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Networking As an Introverted Engineer

Personal Growth

13 August, 2020

Pujaa Rajan

Pujaa Rajan

Deep learning Engineer at Node.io

Pujaa Rajan, Deep Learning Engineer at Node.io, explains how she got over her discomfort of networking and offers a three-step roadmap that any introverted engineer can follow with ease.

Problem

I used to hate meeting new people. I’m one of those people who needs an hour alone for every happy hour. Today, it’s one of my favorite things to do. I’ve now built the largest community for WomenInAI (https://www.womeninai.co/). I am also a fellow at OnDeck (https://www.beondeck.com/), Violet Society (https://www.thevioletsociety.com/), and Triphammer Ventures (https://www.avgfunds.com/resources/venture-fellow-program/). These opportunities presented themselves to me via networking. After I met more people, I redefined what networking means to me.

Actions taken

First off, I decided to explore the very meaning of the noun networking and see how those definitions relate to my own experience.

_Networking (n). The art of talking to people, learning from people, and helping people. _

Principle 1. Networking is important for your career. (https://hbr.org/2007/01/how-leaders-create-and-use-networks)
Principle 2. People are interesting.

Between two jobs, I took a break to figure out what to do next. I filled this time with hearing stories about people to figure out what excites me most. I asked people questions about their work and life, and what they like about it. After listening to people’s stories, I developed more empathy for people and wanted to help them. I offer my knowledge or connect people with someone who I know. Networking became an opportunity to not only learn from people, but also an opportunity to help people.

During social interactions, introverts lose energy and extroverts gain or conserve energy. Introverts have a social battery that needs to be charged for each of the steps below. This is how I engineered networking to maximize my social battery life.

Step One. Networking and Meeting New People

Attend or organize events related to your interests. Check out Meetup and Eventbrite, for example. Optimize for the right people by going to interest-specific events.

Join online communities. Here is a list for people in tech. (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1O97qjuCc6erLIcJiedPrsq3G9E2ECio_iltuF-YADtI/edit#gid=0)

Ask people you know if there’s anyone interested in the same topics you’re interested in. You have a higher probability of enjoying the company of friends’ friends than random people.

Step Two. Staying in touch and relationship building

Get contact information and social media. Social media provides you a stream of updates from people you meet without having to ask for one over email or text.

Send an initial message saying _“Nice to meet you at __.” This helps you remember them, and allows them to be searchable in your emails or messages.

Avoid small talk by sharing interesting and relevant information. I circumvent small talk by sending relevant links or book recommendations to the person. This usually leads to deeper discussions.

If it takes too much energy to keep in touch with a person, then it was not meant to be. Staying in touch requires two people to work at it. Some people are easier to keep in touch with than others because of communication styles. It’s difficult for an introvert to maintain a relationship alone. It’s better to have quality relationships than quantity.

Step Three. Making Plans and Meeting Up

a. Suggest a mutually convenient time and place when you make plans. If the time and place work for a person, then it’s an easy yes with no more talk about logistics. This tactic allows introverts to conserve their social energy for more meaningful conversations.

b. Schedule time for yourself before and after the meeting. I block off time before and after my meetings to prepare and recover. I recharge by reading, writing, or playing chess online. Figure out what recharges your social battery.

c. Reschedule if you are socially fatigued. If you will not be a good conversation partner during a meeting, then feel free to reschedule. Social fatigue is like physical fatigue because you won’t be able to perform at your highest levels. If this happens, then use it as an opportunity to learn about yourself and adjust your schedule.

Groups require more energy than one-on-ones. I go to big group events briefly to meet new people. Then, I follow up with them after to chat one-on-one.

An introvert’s social battery life increases with practice. When I started networking, I did not have the energy to meet multiple new people a day. Today, I meet almost 10 new people a week.

Lessons learned

  • Many engineers are introverts who find networking to be the most dreadful part of their career. But, it doesn’t have to be like that. The first step forward is to redefine networking and reframe the narrative that stigmatizes introvert engineers.
  • Networking or any intensively interactive activity is energy-taxing and introverted engineers should charge their social battery before engaging in any networking activity.

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