My career evolved because of my vital network of contacts. By “vital” I mean both life-sustaining and necessary. Over the 40-year random walk of my adult life, the suggestions, encouragements, ideas, insults, challenges, job leads and personal introductions from other people nudged me bit-by-bit from my first full-time job in 1966 (as a clerk for a UK food company) to my current position. That is what a “contact” is: someone who can prompt movement in our way of thinking or our careers.
Because of the vital importance of contacts in my career, I am happy to share with younger alumni some of my thoughts on the importance of making and sharing contacts in professional life. Those of you who are more experienced will have your own, perhaps very different, opinions: share them with your younger colleagues or post them on the Berkeley GeoEngineer Alumni Website!
Record Your Contacts in a Database: Stacks of business cards are intimidating to search! Use Outlook, or some other digital contact database, and enter the personal details of people who call and email you, or gather them from the business cards of people you meet. Scribble where and under what circumstances you talked to them, and other particulars, such as details you glean from the Web. Sometimes your contacts maybe useful to someone else in your network, so share!
Contacts Abound: There are many resources available to you to make contacts. You now have a great resource in the Berkeley Geoengineering Alumni Association. At work, your boss may be the closest resource, but still seek out the most outgoing members of your firm. You meet other people all the time – clients, structural engineers, geologists, plumbers, real estate agents. On occasion I have provided the names of a couple of real estate agents to colleagues and clients (including one remarkably adventurous realtor friend who is a geotechnical engineer, with a PhD in Geotechnical Engineering from Berkeley).
Network in Your Office: The simplest network is the one you weave at work. Your colleagues are your most intimate contacts. Do you know all the names of the people in your office? What do you know about them? Do you ever discuss their projects with them? Are they structural engineers or environmental geologists, disinterested in geotech? Try interesting them by making a geotechnical connection for them. To do that you first must be interested in what they do.
Contact unto others as you would have them make contacts for you: Be a Golden Rule Contact: share your ideas when you see an opportunity that you cannot take advantage of, but other people may. Giving contacts ideas is akin to giving Lego to kids and then watching them build something with the pieces, even if you don’t get to play. Golden Rule Contacts are rare: few people will send unsolicited ideas, contacts and thoughts. Value those contacts immensely and try now and again to send them ideas in return.
Be a Knowledge Node: A network is a mesh of interconnected lines, with the cross-overs being nodes (people), some of whom are more vital than others. Strive to be one of those vital nodes, a Knowledge Node, a person that other people come to with questions, or for advice, contacts and ideas. And if you cannot answer a question, maybe you know another Knowledge Node in your network that can.
What Goes Around Comes Around (Sometimes as a new project or a new job): Sometimes the rewards of networking are indeed circular: the path to a former position started with a lunch conversation with an attorney client who also worked with the frim that hired me. In earlier times I had made introductions between him and other attorneys looking to change their positions. At other times there is no apparent direct reward for chattering with people. For instance: I have had scores of phone calls over the years from people looking for jobs. I willingly give advice and connections to them even if I cannot hire them, because I enjoy talking to strangers. But I am also repaying all the help I have had myself in my career from many contacts. Yet, every now and again, I may get a referral or kind words from someone I once helped.
You may think that networking, and making contacts is “socializing” and “schmoozing”, and has little to do with geoengineering. But geoengineering practice depends on a heritage of shared experiences, whether through reports, papers, lectures, videos, brown bag lunch seminars or Friday afternoon “attitude adjustment sessions”. So, increasing your network of contacts may benefit you even more when you hear tales of their geoengineering triumphs and follies.
This post is an adaptation of a Motley View article, first published in the March 2007 Newsletter (No. 2) of the Berkeley Geoengineering Alumni Association.