A strong professional network is a huge benefit to anyone’s career, whether they’re a woman in tech or not. But for us, it’s especially important, because the old boys’ network ensures that men have no trouble finding out about unadvertised vacancies and getting interviews with mates of mates.
To make sure you get similar chances, you’ll need contacts, friends and acquaintances, not just in high places but lots of places. But how do you get there when you’re brand new to the tech industry, and like many of us nerdy types, not so keen on the whole buddy-buddy thing?
Relax, we’ve got it covered. Here are our top six networking tips for new women in tech.
1. Use Twitter to your advantage
A good first step to being social is, you guessed it, social media. It’s an easy way to find, follow and talk to loads of people in the industry, without having to approach anyone in real life.
If you don’t already use Twitter, set up an account that clearly shows who you are – that means an actual photo of your face (sorry), your real name, and a bio that gives a bit of info about you and your interests (here’s mine for reference). The reason for this is that Twitter is stuffed with cartoon avatars and fake names, which makes it really hard to know who you’re talking to. You’re much more likely to get replies and follows if it’s clear who you are, and that you’re a decent sort.
Don’t expect people just to follow you because you followed them, and don’t bug them to follow you back. Just find some cool people to follow, engage in the conversation around tech (the #WomenInTech hashtag is a good place to start, or any tech-related trending topic) and start making friends.
2. Join the Facebook groups
If you’ve ditched Facebook, or never joined in the first place, this one’s optional – but for better or worse, a lot of networking still happens there, so it’s a useful place to be.
Lots of areas of tech have Facebook groups to discuss the industry, and relevant developments. For instance, in tech journalism we have TechJPR, where technology journalists and PRs hang out and talk to each other.
Many of these groups will be closed or even secret, so you might need to know someone or answer a few questions to get in. Obviously, the more people you know in the industry, the easier this will be – but it’s worth searching anyway to see if you can find some open groups to join. Failing that, ask your coworkers, or put a request out on Twitter.
3. Get a mentor
We’ve talked about the importance of mentoring for women in tech in detail in the past, but in short, a mentor will make a huge difference to your career.
Your mentor can help you navigate the tricky realities of being new to the industry, introduce you to people and make you aware of schemes and meetups you might not have known about. If you pick someone as much like you as possible – someone of the same ethnicity or orientation, for instance – they can also help guide you through challenges specific to your background. That’s not to say a mentor who differs from you isn’t useful, but minorities and marginalised groups face particular issues in tech and it can help to have someone who’s been there.
The tricky bit, of course, is finding a mentor in the first place. If you have a job or internship, start there, but if not, try social media. Told you it was useful.
4. Make your LinkedIn sparkle
As we mentioned in our CV tips, LinkedIn is absolutely no one’s favourite social network, but it is undeniably useful. Having a profile on there verifies that you’re a real person and adds a layer of professionalism, even if you haven’t had a job yet.
Fill your page with relevant details and achievements, sound personable and approachable, and upload a good-quality photo that’s not a selfie you took for Instagram. While you’re at it, get your CV up to scratch (it’s a lot of the same information, so easy to do at the same time) and if you don’t yet have a decent email address (Gmail, not Hotmail, or an address at your own domain), sort that out too. You don’t want to be applying for jobs with firstname.lastname@example.org, or whatever you’ve been using up to now.
5. Get business cards (yes, really)
Yes, we do know what year it is. Surprisingly, although they should be very obsolete by now, business cards are still really widely used and often asked for, especially at conferences. They’re handy because people will very often forget they met you without the paper reminder in their pocket, and following you on Instagram won’t remind them to email you the way a business card would.
If you didn’t fix your email address in the last step, by the way, do that first.
You don’t have to spend a fortune – something clean and modern will do nicely. Moo.com has a range of pre-made cards you can plug your details into if you’re not artistic, including plenty of geeky designs.
6. Go to events and stick around
Yep, you knew you were eventually going to have to actually talk to people face to face, and here it is.
Whether it’s evening classes (try General Assembly, for instance), discussion groups (try Meetup) or conferences (we’d love to see you at the Women in Tech Festival), just turn up and be willing to talk to people. You don’t need to do the hard sell – you’re not there to secure a job or internship on the spot, just to chat to people who seem cool and make connections.
And don’t worry – this will all be second nature before you know it. Welcome to the industry, we’re happy to have you.
Computing and CRN have united to present the Women in Tech Festival UK 2019, on 17th September in London.
The event will celebrate successful women in the IT industry, enabling attendes to hear about, and to share, personal experiences of professional journeys and challenges.
Whether you’re the ‘Next Generation’, an ‘Inspirational Leader’, or an ‘Innovator of Tech’, this event will offer inspiration on not only how to improve yourself, but how to help others too. Discover more here.