Note: This post was originally posted on October 29, 2009. In the interest of the upcoming conference season, I’m republishing it as a reminder (to myself, as much as anyone) to get off the bench and meet people.
I have a sad story to tell you. Sit down and grab a tissue.
It was 10pm on a cool night in September 2005. Somewhere in Grapevine, Texas, a junior SQL Server professional was sitting alone in a hotel room watching TV. He was tired but not exhausted, having spent all day learning his trade at the Super Bowl of SQL Server conventions, the annual PASS Summit. Although he had met a few people, he didn’t really get to know them or try to meet up with anyone outside the normal conference hours. He attended a couple of parties, but left early and didn’t get beyond chit-chat with others.
Across town, much fun was being had. Stories were told, laughs were shared, and personalities bonded. People went out on a limb and introduced themselves to others they’d never met. Some people would literally change the trajectories of their careers through the relationships that were built at this conference. Sadly, the guy in the hotel across town is missing out on all of this.
As the conference wore on, he saw all those people chatting between sessions and at dinner, laughing and getting to know each other, and secretly he wished to be connected to some other professionals. You see, since he was the only SQL Server professional at his place of employment, he didn’t have a lot of opportunities to talk shop in person with others. He longed for what they had, but couldn’t find the initiative to start up meaningful conversations with others.
As the conference wrapped up at the end of the week, he was appreciative of the technical knowledge he’d be taking home, but couldn’t stop dwelling on the fact that he’d done little networking at this event. It was almost as if he’d missed out on half of the conference.
The man goes back to his job and reads the blogs of those who also attended the summit. He begins to think, “I’m no different than those people, I just need to be more assertive.” He realizes that networking is as big a part of career success as is technical knowledge, and that it’s easier than he’s made it out to be in his mind. He vows then never to again sit on the sidelines; he promises to himself that he will take full advantage of these functions by getting involved in related events outside the scope of the conference.
The story does have a happy ending. “That guy” was me, and I did indeed waste a huge networking opportunity four six short years ago. With that lesson in mind, I swore off being the wallflower and now take the initiative to be more assertive at each technical event I attend. Though I don’t set specific numeric goals, I make it a primary mission to get connected with people, to learn what they do and to share a little about what I do. I’ve come to learn that getting to know fellow SQL Server professionals at technical conferences is at least as important – and quite possibly even more so – as the technical content. I can tell you firsthand that the relationships I’ve built since then have led to many opportunities in my career I wouldn’t have otherwise found, and I’ve built some friendships along the way as well.
So the takeaway is, don’t be me – at least the Me In 2005. Don’t be this guy: use your hotel room for one thing – sleep – and spend the time with others getting to know them. At next week’s PASS Summit, there are official events scheduled for every night of the conference, along with numerous unofficial events. There are vendor breakfast presentations, lunchtime meet-and-greets, and various other opportunities to press flesh and get to know your fellow SQL Server professionals. One of the people you meet could be your next boss, employee, business partner, client, or even a good friend.
2011 Addendum: Since I wrote this post almost two years ago, a great deal has transpired in my life and my career in particular. I’ve made a lot of new friends in the SQL Server community, changed jobs to go to work for an outstanding consulting company, and was twice awarded as a Microsoft MVP. I can safely say that all of these things are directly related to building relationships and contributing to the community. Getting engaged with others isn’t just a feel-good activity; it can help you find ways to advance in your career.
Don’t be this guy. Be the one who takes charge of his career through networking.