I’m an introvert. Going out of my way to introduce myself cold at a party or a meeting is pretty much torture to me. Recently I’ve learned to actually enjoy these events, and even to look forward to them. Why the change? Well for one, there are always free pens, and who doesn’t need free pens? But really the most valuable part of any event is the connections you make. I know, I know, clichés in a blog entry? How innovative! But (cliché alert) it’s a small world out there, and in an industry that is light on tangible assets, your network might be the most valuable asset you have.
In IT and any niche industry, your reputation means more than any one achievement. And when you think about it, every job has its own niche. Whether it is your company, a specific technology, a core group of users, or some friends from college, it is your reputation within that group and every group that could define your role, and your future roles. There’s always a guy who knows a guy, or a friend who hears of a role that could define your path going forward. So who knows where a new and uncomfortable introduction, as awkward as it might seem, might lead to a conversation that might change your life.
Yes, that’s a bit dramatic I know, but it’s true. You can have the greatest experience and solutions, however if nobody knows about it, how will they know to call when the situation arises? In an industry like IT where we are used to programs finding the optimal solution and returning the best alternative, it is difficult to make the jump to a task so focused on soft skills. But it is important to have those skills and make those connections wherever possible.
My advice, from a recovering introvert, is to take a step towards that community, whatever that means to you. It could be attending a meeting for a trade organization, speaking at a conference, or just asking a fellow colleague to grab a cup of coffee. Next time the opportunity presents itself, take it. You never know where that first step will lead. Personally for me that means going to conferences, joining trade groups and even making a few presentations a year. I didn’t do it all at once, but now I actually enjoy all those extracurricular activities. They don’t all result in huge opportunities, but now I enjoy the experience, and the chance to help my connections whenever possible. In this always connected, online profile, text-messaging world, it may be the personal connection that ends up making the biggest impact on your career.