When I talk about networking in the IT community it has nothing to do with Ethernet, fiber channel, switching or routing, so calm down you networking nerds out there. I believe this other type of networking is much more crucial to your success in the IT community than you might think at first glance. I’m talking about building a network of peers and professional contacts so that you are well known amongst your peers and so you can have contacts should you need to find a job relatively quickly. Building a network takes a skill set that many of us that are very technical have a hard time with. You have to engage others, and not just virtually or online. It takes a dying skill called interpersonal communication.

Yes, interpersonal communication is in fact a skill that everyone needs to be good at. But thanks to text messaging, emails and chat rooms; interpersonal communication has effectively become a thing of the past. Think back 20 years ago; if you needed to apologize to someone, it took more than just a “hey, I’m sorry” text message, or even worse, simply sending a text with an emoji sad face. (What has the world come to?) Interpersonal communication takes talking to people face to face, and engaging them, reading their body language and more. Mastering this skill will help you grow your IT network, and when the going gets tough, you’ll have a lifeline to reach out to.

Now that you understand what kind of skills are needed to build out a professional IT network, let’s look more in depth at how you can start building your network now. There’s no better time to start!

Attend Networking Events

There are many opportunities to build your network in the IT community. Attending networking events is the easiest way to do so. There are VMware User Groups or VMUGs that hold monthly or quarterly get togethers where you can mingle with other people who are using VMware, learn what they are doing, and share what you are doing. There are many other user groups for whatever technology you are interested in that hold regular meetings where you can meet up with people and make connections.

Keep and Active Updated Resume Online

Having your resume up to date is the smartest thing you can do for yourself even if you aren’t actively looking for a new or different job. You might say to yourself, “why would I do this?  I don’t want to start getting calls from recruiters around the clock!” Well you are partly right in thinking that way – you will likely get called by a recruiter or 20 who are interested in you filling a job they have.  What’s great about this approach is you get known by a network of recruiters who have the most up to date information about your professional skills, and are there in a pinch when you actually do need a job. As an added bonus, most recruiters will offer you a referral bonus if you simply refer a friend or colleague that you know is actively looking. I’ve seen referral bonuses north of $5,000 for certain jobs. Update your resume and build your network.

Be Active in an Online Community

There are many online IT communities out there such as VMware’s VMTN, Nutanix .NEXT, Cisco Community and many more.  There isn’t much in the way of interpersonal communication within these communities, but they definitely offer a means of making good connections with others and growing your network. These communities provide you with a means of sharing your technical expertise, helping others solve their problems, and making a name for yourself in the community. You would be surprised how much these communities help you to find a new job quickly if you experience being laid off or need a change. These communities are all free to sign up for, and people from all over the world participate around the clock.

Don’t Delay, Start Today

There’s an old Chinese proverb that goes like this, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”  That just about sums it all up. Imagine the network you would have if you had started 20 years ago, and think about the network you could have 20 years from now if you start today. The worst thing you can do in building a network is being shy, and being afraid to ask questions you think are dumb questions. The only question that is a dumb one, is the one you don’t ask. Get out there, get to know people, ask for help, and build an amazing IT community network. You’ll find that a good network is an amazing lifeline when you need one.

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Greg Stuart is the owner and editor of vDestination.com. He's been a VMware vExpert every year since 2011. Greg enjoys spending time with his wife and 3 kids. He has 20 years of IT experience and currently works as an IT Consultant both in the private and public sector. Greg holds a BS in Information Technology and an MBA degree. He currently resides in Southeast Idaho. You can follow him on Twitter @vDestination, read his blog (vDestination.com) and listen to his podcast (vDestination.com/feed/podcast).