Networking is a part of life for any professional. No, not the process of wiring computers together. I'm talking about conferences, local industry groups, chambers of commerce, after hours meetups, etc. There are endless opportunities to network, and I both love and hate it. Let me explain.
July 21 was the 10-year anniversary of the first Joomla Day I attended. It was Joomla Day Austin, about an hour-and-a-half south of where I live in Waco. To me, it was sort of the equivalent of going to Comic Con, but instead of coming dressed in cosplay outfits, talking about our favorite comic book characters and story lines, and waiting in line to meet the guy that did the voice of some obscure character in that one cartoon we watched back in the 90's, we descended upon a hotel/conference center in Austin dressed in a mixture of business-casual attire and our favorite "I love Joomla" t-shirts to talk about our favorite CMS and meet some of the great minds behind the CMS.
Back then, I wasn't thinking about networking. Sure, I was 2 years removed from having earned an MBA, and I knew all about networking, but it just wasn't something I thought about or cared about. All I was thinking about was going to meet some of the friends I had made in the Joomla forums and on Twitter and finally put a real face to an avatar, and getting a chance to geek out about Joomla with my fellow Joomla geeks. During that first Joomla Day, I met Christopher Justice, Kyle Ledbetter, Louis Landry, Rob Schley and more people than I could possibly remember at this point. I still consider all 4 of these guys good friends to this day. We live in different cities, so we mostly keep up with each other on Facebook, but I love to see the great things they are doing and celebrate their successes.
Oh, and by the way, a few years later Christopher referred a client to me that was worth about $30,000. Kyle referred several clients to me over the years worth upwards of $100,000. Kyle, Louis and Rob became coworkers of mine on a team during my time at Sears when they recruited me and my team to be a part of their team. Louis and Rob were 2 of the lead developers of Joomla during their time on the core team, and they both have helped me to become a better developer. And that's just 4 of the many people I met that day. In many ways, the relationships I formed at Joomla Day Austin in 2007 were a catalyst for the ongoing success of Cory Webb Media, and the benefits I received from that day of "networking" are truly incalculable.
Fast forward 10 years, 15+ Joomla Days, Joomla World Conference, many Joomla User Groups, and hundreds of people later, and I have more lifetime friends in the Joomla community than I could even count at this point. The benefits I received, whether monetary, learning, mentoring, etc., are great, but I really treasure the friendships that have been formed over these years. When it's all said and done, I believe these friendships have far more value and impact on the world than any other potential benefit of networking. I have started to see Joomla Days more like family reunions than networking events. That's why I love networking, because for me it is about the pursuit of forming genuine connections and relationships with people, and not about what benefit I can get from those connections.
But I also hate networking. Over the years, I started to recognize the tremendous financial benefit of attending conferences, user groups, and other networking opportunities. Don't get me wrong, I love that there is a financial benefit. It's definitely the icing on the cake. But the problem I have with it goes to motive. I hate the concept of networking for the sake of how it can benefit me.
If I approach networking events with a mindset of what I can get out of it, I stop seeing other attendees as people, and I start seeing them as a means to an end. Pawns in my pursuit of business success. I start saying things like, "That guy/girl is a decision maker at [insert company with deep pockets]. I need to get to know him/her and show him/her how great I am so that he'll/she'll get [deep pockets company] to spend a lot of money with my company and help grow my business." I hate that. That guy/girl might be a decision maker at some company with deep pockets, but he/she is first and foremost a person with real joys and real struggles in life. I want to get to know him/her as a person first. If that leads to me getting a lucrative contract, great. If not, I consider it a win if I've made a new friend and a genuine connection with someone.
The world is full of people who approach networking with a mindset of what they can get out of it. I'm certainly not judging those people. That's what networking is for, after all. But if you're reading this blog and you find yourself nodding your head along with what I'm saying, let's make a promise to each other. If you ever run into me at some type of networking event, I promise to see you as more than a means to an end. I promise to see you as a person with a rich and meaningful life that's deeper than what you do for a living, and I would love an opportunity to know that person.