LavaCon 2015: Connections that Count & Career Relationships

Session-Summary-connectionsSpeaker: Alyssa Fox, Director of Information Development, NetIQ


My preamble

What do introversion, extroversion, and ambiversion (a relatively recent description) mean to technical writers? Some loose definitions:

  • Introverts find social contact tiring, and need to recharge with time alone.
  • Extroverts find social contact energizing, and find alone time to be more tiring.
  • Ambiverts strike a balance between the two, depending on context.

To be an introvert does not mean that a person has social anxiety, although it’s possible for someone to be both an introvert and socially anxious. But social anxiety can also occur with ambiverts and extroverts. This article on introversion and social anxiety suggests getting professional help if social anxiety is indeed a life-altering problem. Alyssa’s talk did not touch specifically on this point, but for most technical writers, my feeling is that we may need practice in making connections, but rarely professional help.

Alyssa’s talk

Alyssa Fox happily describes herself as an extrovert, and if there is anywhere that one is likely to see extroverted technical writers, it is at LavaCon. That’s one reason it is such a fun conference.

Alyssa talked about how building relationships is about much more than superficial exchanges of information. What we think of as “networking” can feel exploitative and demeaning, if done without regard for the persons on each side of the interchange. Alyssa suggests introducing yourself (quite basic, right?), then connecting further, and finally making lunch and coffee dates with people. She admitted to some concern when she realized that she asked others out far more often than other people asked her out, but realized that she was never rebuffed.

I was encouraged to hear (although I tell myself the same thing already) that it is fine to be more proactive than others when it comes to making connections. I get the strong sense that Alyssa is skilled at making connections because she clearly cares about others, not specifically because she is an extrovert. No matter where you are on the introversion/extroversion spectrum, you have the capability to care about others. Alyssa is a manager, and I know from personal experience that caring about your team, and other teams too, is an essential quality for a manager to have.

Alyssa pointed out that when you have built relationships with people, then you can also reap the benefits. For example, if you need a last-minute report, for whatever reason, it really helps if you can make this request of someone you know whom you have previously helped.

Alyssa Fox challenged LavaCon attendees during her closing keynote.

Alyssa Fox challenged LavaCon attendees during her closing keynote.

Additional thoughts

It is hard to overestimate the importance of having a wide group of connections. Repeatedly I read HR recruiters at top tech companies, and elsewhere too, saying that they prefer candidates who are referred above all other candidates. Clearly, though, many technically proficient candidates lack the type of network which would allow them to get such referrals. When I consider people that I know, a large number have gotten employment through people that they know. Not only do you benefit yourself when you need a job, but if you know people in diverse roles, you can also be a referrer within your own company.

The effort to make new connections can seem quite forbidding. And it’s statistically unlikely that any single person you connect with will be the one who gets you your next job. But it’s a numbers game. If at all possible, I suggest Meetup groups, although I know that not every city will have a good selection. Attend STC meetings, or other professional meetings. Go to conferences, and make an effort to engage. Building connections is a lifelong effort, and patience is imperative.