Getting the Most Out of the Technology Meetup Community
Article by Sandra Zawacki, Practice Manager in Jobspring DC and Co-founder of DC Security Meetup
Did you know that there are over 100 technology focused meet up groups in the DC metro area and in most other major cities? I’ve been in the technology recruiting industry for almost eight years, an industry that most would argue heavily relies on networking, and I have been pleasantly surprised to see the huge increase in groups and events over the past few years. People from all different verticals of the technology community are stepping out from behind their laptops, standing desks and online forums to, wait for it, engage with others face to face! While the technology field heavily relies on email, web conferences, virtual server environments and code repositories to make important decisions and move products forward—in the recruiting field—we still see most important hiring decisions made when a face to face meeting has occurred. How good are your face to face networking capabilities? The opportunity to improve on this skill is only one of the many reasons you should be an active member of your local meet up community—let’s explore a few others!
First, let’s lay a few common misconceptions to rest. One: community driven meeting groups are an “old-school” way of engaging with people in your field. Judging by the explosive growth of sites like Meetup.com, which boasts 21.6 million members world-wide and powers over 9000 groups meeting each week, meet-ups are clearly the “new-old” way of getting together. Two: techies are introverts who don’t like engaging outside of the comfort of their screens. There are thousands of registered meet up groups focused on different areas of the technology market. To use a more specific example, when my company founded Tech in Motion (a nation-wide technology focused meet-up) we grew our membership to over 40,000 members in under five years—clearly techies are getting out! Three: “If I want more information on something I can just find it online, I won’t get anything ‘extra’ out of attending an actual event, plus traffic is terrible at rush hour!” Well, I can’t argue on the traffic point…but there is plenty of “extra” to be gained at these events.
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At most of the events I attend, and host, it’s as Forrest Gump would say “a box of chocolates—you never know what you are going to get”. But that, in my opinion, is what’s so great about it! There will always be the real experts at whatever the topic of the event is; the people truly passionate about that technology who are eager to share their knowledge and exchange ideas. There are others at the event who are just there to learn more and who serve as a grateful audience to the first group. Inevitably, there are also a few who just came for the free food and drinks—that’s ok too. The point is to not be afraid to put yourself in a position where, even if you are unfamiliar with the topic, you learn something new or share some of what you know. This is not only the best way to actually gain some new knowledge but also an important networking skill that may have gotten rusty as you tapped away at your keyboard for the past few years!
That brings me to my next point—don’t underestimate the value of human interaction. As mentioned previously, despite much of business being conducted in online capacities these days, most companies still make important hiring decisions after face to face meetings. As much as you have to be “good at what you do” you have to also be able to explain what it is you do, and to some extent “sell yourself” to get the job you really want. Meet-ups are an excellent forum to practice these skills by talking to people you’ve never spoken to before (like you would in an interview), describing what you do and then connecting with them over what it is they do. These interactions can greatly help improve the thing most people struggle with during interviews; nerves! Additionally, you are meeting people at these events who are in your field; the bigger you can make your network the easier looking for a job will be, if or when you choose to do so.
One last point from a hiring perspective; the number one quality hiring managers tell me that they are looking when they describe the “perfect” candidate (outside of technical skills) is passion and desire to learn. These intangible skills can be difficult to qualify and even more difficult to represent on a resume. Consider the approach high school students take; they fill their free hours with extracurricular activities that will look great on a college application, ideally a variety of them to suggest a broad and general interest in being an active member of their communities. Perhaps it’s not a bad idea to take a page out of the book we wrote as 17 year olds and incorporate it into our professional lives. Being an active member of your professional community and attending events that further your skills and knowledge is an excellent way to show potential employers that your application should stand out!
So join your peers; take a night or two a month and find an event that interests you; a topic that you could learn more about. Wear your nametag proudly on your chest and don’t be afraid to walk up to someone you don’t know to ask them what they do. You might meet someone whose knowledge helps your project, whose network impacts your career path or who you simply enjoy exchanging ideas with. Or just come for the food and drinks…