How to Build a Real Social Network

By Eric Lathrop on

Building a real social network is easier and more rewarding than building the next Facebook or Twitter. Even shy, introverted programmers (such as myself) can build a powerful network in just a few months. The relationships you build will keep you excited, up-to-date, and alter the trajectory of your career. You can't afford to stay home.

The key to building a strong social network is to find, meet, and lead other technologists.

Finding Other Technologists

Finding other technologists is relatively easy if you live near a city.

  1. Sites like Meetup, and to a lesser extent, Eventbrite, list local technology events and user groups.
  2. Try searching for "[your city] [some technology] user group".
  3. Sometimes recruiters attend these groups, so if you know a recruiter, ask them if they know of any.
  4. Try searching Twitter, I've found several groups only advertised there.
  5. See if your city has a hacker space. Hacker spaces are a great place to meet technologists, and host many user groups.
  6. Some groups like OpenHack, Build Guild, and Code & Coffee, are in multiple cities. Check their pages to see if there's one near you.

Many groups are free, and some provide food or drinks. Every event I've seen is open to any interested person regardless of background. Register and attend as many as your schedule allows. Go to anything that sounds vaguely interesting, at least once. Variety is really important, because each event attracts different people with different interests.

Meeting Other Technologists

Once you find these events, you'll naturally begin to meet people. All you have to do is walk up to people you don't know, and introduce yourself. "Hi, I'm Eric". If the conversation doesn't take off from there, just ask people questions about themselves. "Where do you work?", "Are you working on anything cool?", and so on. Try to remember people's names, or write them down. Later, you can look them up on Twitter, and see if they blog.

After you've been to the same group multiple times, people will start to recognize you. If you see new people you haven't met before, introduce yourself. If they've never been to the group at all, introduce them to the people you already know.

Leading Other Technologists

After a while, you'll grow your own group of friends and aquaintences, which will greatly enrich your life and career. Eventually you'll discover that you have some knowledge to share, or some interest that's not being served by your current groups. At this point you can begin to lead other people, which will further increase your reach as your network shares what you've shared with them.

Here's some good ideas to step into leadership:

  1. Write a blog. Any time you solve a problem that's not easily google-able, or develop some new insight, you should write about it. Share this knowledge with your network (and the rest of the internet) so we can learn from you.
  2. Give a presentation. Sign up to give a presentation about a topic you know at one of the groups you attend regularly. It will be easier if you know some of the people. When you're feeling brave you can offer to present at a conference.
  3. Organize a user group. Even if you're not an expert in a subject, you can still organize a monthly group of people who all share that interest.