Budgeting my communication capacity
June 03, 2023
Spring 2023 was fun. After 7 years in one company, I started a new role in a very different type of business, with a very different tech stack. Bold move for me! The entire process from interviewing to signing an offer to opening my first PR in a new team took almost a year. Landing a job in tech is hard. “The system is broken” is a common phrase to hear when engineers of all seniority levels share their hiring experiences. Funny enough, my new job is to build products for recruiters. Let’s see if I can help to “fix the system.” I’ll start by sharing some learnings from my recent job change project. And the first one is all about networking.
I’m an introvert. I enjoy the comfort and solitude of remote work with async communication. When I’m in the flow, I can solve a wide range of technical problems from backend to frontend, from planning to shipping, from enterprise to greenfield. Out of 100%, 80% of my capacity is technical, and the remaining 20% is communication skills. However, those 20% were barely enough to support all of my technical work, especially when I started taking on more management responsibilities. I had ambition, and growing often meant management.
Introverts on the other side of the screen will understand that once you’ve spent all your communication budget, it’s a hard stop. I had been working like this for years, not leaving any of my “extrovert” budget for the outer IT space.
As a result, when it was time to move on, I had very few useful connections and an outdated understanding of the IT recruitment market. I had to go through cold interviews with their live coding sessions, algorithmic problems, personality tests, and other humiliating experiences. Not fun at all.
The most popular advice I received during that period was to keep interviewing. I was told to schedule as many interviews as possible until I became comfortable with them. I was advised to stretch my 20% even further.
Today, I have a better advice for myself: budget your communication capacity to stay in sync with the IT reality. This means reserving 5% of my extravert capacity for external activities and spending that 5% wisely. Booking every morning for yet another interview call is not wise at all.
While 5% may seem like a small number, there are many activities in IT that bring a lot of value with just a bit of communication effort. Let me share some concrete examples that have worked for me:
Meetups and conferences
I found my current employer on meetup.com. I have also built strong connections with people I met at meetups and conferences. For me, the best way to network at a conference is to give a talk. This way, people come to me with specific questions, and I don’t need to worry about how to start a conversation. I can also build good relationships with other speakers by giving feedback and asking follow-up questions. Even if I don’t create any meaningful connections, I go home inspired and motivated. Good enough for me.
Mentorship and coaching
I feel much more comfortable in deeper 1:1 conversations than in group activities with strangers. Mentorship sessions were the main source of energy for me in 2022. I spoke to engineers and leaders from various organisations, and everyone was very helpful and supportive. Today, I have a couple of trusted mentors, and offer engineering mentorships myself on ADPList. If you are new to mentorship read my post “Where to find a mentor” to get started.
I created this little blog five years ago when I was playing with Gatsby during Christmas. Even with my occasional writing, it has become a great foundation for my public profile. As a bonus, it makes a positive first impression on recruiters. Writing skills are important in tech, as a lot of communication and knowledge sharing happens asynchronously.
Surprisingly, reading can be a decent networking tool. Writing a book review, giving a recommendation or participating in a book club - all of these activities can bring interesting people and ideas into my life. My “Learning Domain-Driven Design” book review is the most popular post on this blog to date.
Working from the office
To reserve some communication capacity for the activities mentioned above, I left behind my Tech Lead role and started as an individual contributor. However, as a Senior Engineer, I still have a lot of meetings to plan the work, pair on implementation, and stay up to date with the business in general. I was surprised to find out that all those activities drain me much less when I work from the office. Also, drawing on the whiteboard is a lot of fun!
Things that didn’t work for me
I’m not the first to discover the difficulties with networking for less outgoing engineers, and I know there are many other ways to show up in the global IT community. Some of them didn’t work for me (but they may work for you):
Dale Carnegie tricks
Not my thing, but I agree that learning some “tricks” can help in common situations, like starting a conversation with a stranger or having an argument with a colleague.
There are many topic-specific channels in Slack, Reddit, Discord, Twitch, etc.
Open Source contributions
Early in my career, I was lucky to meet great people from the Drupal open-source community. They influenced my career more than anyone else. Participating in open source requires time and effort, and at some point I disengaged in favor of client work.
I know some very well-connected freelancers, but I’m not sure if my 5% communication budget will be enough to satisfy any client.
Building side projects
Building something public can be a great starting point for building connections with very interesting, well-connected people. Pretty much every indie developer I met was a very interesting person with multiple talents.
As an introvert, I have a limited communication capacity that I refer to as my “extravert budget”. In the past, I used to spend all of it at work, leaving nothing for other activities. My recent job change experience has made it clear to me that I need to budget my communication capacity wisely. Otherwise, I’m at risk of alienating from the global IT community.
Firstly, I gave up some of my management responsibilities and made it a habit to come to the office twice a week. Surprisingly, in-person meetings drain me much less compared to Zoom calls. Additionally, I began working with a mentor to enhance the efficiency of my communication.
By making these changes, I am now able to engage more with the global IT community and naturally expand my professional network. I have found several activities that work well for me, such as meetups, mentorship, and blogging.
I’d love to know what works for you, especially if you consider yourself a less outgoing person. Please, share your experience in comments on DEV.to or contact me directly. Let’s connect! 😄