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How to grow your network within a company
Growing your network within a new company can be really intimidating, but will start yielding gains immediately.
When you join a new company, normally the first thing on your mind is getting through the onslaught of onboarding action items you have, like setting up your email and benefits elections, followed by reading thousands of pages of onboarding docs (okay, maybe not that order of magnitude, but it sure as heck feels that way 🤣). And during all that, you gotta set up your development environment and start getting access to code and build systems. Sounds like a lot, but there is something that a lot of new grads and even some more senior engineers can sometimes overlook: building your network within the company.
"ONE MORE THING I GOTTA DO?! AM I NOT STRESSED ENOUGH?" you ask. Before you panic, read this post and you'll see that building your network within your new company is not only easy, but also will start yielding gains immediately.
Why grow a network within a company?
Everyone knows that having a network is important, but why is it important specifically within a company? Also, why is it something that engineers should be cognizant of? After all, we're not sales or marketing people. We just make awesome products by being code ninjas, right?
Not so fast. The thing is, we still do interact with humans, and wherever there is interaction with humans, there are relationships you can build that will advance you and your career.
Your network speaks for you
Your broader network is comprised of many different people, including mentors, coaches, peers, and of course, recruiters. Each of those people has helped you grow in some way and will continue to help you grow. They will likely also know about opportunities that would be great for you. And the best part is: those opportunities may never even become public but you will get priority to them by simply having your network reach out to you directly.
The same phenomenon happens within a company. Internal roles that will allow transfers, or even new projects in search of team members, are opportunities that you could be fast-tracked into by knowing more people in your company.
Your network will grow your influence
It's always good to know people outside of your team. Those relationships will keep you up to date on all the new developments within the company that are outside of your immediate area. That's incredibly helpful because it will show you how your work fits into the broader context. The broader context understanding may then give you new ideas for how to collaborate cross-org, expand your scope further, and make larger impact (all good things to do 😁).
Great! How do I grow my network?
The main way to grow your network is to actively reach out to people.
You're probably thinking, "Wow, this dude must think he's some kind of genius." But it is actually that simple.
I get it: reaching out to people is hard. It can be intimidating and anxiety-ridden, but this is just a muscle that you gotta hone. Once you've done the "elevator pitch" a couple times, you will start getting more comfortable with reaching out to new people.
But how do you figure out who to reach out to? Just ask anyone you meet the following question:
"Who are 3 people you'd recommend meeting?"
This is a question which was given to me by a senior engineer as a technique to grow my network within a new role. This question is incredibly powerful. Before you know it, you will have met people outside of your org (and this can happen even if the company is large).
Start with your manager
Your manager is likely your first conduit to your company after you join. And what that means is that he/she can connect you to others, starting with your team and moving outward. Ask your manager the question above to seed your journey to meeting new people in your company!
Your manager is there to support you so if you're feeling a bit shy, you could ask your manager to introduce you to those 3 people. This can be very casual over Slack, just with 3 different group chats or a mega-one if you feel comfortable with that. Pay attention to how your manager introduces you because if you like it, you can copy it and use it for yourself when you start feeling more comfortable about reaching out to people directly.
When you start meeting new people, engage in active listening and approach every conversation with a curious mind. Echo back what the person tells you, especially if there are interesting insights. This will help you to gel that fact into your brain, while also showing the other person that you are focused on the conversation.
I find it's a good idea to also schedule some time after meeting the person to jot down some notes on what was discussed. Personal facts and info about the company can go a long way. At a later point in time, you may find that you are gonna be working with that person and then your background with that person will be an asset to you!
You gotta work at it
Meeting new people takes effort. At the beginning, it feels like you are climbing a mountain and the mountain is growing in front of you as you get more and more recommendations for people to meet. The good news though is that the more you do it, the faster you will climb the mountain and the easier it will be to meet new people (sometimes even with very minimal preparation).
Oh, the places you'll go,
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So...get on your way!
Dr. Seuss, "Oh, the Places You'll Go!"