Advice to new developers on networking

This is for folks new to the Mac, iPhone, and iPad development community who are going to their first conference...

You might wonder if this “networking” thing you’ve heard about is really a thing. “I’ve got Xcode,” you think. “Do I really have to, you know, meet people and stuff? Isn’t networking something my Dad did? What about the meritocracy?”

While you’re busy asking yourself questions, other people are having a good time.

Here’s the deal: you don’t actually need to know anybody else to be successful. You totally don’t. It’s fine.

But it helps.

It’s not really networking, anyway. Or, at least, I’ve never gone into a bar or a party thinking I’ll advance my career or my software. That would be weird and yucky.

Rather, there’s a great community of developers and journalists and bloggers, and they’re roughly in your age range, and you have some interests in common, and almost everybody is nice, and — hey, it sounds like kindergarten, I know — but you can make friends.

That’s all there is to it. It’s not networking: get that dumb word out of your head.

Okay, here’s some practical advice.

Two types of geeks

The first type is exactly what you’d expect: they’re the technologists, the guys who would invent computers if they didn’t already exist. On their nth beer they can discuss the fine points of objc_msgSend_stret().

While they’re talking to you they’re also, in their heads, optimizing the queueing algorithm at the bar, writing their first quantum computing application, and stepping through the code they wrote just an hour ago.

The second type is tech-inflected liberal arts types. (I sometimes wonder if this surprises new computer science graduates.) Journalists and bloggers are often of this type — but a perhaps-surprising number of developers are too. They’d rather discuss Gogol and Gaga, Kafka and Kubrick, Borges and Black Eyed Peas.

What both types have in common, though, is Apple products. “Hey, how ’bout that iPad, huh?”

Both types also love well-designed software.

Some things not to do

Remember that everyone sits at their desk most of the time working on hard things. But not at the moment you’re talking to them. At that moment it’s time to have fun, take a little break from the hard things.

I think many of the technologists can deal with bug reports and feature requests in person. For others it’s too much like being back at the desk. (For me it is, anyway.)

I don’t know anybody who likes being cornered or monopolized, or who can stop what they’re doing to spend 30 minutes looking at a demo.

What you should do

Remember that all geeks are shy, just like you. Even the boisterous ones. Or especially. The word “shy” is so universally applicable among geeks that it means nothing: it’s no excuse for you or anybody else. (What do you think beer is for? It’s not just a FIFO stack.)

But if someone ever seems stand-off-ish or awkward — take it as shyness. That’s all it is. (Countless times I’ve heard people say “so-and-so doesn’t like me, I think” — when it’s always just that geek social skills are a little rough-edged. Mine included. In some cases these people have become best friends.)

So, yes, remember that they’re all people, just folks, not different from you in some fundamental way.

Though I will caution you not to stare directly into my third eye, or make fun of the extra head on the side of John Gruber’s regular head, or try to grab Wolf’s tail.

And if you think you actually just saw Thor himself, well, yes, but we call him bbum (the Norse god of Tequila).

(And, one more time, though it should go without saying by now — if you find yourself anywhere near Kevin Ballard, just slowly back away and move to the other side of the bar. Don’t move too fast — his eyes are freakishly sensitive to motion. You’ll be okay. Eventually. I know it burns.)

10 Feb 2010

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