I’ve had a few people ask me how I know so many people in the IT industry, especially people overseas. I’ve become known as someone ‘who knows people at Microsoft’. While this is true, it doesn’t get me any special favors. But here’s the thing – I’ve had exactly the same tools and opportunities as every other person in my industry. In fact, I’m constantly sharing those opportunities with others (here’s an event, here’s a webinar, here’s a training resource ..) So, I thought I’d share my observations on how to become known within your industry.
Part of the answer is the power of social media.
Many of my contacts are on twitter and some I’ve had the pleasure to meet in real life. But that’s not always the case. Don’t think that just because someone is in a technical field, that they happily, regularly participate in online spaces. But I do enjoy having my say from behind the keyboard, when it’s convenient to fit around my work tasks and the rest of my life. I’ve started some great relationships by watching hashtags of events and engaging with people who are tweeting … when they respond back (which is more often than not).
I’m particular about who I follow. If you are just broadcasting information, it has to be relevant to me and my interests. Generally, I prefer people who engage positively with others. They don’t always have to agree, but they have to debate respectfully and not whinge or be brand-biased fanbois. LinkedIn Groups can be great for this too. Find some specific to your industry where people are talking with each other, not just broadcast promoting themselves (even if it looks like a helpful article).
But the biggest part of the answer is … show up, contribute and share.
In a twitter chat. A technical forum. A webinar. An in-person event. Especially when the brand or presenters are people you respect, are important to your work and/or you know they’ve travelled. This is especially important when you’re in a city like Brisbane. When brands and presenters turn up in your city, they’ve made an effort (because in tech, they are usually Melbourne or Sydney based). If it’s a webinar, you’ve even less of an excuse. Be present and support events, in person and online. Don’t throw a lot of time into things that aren’t relevant to your space, but support the heck out of the things that are. And encourage others to show up too.
Contribute positively with questions and discussions that will also benefit the other participants. Case in point: asking a presenter if Office 365 Groups would include external recipients so they can still get group emails. Give weight to other people who have asked a question that’s also relevant to you (eg pushing along an online discussion about Windows 10 deployment methods).
In a group event, when the presenter says “any questions?” I hate sitting through another 45mins of “so my server is yellow and we tried an update on the 3rd which was a Tuesday and it failed so if we stop the service and try it next Friday, will it work?” Guess what? I don’t care. That might sound harsh, but your question is not adding any value to the rest of the group. I understand that it’s really important to you, I do. So presenters: please hang around during breaks and after your session so people can ask you those really specific scenarios. Agenda managers: please allow enough time between sessions for that kind of interaction. Attendees: go right ahead and hit up that subject expert with your specific scenario after I’ve left the room. I really hope you get your question answered. And if the presenter is any good and your scenario really was relevant to the rest of us, I hope they publish it somewhere for the rest of us to read later (they’re making the slides available anyway AND have my email address already, right?)
Have “the serenity to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can and the wisdom to know the difference”. Chances are that a decision about a software feature has been made by someone in a completely different department and country than the presenter who is talking to you about it. So, unleashing your wrath about it to them is not going to change a thing. They are going to listen, smile & nod, and say “I understand, but there’s nothing I can do”. So learn to accept the information you’ve been given and decide how you’re going to work with that. What else can you do or ask to make that better for your situation? That’s positively contributing. No, you don’t have to roll over on everything. Let people know when it’s important enough. But if you are always the squeaky wheel, you get a reputation for just being squeaky and you get ignored. If you accept what you are being given most of the time and you speak up when it’s important and there’s a chance you can influence an outcome .. THEN you get listened to. Because you’ve built up a reputation of positively supporting the industry so far and not just whinging about all the things.
I’m not suggesting that you become a blind fanboi either.. You’re allowed to be cautious until you’ve learnt more and have been convinced about something. But don’t automatically bash new initiatives because they’re different from what you’re used to. Learn how to work with what you are given and how to respectfully explain why the new thing isn’t a fit in your space and what you’re going to do instead. Take time to learn more and play more with new features until you are more comfortable with them. Remember, especially in tech, your audience is looking to your for leadership on the new things, not constant excuses why it won’t work.
Promote events. Tweet and retweet others. Email people in your field about webinars. Write about (or get someone else to) things that you uncover, especially tricky fixes to common problems. Put out quality information and you’ll gain a reputation for being trusted and helpful.
So get out there, don’t be shy. Use the power of your keyboard if you’re not naturally comfortable in a big room of people. Don’t underestimate the contribution that your thoughts and your experience can make to your industry. Support your peers. They might actually just be as nervous as you are! And who knows what connections you might make in the process.