One of the things I have been talking to my students about lately is the importance of being part of a community. Many are graduating, looking for jobs. They’ve all heard about how important it is to “network,” but that word sometimes has a negative connotation, a bit scary and artificial. I prefer to talk about it in terms of community. In the world of new, interactive, or multi- media, that means participating in events and activities that bring you together with others sharing the same interests. ‘Round here that includes attending things like South By Southwest Interactive and the UT Online Journalism Symposium. There are also other, smaller networkings events that revolve around the tech community that give you the opportunity to get out there and meet the people making things happen.
The benefits of attending these events are multiple. An obvious benefit is that you might meet someone who can give you a job. You chat a bit, spread your business card around, later you get a call for an interview…the rest is history. But, even if this is doesn’t happen, there are still tremendous advantages for attending. First, you become more comfortable conversing about topics in the field. Do you have an opinion on net neutrality, cloud computing, or the future of social networks? If you are in a position to discuss these things, say in an interview or even something more informal, you gain an ease and fluency in how you communicate. Think about how impressive you will be in your next interview when you say something like, “When I was at the UT Symposium, Jim Brady of the Washington Post discussed the challenges traditional media are experiencing regarding the Internet,” or “When I was at South By Southwest, I heard Mark Zuckerberg talk about the importance of granular privacy controls to the future of social networking.”
Another way to stay abreast of topics in the field is to read the important blogs, regularly. Set up your Google start page with several RSS feeds from the tech community. I read TechCrunch, Scobleizer, Pogue’s Posts, and TechMeme. I also have Google and Yahoo Tech news feeds as well as NY Times and Washington Post. And, I follow the cool kids on Twitter, Robert Scoble and Kevin Rose (of Digg).
Oh yeah, I almost forgot the most important thing…read Wired. Subscribe to it. Even though you get most of the content online, it is so much fun to get the new Wired in the mail, check out the cover story, hold it in your hands, place it on your coffee table, pile it up in your office for future reference. It’s the only magazine to which I subscribe, only one I need. Sure, I have some problems with the way Wired caters to what they define as their demographic (from a gender perspective), but I’ll hold off on that for now. It really is the best way to stay in touch with anything having to do with technology and culture.
Community is important to all industries. I have several friends who are musicians. Sure, it’s competitive in Austin, but what I have found is that it is more about community. Musicians go to each others’ shows, they show up for spontaneous, magical collaborations, they loan out equipment, play on each others’ recordings, they fill in when needed…They know each other and they know who to go to for what. It’s the same in tech. People want to work with people they know, those on which they can count. I had guest speakers Nick Weynand and Caroling Lee from Trademark Media visit with my class last week. They validated the importance of all these things, how difficult it is to find good people, how important it is to stay abreast of technology, and how your passion and enthusiasm for these topics is the most critical thing you can convey about yourself in an interview.
Mostly, have fun. If you don’t enjoy this stuff, maybe it’s not for you. The people that are successful in this field eat, drink, sleep, and rock this stuff. That doesn’t mean you should kill yourself for your career. It just means you need to find a career that you can integrate with your interests, passions, and your life.