More than once (especially by software development students) I have been asked for tips on networking and learning about software. It's not a big set of tips, but useful information to know for people looking to break into this career or need to expand their horizons. Remember this is my advice and personal opinions. If you disagree or think I'm missing somwthing, please contact me via the various mediums at the bottom of the page.
#1 - Walk through the open office doors
Chicago is home to a lot of development studios and believe it or not, many of them have an 'open door' policy. This policy is part marketing and part recruiting as it helps give back by hosting developers in their office. It also fosters a low-pressure environment to meet and evaluate potential employment candidates. In some ways, it's a great way for their developers to possibly learn new things from random visitors.
If you're looking for a job, seeking mentorship, or simply want to meet and hang out with developers. Reach out to the many shops and simply ask if you can spend a day or part of a day with them. You would be shocked at how many will not only say yes, but welcome you with open arms and sometimes even offer you a free lunch.
Working remotely does provide the advantage of being able to visit other offices and network. It's my #1 tip to all new developers wanting to know how and where to connect.
#2 - Mentorship is a two-way street
Mentorship is one of the things I seek out personally and attempt to provide as a means to give back to the software development community. Simply dispensing advice, guidence, or career advice; can mean worlds to someone new or continuing their journey of software development. One thing I've heard from other mentors helping students is that people notoriously don't seek out experienced people for help or advice. Even with formalized systems like pairing is caring there is very little uptake in help when offered. This isn't because mentors are being lazy, but because they are busy and students seemingly feel afraid to approach them.
If you're seeking mentorship, know that the mentor's time is valuable, especially their free time. You will likely have to chase them down for help, not the other way around. Offer to take them to lunch, have a cup of coffee, or a beer to socialize.
#3 - Attend meetups
In Chicago on any given week; there is a meetup practically every day (including weekends) for a programming language, framework, or methodology. If your Friday afternoons are available, consider attending 8th Light University or if Tuesday afternoon works better checkout Geekfest. Visit meetup.com and search for your favorite programming language or framework. Chances are a meetup is happening soon and you could attend to find some new friends. Sometimes these meetups are sponsored with free food and drinks too, which is a bonus for the starving (or broke) student.
Get out there!
All this advice boils down to getting you to put yourself out there for everyone. Follow the sage advice from my favorite networking book of all time How to Win Friends and Influence People to help create and foster friendships for years to come. Your life and career will thank you for it later!Share