My Secret Life as a Spaghetti Coder
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In the past, we talked about how networking with good coders can help you become one. We've also noted how speaking up can differentiate you from the herd.

This week we take a look at the other side of networking: not how you can become a good coder, but how you can get gigs easier than other people can. "Let your voice be heard" is what Chad Fowler titled this chapter in My Job Went to India, and looking back on it, this must have been one of the most inspiring chapters in the book. My outward-facing career plans follow his advice quite closely.

It's all about networking with people -- how you might do it and why it works.

Lee LeFever explains the concept in under two minutes:

Although Lee focuses on social networking websites, the concept applies more generally.

Chad explains it using the best words I can think of. In essence, this is what I'm talking about when I say "my outward-facing career plans follow his advice quite closely."
The world is changing. If you want to write your ticket, you've got to think bigger than the IT workers of yesteryear. While moving from level-23 Programmer to level-24 Programmer Analyst might really be your short-term career goal, as a programmer today, you need to think beyond the next promotion or even your current place of employment.

Set your sights higher. Don't think of yourself as a programmer at a specific company -- after all, it's not likely that you'll be at the same place forever -- but as a participating member of an industry. You are a craftsperson or an artist. You have something to share beyond the expense reporting application you're developing for your human resources department or the bugs you've got stacked up in your company's issue tracking system.

Companies want to hire experts. While a resume with a solid list of projects is a good way to demonstrate experience, nothing is better at a job interview than for the interviewer to have already heard of you. It's especially great if they've heard of you because they've read your articles or books or seen you speak at a conference. Wouldn't you want to hire the person who "wrote the book" on the technology or methodology you're attempting to deploy?


Being good is important, but it doesn't get you all the way there. Our industry ... is a big, complex web of people connecting each other. The more places you are attached to the network, the better your chances of connecting with that perfect job or career break. Limiting yourself to the company you work for places serious limits on the number of connections you can form.
It's not like I read this and said, "that's what I'm gonna do!" I didn't even remember it until I reread it this morning. But something there stuck with me. Although I had toyed with the idea of starting a weblog before I read this, it was that text that got me off my ass and made me actually do it.

That's the what and the why. But how do you get there?

I'd start the same way I started finding and being a mentor (same link as above). This is what I wrote back then, and I think it shows the stumbling quite well:
I started becoming involved online - asking and answering questions in topics of interest to me. Answering questions is particularly beneficial, because you get to throw ideas into the arena and see if your expert "mentors" will disagree with you and correct you when you are wrong. In fact, there's nothing on this blog I enjoy more than when someone disagrees with me in a comment* (with substance, anyway). On the other hand, when you are right you learn that you are right and you reinforce that knowledge.

I also made it a point to sit in the front row (or close to it) of every class and ask questions to aid in my understanding of the subject matter. I started visiting conferences and talks and user group meetings to learn from other developers when time permits. Some friends and I organized the UH Code Dojo in an effort to have mentors and be mentors. Another friend or two are helping me progress in .NET faster than I would alone and we're throwing around the idea of forming a game development meet-up group. I started reading blogs and participating in comments on various topics on a regular basis, rather than just when I needed to find information on a particular problem. Several blogs cover languages or topics I rarely use. Some cover things I've yet to use at all. Finally, I'm planning on going deeper into bioinformatics and game development with the advanced courses next semester, where the one-on-one time with the professor is much more like a mentoring relationship.
Read blogs. Comment on them. Start your own. Get involved on the mailing lists. Join a user group. Start one. Speak at one. Submit papers to journals and talks to conferences. Submit articles to other blogs or industry magazines. (Paraphrasing Chad Fowler, pp. 138-139)

I've barely started. I still need to get more involved in the user group scene, to be followed up with some conferences hopefully. I could also stand to publish my writing in places other than this weblog. I'm moving in the right direction, but I've still got a ways to go before I'm satisfied with what I've done.

That's me. Now I'd like to hear about you. In what ways are you building your network, even if unconsciously?

Hey! Why don't you make your life easier and subscribe to the full post or short blurb RSS feed? I'm so confident you'll love my smelly pasta plate wisdom that I'm offering a no-strings-attached, lifetime money back guarantee!

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