which was originally supposed to be 8 am on Saturday, was switched to 10 pm on Friday. To put it mildly, that did NOT make me happy. I fired back to American with a very angry email — my wife practically had to force me to NOT use any — let’s just say — colorful language in my message. I looked into changing my flight. The available options fell into one of two categories: either the schedule didn’t work for me, or the airfare was absolutely ridiculous. There was no in-between. (And if that wasn’t enough, I have something going on that Monday, which precludes me needing to be home at a reasonable time.) So, for the moment, it appears the best option is for me to keep the flight to which I’ve been switched.

It is exactly for reasons like this why I’ve come to hate flying. It is also one of the biggest reasons why I prefer taking Amtrak. I seriously considered it for this trip, but rejected it because of schedule constraints. I do love traveling by train, and believe me, I would’ve enjoyed taking 3-4 days to take a train across the country, but that’s a luxury that I just don’t have for this trip. (I’ve toyed with the idea of taking the train cross-country as a vacation idea — i.e. I wouldn’t be taking the train to get to a vacation. I’d be taking the train as the vacation! Maybe someday…)

And in addition, American Airlines has been dropped to my list of “airlines of last resort” (if I ever bother flying with them again at all).

Anyway, as I mentioned above, Twitter has been very active in regard to PASS Summit. I reluctantly joined Twitter last month. I didn’t want to join, but it’s the medium of choice for just about everyone involved with PASS, and my acceptance as a PASS Summit speaker pretty much forced my hand.

I posted my frustration at American Airlines on Twitter, and as a first-time PASS Summit attendee, asked #SQLFamily for their advice. A number of people told me that it wouldn’t be a big deal. Sea-Tac Airport would likely be busy on Friday night (which was one of the big reasons why I booked Saturday in the first place), but multiple people, including Matt Cushing and Grant Fritchey, told me that PASS generally doesn’t schedule events for Friday night. Mostly, what I’d miss is the opportunity to get together with #SQLFamily friends. And therein lies the rub.

The flight switch also affects other plans. I sent a message to my AirBnB host saying that my stay might end up being one night shorter than I planned. I want to wait a while before making that determination — for all I know, American might switch it back to Saturday. Dear airline industry: it’s not like we travelers have plans or anything like that. I swear that some of the things they pull are downright criminal. I’ll say it again: there’s a reason why I prefer Amtrak.

In any case, my plans continue to roll along. It should be fun! November will arrive before I know it.

I’m a twit… I mean, I’m on Twitter

Okay, I’m a lemming. I finally caved.

For years, I’ve assiduously avoided Twitter. As I’ve been telling people, “I refuse to twit (sic).” I’ve never felt the need for it, I’ve never felt compelled to join it (to be honest, the hype surrounding it did more to repel me from it than make me want to use it), and I’ve been trying to stay away from it. It was enough that I was already on Facebook (and, for professional reasons, LinkedIn). I didn’t feel any need to join the Twitterverse.

Events over the past few weeks changed that. First, as I announced earlier this month, I was accepted to speak at PASS Summit. Second, I finally succumbed to peer pressure from friends such as Deborah Melkin and Matt Cushing. Third, I wanted to connect with #sqlfamily — which is entirely on Twitter.

Mostly, it was the PASS Summit deal that finally pushed me to do so. Twitter is the medium of choice for a great majority of people involved with PASS and SQL Saturday. Since this is my first PASS Summit, I needed a way to contact people if I needed to do so. And since nearly every speaker there is on Twitter, well…

So, therefore, it is with great trepidation and reluctance that, last week, I finally broke down and created a Twitter account. I’ve been sitting on it for a week, and really only made it publically known this past weekend at Albany SQL Saturday.

I’m still trying to figure out how to use the thing. Deb Melkin mentioned to me this past weekend that there were some hashtags that I should’ve used with my first tweet — at which point, she turned to some of our colleagues and said, “he’ll get the hang of it. We’ll teach him!”

I honestly don’t know how much I’ll be using the thing. I already use Facebook to post about my personal life, and I use my LinkedIn for professional endeavors, so I don’t really feel a need to do either on Twitter. I’ve connected my ‘blog to it, so you’ll see my articles on it whenever I post one. Beyond that, we’ll see.

So if you really feel a need to follow me, my Twitter profile is PianoRayK.

I’ll see you out there in the Twitterverse…