Professional Networking for New Programmers

Tl;dr -> Politely ask if contact can spare 10min. Thank them for their time, ask them a couple of questions, ask them if they know someone you can talk to more about the hiring process, after, thank them for their time. Then, with the next person, repeat. You can use your previous conversation as an intro.

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3-years ago I decided that I wanted to change my career, to move onto better things while I had the freedom to do so on a whim. And so, two years ago I began saving and researching different schools (Hack Reactor, Full Stack Academy, Flatiron School, etc.), different disciplines (networking, software engineering, data science, cybersecurity, etc.) to find what I wanted to do. Eventually, I landed on Software Engineering as a discipline. It was about March of last year when I started my studies, so right around when the entire landscape upon which all my plans had been set atop had changed.
I enrolled to go on campus but no longer was that an option, now I was in school remotely, and with no certainty that it would stay that way. No longer could I network in person with anybody. Hell, was Zoom even a household name at that point? Google hangout? Microsoft Teams? Etc.?
Certainly, classes were intense as both the class and I adapted to this new landscape and new knowledge all at the same time. It was honestly hard to perceive it as an extraordinary accomplishment because, we as a class, didn’t know what things were “supposed” to be like except how we had imagined it.
Then we graduated and it was time we were kicked from the tree to see if we could fly.
Here’s the issue I had, how do you network? I didn’t take any classes on virtual networking. I hardly even had a functioning LinkedIn upon graduating (something my provided career coaches painstakingly combed through thankfully. You can just compare your profile to the profiles of the employees whom you hope to be friends with one day if you don’t have the luxury of a career mentor.) Besides actually operating the Zoom app, I had no idea how I was supposed to create this “Network”. And as humans we work best from observation, though, being isolated as we were, who can we look onto in this new landscape?

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Well, I am creating this article as an extremely basic and somewhat emotional guide based on my experiences and as a gift to those self-taught engineers and recent grads who have been thrust out of the academic world as a bird but expect to create webs (I guess if you’re a Pythonista you’d be a snake).
So, you have 2–6 projects, you feel proud about, pinned on your Github, have a resume drawn up, your social media is up to date and providing consistent information about yourself, and maybe you even have a portfolio (sure we all want our portfolios to knock some socks off but the most important part is to get something published, and the second to be useful. No one uses my portfolio more than I do).
Now that you have a presence it’s time to start applying to jobs. You start crushing applications and scribing cover letters. 50 applications or so later, you’ve gotten code challenges, joined some webinars, and even gotten a couple of interviews. Still no hits and your back at square one. Sure you’ve been saving all your answers to application questions so you can get through applications faster. Sure you have 15 different versions of the same cover letter. Ultimately though, these are just resources on your local machine, money in the bank. There hasn’t really been too much investment on your part. So how do add-in that missing piece? I’ll step you through it. For some, this may have come naturally but honestly, this still makes me sweat a little bit and I’m far from the shyest person so I know there is someone out there who is a great programmer who can really use this.
The first step is to find people to reach out to. For this, I would use two approaches.
First was a suggestion from one of my amazing career coaches. That is to identify 10–20 companies you would love to work at.

Simple as googling <industry> jobs and creating a list.

I’m personally into fitness so I picked companies like Crossfit, Whoop, and Peloton. You’re probably into other things. Once you have your list of companies, identify a couple of people from each who are in roles you hope to one day have. LinkedIn is a great tool for this as you can search for employees of a particular company and see what their job titles are.

I’m sure you know I’m into Crossfit by now, I’m sure it’ll come up again though.
  1. The company I searched for.
  2. Someone in a community I belong to works here.
  3. Employees in the company and how to find them on LinkedIn.

The second way to gather contacts is through events such as meetups, webinars, and ‘Lunch & Learns’. These are good because I guarantee almost every other person attending is looking to network also (it’s a lot for guest speakers and organizers to connect with everyone from webinars being that there are sometimes hundreds of attendees). You don’t just need to connect with industry professionals, you can connect with other people in the same shoes as you are and pool resources. Especially in the tech industry where we are constantly identifying problems and reviewing the things we have already tried. Networking and finding a job is the problem and now you can hear from your peers the things everyone has tried. Take notes on the details because if someone has tried something at a company you want to work for you know that perhaps a different approach is in order., location doesn’t matter much anymore with things still virtual.

Great, now we have a giant list of potential contacts and ways to get more. As I alluded to before, this is where we start creating our network. If you’re taking the time to read through this article, chances are getting right into networking with industry professionals might be a large task, especially if you are prone to social anxiety. So let’s start with a classmate/ cohort mate/ fellow alum/ friends.

Flatiron is my primary community in the tech space but don’t discount your other communities.
  1. The community I searched for.
  2. Tab to view the alum of this community.

