The best advice I received about securing my first job as a web developer was to attend meetups. You can read more about why it's a good idea to attend meetups in Dominic's article here: Want to get into tech? It’s never too early to start attending meetups.

But assuming you already think it's a great idea, how do you actually overcome your nerves and step out into the meetup scene for the first time? Here's how I, a raging introvert, step out of my comfort zone at meetups – and even got my first programming job as a result!

Before you go – Homework


The obvious first port of call for finding meetups in your area is Simply searching for terms related to the tech stack you like (React, Node, Mongo, Ruby, Docker, etc) or for the job you have, or want (Front End Developer etc), can turn up an incredible number of niche communities for you to join.

Some meetups choose not to list on because of the costs, so you can also try straightforward web searches, or search on Twitter, for those. Contacting your local library can also give you a good idea of local meetups, especially those aimed at beginners.

It's worth looking into the meetups you find to see if you think it's a good fit for you - for example, do they have a code of conduct you are comfortable with, or do they appear to have a diverse community that values inclusion?

Also try to determine the format of the meetup ahead of time. Some meetups focus heavily on coding together – many freeCodeCamp meetups do this. Other meetups might be strictly social affairs where it's best to leave the laptop at home. It can feel comforting to take a laptop to a social event, and use it to deflect social interaction, but that's not really the point of going!

Develop some warm introductions

If attending a room full of strangers feels too overwhelming, you can try to reach out to other attendees or the event hosts beforehand. Asking an attendee or the host what to expect lets someone there know someone new is coming – I've yet to meet an organiser or regular attendee that wouldn't respond to this by looking out for you and maybe even introducing you around to people on the night. On you can see a list of attendees, and many of them have private messaging turned on, so find a friendly face and introduce yourself.

Your first meetup may be a daunting enough affair without the possible pressure of thinking about how you are going to get your first job in the industry. That said, it's worth taking a moment to think about how you'd like to come across at the meetup, and thinking explicitly about what you plan to say about yourself.

It's not just about you, and treating it solely as a job fair won't be as enjoyable as it could otherwise be. But doing a little 'interview prep' beforehand, when the stakes are much lower than a real interview, can really boost your confidence should the opportunity to sell yourself come along.

Prepare to fly solo

It is tempting to take a friend with you. I would strongly advise against this, or at the very least, if you do take a friend, split up and act like you're both going solo while there. It is far too easy and tempting to solely rely on each other and avoid meeting new people if you have an easy alternative with you already.

While you're there

You made it! You actually set foot inside a room full of strangers gathered around their shared love of serverless architecture, or functional programming, or pushing divs around a screen! These are your people – relax and enjoy your night!

Icebreakers and conversations

Talk to people. Some will call this networking, and you may think that is a dirty word, but you came here to meet people, so go meet them.

My 100% successful tactic for starting a conversation at a meetup is this:

  1. find someone standing on their own;
  2. walk over to them at an unhurried pace; and
  3. say 'Hi! I'm {insert-your-name}'
  4. you can also extend a hand for a shake if that's your bag.
  5. They will then reciprocate, so listen carefully for their name, and repeat it back to them, like 'Hi {insert-their-name}! Nice, to meet you.'

Then ask them if their interest in {reason-for-the-meetup} is because of work or just for fun.

This is the best icebreaker because it's open and allows them to start talking either about their work or just their interests in general. It has never let me down.

The trick to engaging with people well at meetups is to ask thoughtful questions and listen to their answers. It can be tempting to jump in with your unsolicited elevator pitch about yourself as soon as you get a whiff of the possibility that someone might have a job vacancy, but you are much better served by conversing naturally with people and probing into what they tell you with more thoughtful questions.

Generally, asking people about their experiences or soliciting their ideas about a topic are the best way to go.

  • Oh, what was your experience with that particular technology like?
  • What would you recommend to someone that was just getting started with that technology?
  • How did you find the interview experience at that company?
  • What sort of challenges are you facing with this stuff at the moment?

That kind of thing.

Another tip I picked up from an excellent meetup and conference organiser, @LJKenward, was this: when chatting with others, stand in open circles (a.k.a the Pac-Man rule). It can be hard enough approaching strangers without physical barriers. Try to stand in circles with gaps, so other people can join you.

The subtle art of giving your elevator pitch

If you are looking for work, you will likely have the opportunity to tell people about your situation and skill set at some point.

Keep it brief:

  • what kind of role you're looking for;
  • what kind of values you have that you think a team would benefit from;
  • what projects you've worked on that have allowed you to develop your technical skills.

This is not a moment to be self-deprecating. Talk about yourself confidently and show your passion for the technology you like to use. If this is an opportunity that was meant for you, this is all you'll need to do for now!

Afterwards – Homework, part 2

Amazing! You did it! The thrill of going to your first meetup and it having gone well is hard to describe.

Now that it's over, find a few of the people you met (either through Twitter or the private messages) and send a short message about how much you enjoyed meeting them. Following on Twitter is great for this, since it allows you to remain reasonably passively in touch, while still developing your connection after the event.

From here, simply decompress, and fill your calendar up with all the new meetups you want to attend next!

If you see my name down for a meetup and want to connect beforehand, I'm always willing to do so. Or if you just want to discuss dev things, you can reach out to me on Twitter @JacksonBates