Everyone kept telling me about the importance of networking, but it was always something I blew off. I’m pretty quiet and introverted, particularly when meeting strangers. I thought I just wasn’t built for networking.

Plus, there was this idea stuck in my head that good programmers were super smart guys, whom I could never hope to compete with.

When I started learning to code I was doing it all by myself, alone in my room for hours everyday. I kept wondering whether I could even make it as a self-taught developer.

Then I stumbled upon the audiobook “No Degree, No Problem” by Josh Kemp, also a self-taught developer. He emphasized the importance of going to events consistently and networking.

I was still a beginner and very intimidated by the thought of going to a place where a lot of super smart programmers meet. But I decided to take a chance and go to a Girl Develop It event.

Once I was there, I forced myself to talk to people, even if it was just to say “Hi.” This was a turning point for me.

Since taking that initial step out of my comfort zone, I’ve been to countless events, gotten quite a few interviews, received several offers, and have been hired twice. And all this happened in just the last year.

Event-driven career development

As someone who codes with javascript, and lives in the mid-sized American city of Indianapolis, I’m able to find plenty of events to attend. I go to technology workshops through programs like Girl Develop It, Women in Engineering, and the Dev Workshop at the Iron Yard.

In the early mornings, I like to go to coffee-and-code meetings within 10 miles of my house. I frequent local IndyJS, NodeJS, and other events that involve Javascript somehow. I’ve even gone to a .NET event, though I know almost nothing about .NET programming.

I got my first job not from someone I had met at an event, but from a connection online. I had the technologies I had used before posted on LinkedIn, as well as a portfolio I had made out of the projects from Free Code Camp.

The person who reached out to me thought I would be a good fit for a front-end position. The company didn’t do much of an interview with me because this person had already put in a good word for me, though we had never met in person.

The second job I took was from a company who attended a JavaScript event to try to hire on a couple new engineers. I was nervous at first to approach the girl in charge of recruiting, so a friend went with me to talk to her. She said she though I had the right amount of experience, and passed my information along to her bosses.

She e-mailed me the next day to set up an interview, and the company sent me an offer me about a week later, two breakfast interviews where we just talked forever about exciting new technologies.

After I accepted this position (which I officially start on Monday!), I reached out to a lot of people I had interviewed with or connected with to let them know. I received some responses of congratulations, and some saying to let them know if and when I was looking again.

Making the first nodes in your network

Networking in a group where you don’t know yet anyone can be hard at first, even if you aren’t super shy.

At my first JavaScript event, the organizers had everyone go around the room and introduce themselves. My heart started racing and I started to sweat as I listened to everyone say their names, companies, and what technologies they worked with.

When my turn came, I just mumbled “Gwen” and pointed out a coworker in the room and said, “I work with him.” I thought after that everyone was going to think I was weird.

At the next few events, I saw a lot of the same people I had seen at the previous event. I started several conversations with people saying, “Hey, I saw you at the other JavaScript event.” I started making friends and no one really remembered I that I had been awkward the first couple times.

Soon I knew most of the people at every event I attended, and something amazing started to happen: I started receiving a lot of job descriptions and interview offers from various companies. (This is after I already started working at my first front-end developer position last year.) I really wanted to work with NodeJS and JavaScript frameworks, so I continued interviewing as many places as possible.

Getting through interviews

I only bombed one of the first interviews on Angular, where I built something that had some bugs in it. I learned from that, and got better.

I met a senior engineer at a coffee-and-code, and he recruited me to interview at his company. I went through three rounds (including a nerve-racking whiteboard coding interview). They called me and said they wanted to hire me, but were waiting for the right position. I was pretty sad when I didn’t get offered a position there, but I definitely learned a ton from the interviews, and meeting the engineers at the company (plus I got a great offer not too long after this).

A developer I met through our local Free Code Camp group offered to interview me at his (amazingly awesome) company, and put in a really good word for me. I went through two rounds of interviews there, but I decided I didn’t want to move to another city just yet, as I had already recently moved from the northeast to the mid-west.

I had various other interviews, and got to meet tons of other developers. Along the way, I started to slowly gain confidence in what I could do as a developer — especially after a super awesome programmer said he liked the way I code. Seriously, that made me really excited.

Positive network effects

People started reaching out to me asking me to attend events, and wanted me to invite other campers from the Free Code Camp community since they saw I was the admin of our group.

When I started up our local Free Code Camp chapter here, I had no idea that I would get messages and e-mails from various people because of it. A lot of people seem impressed that I want to help other people learn how to code.

I feels great to be involved with the local chapter and I am hoping to grow it and make the events gradually better.

I have also had the opportunity to pair program and receive mentorship from people I met at events. Now when I have a question, or get stuck on something, I know so many people whom I can reach out to for help. I used to get stuck constantly, but now I can’t remember the last time I got stuck on something for an extended period of time.

Events have helped me learn a ton about current trends in coding and technology. This knowledge has proven to be very important — both during interviews, and with projects I’m working on. Sometimes I learn more from staying late at an event and talking other developers than I do from the actual speaker’s presentation.

Conclusion

I know for certain that I would not have had most of these opportunities if I hadn’t reached out to people, networked at events, and been active in our local Free Code Camp group.

I’ve heard from several prominent companies near me that they much prefer to hire someone whom they’ve networked with, rather than someone who just sent in a resume.

Free Code Camp helps you with the portfolio, motivation, community support, and learning structure, but the missing piece you have to fill in yourself is the networking.

I encourage you to volunteer at local events, and to take leadership within your local Free Code Camp group. You can learn a ton while you help others, and it looks great to potential employers, too.

Trust me, if I can do it, you can too.

You can get in touch with me here or you might see me around the Free Code Camp community. Good luck on your coding journeys :)

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