On LinkedIn, I search for others who went to the same school as I did. More specifically, I search for other alum of the program I went through. While everyone will probably understand your intentions from the onset, the more you hone in on a group of people, the more alike your struggles will be and as we discussed before, trying multiple approaches to the same problem is most likely to lead you to the solution.

I expanded this window for more information.
  1. Filters.
  2. Links to companies they are employed by.

Great, now we request to connect, and that allows us to also attach a note which will be our initial message to this person after they accept our invitation. I’d keep this brief, not much more than a couple of lines. Something along the lines of, “Hey <contact first name> it’s always great connecting with a fellow alum. Would you have 15min to meet up sometime to talk about what you’ve been up to (or) your experience getting (into/at) <insert company name>?”
And if it’s a fellow alum whose also currently in the job search like you are, you can plan to meet weekly or bi-weekly to discuss your experiences in general.
This method works very well with contacts you make at webinars also, so if you are self-taught, you can apply this to those contacts. I’d argue that it’s more important to regularly meet with people in this case, and if they have contacts they meet with, maybe suggest they bring people into your scheduled meetings. I promise you they will be fascinated by your experience, self-taught programmers are amazing, driven individuals.
Now let’s crank this up a notch and reach out to some industry professionals. The concept is the same. Before we made a list of people who have roles we admire at company’s where we aspire to be. We will pick one person from this list and ask them to talk. We can send them an invitation to connect over LinkedIn with a note attached or we can send them a message after we have already connected with them. I don’t think it really makes a difference. And the message will say something like, “Hey <insert first_name> thanks for connecting. I was looking at <company_name> and I’m really interested in learning more. Do you have 10min we can meet sometime this/next week so I can ask you a couple of questions about what <position> do at <company_name>?”
Great, the reach out is honestly the hardest part. After that it’s either they do or don’t get back to you, the rest works itself out.
In the best-case scenario, you have yourself a meeting and the meeting will be about 10min long (if you tell someone a meeting will be 10min long, don’t go over. It’s important you respect their time).
You’ll start to get a feel of what you can do in 10min but as a general rule, I find I can fit an introduction, two questions, and conclusion comfortably within that time. Let me break that down for you:

  1. Introduction — Firstly, introduce yourself (“Hi <their first_name> I’m Corey, thanks for taking the time.) Let them respond before continuing. Here you can get into why you wanted to talk (“So, I just have a couple of questions about <company_name>).
  2. Questions — Here you can just start asking your questions. Here is an example exchange, “What’s it like working at <company_name> as a <persons_role>?” Then wait for their response (it’s helpful to write down their answers for future conversations and for your own interview there). Then after they are done answering you can go ahead and ask another question like, “How does your team collaborate with each other on a daily basis?” And again, make sure you wait until they give their full response.
  3. Conclusion — Now, you want to be mindful of their time during the entire meeting so if you’re close on time at any point you can say so instead of asking another question or something, or maybe move right to this conclusion instead of asking the second question. Ideally, though, your closing remarks will look like something like your introduction where you thank them for the time except this time you ask for someone else to reach out to. It’ll look something like:
  4. “I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my questions <their first_name>.”
  5. “Do you know anybody else I can reach out to for more details on the hiring process or more details on what <position name> roles <company name> is looking for?”

That’s it, be a good listener and take good notes. You’ll use the notes for your next reach out at the company or even during your interview with them. You’ll follow this same procedure with whichever contact they give you (if any) except this time the context will be more along the line of, “Hey <contact name>, I was talking to <person who gave contact> about <company name> and they said you’d be able to shed some more light on the hiring process/roles at <company name>. Would have 10min to discuss sometime this/next week?”
Now, this is just a general structure to highlight the circular nature of networking. The idea is that the more people you talk to and the more familiar with how a company operates, the more you can talk about it with your other contacts. Also, I don’t particularly script anything. I’ll have talking points and the questions I want to ask but that’s it. If I try to remember too much during a conversation I actually end up holding my breath. Best to be casual, it’s just a quick conversation.

I use Text Editors for everything.

This is just a basic template for people who don’t know where to start when they are expected to know how to do this mysterious and extremely effective thing called “networking”. This article is a brief description of “networking” but it’s also important to realize that getting yourself in front of someone is the objective of networking, so just applying to jobs and sending out connection requests on LinkedIn doesn’t quite do that because that will simply put you in a group of like-minded people, not highlight you as an individual.
Really though, I’m still very new to this and these skills are something that I’ve recently redeveloped into some form of what you are reading above. To someone with more advanced networking skills, this article may actually read a being pretty primitive, and if that’s you I would like to hear your thoughts on virtual networking.
As always, thank you for your time, and please feel free to reach out to me.

Frontend Software Developer and Security Technician with experience in Ruby, Rails, JavaScript, and React. Flatiron Software Engineering Alumni.