Networking is a terminology you can’t escape. In fact, a quick google returns more than 500 million results. Whilst most of them will be about telecommunication, all but one of the results on the first-page cover the type of networking we are talking about — business networking. It seems that nobody is under any illusions how critical networking is for career development but seldom can tell you how to go about this. Asked, what is the best recommendation for how to find a new job was, one recruiter recently answered: “Networking.” Asked, how do I do this in a new professional field in a new city; he fell silent.
Merriam Webster defines “networking” as “the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business”.
So how do you start a professional network from scratch?
This was my journey:
I arrived in London to participate in a data science bootcamp run by Pivigo called S2DS. All of us participating were preparing for a huge change in our professional lives, ready to make the transition from academia to industry. Additionally, many of us were physicists, astronomers, mathematicians, software engineers and many other backgrounds, but had not necessarily been mingling intensively with the data science community before. In my personal case, I had moved after my Ph.D. beginning a new journey in a new city and a new country.
My professional academic physics network was well-developed before S2DS, whereas my professional data-science network consisted of a handful of loose contacts, which I had met at several data-science related meet-up events. This was not very promising for “cultivating productive relationships for employment and business” in a new field. It turned out I was not alone with this problem. When beginning the challenge of moving from academia to industry, we often face a lack of peer-support, not necessarily due to the lack of support, but due to the lack of peers.
And this is where S2DS came in. What was I expecting of S2DS? I was certainly expecting a large group of highly-skilled, highly-motivated people, all eager to become data-scientists, working in teams and exchanging knowledge about data-science subjects. What did I find? Exactly that and so much more.
I realized that I was with a group of people with similar ideas about academia and industry as I had. Those I spoke to loved academia for one assorted reasons and everyone had produced brilliant work beforehand. However, everyone also thought that the time was ripe to seek new challenges and opportunities. Academia is a field where most people decide to stay and hang-on, so meeting people with a similar drive to change their ways was refreshingly comforting.
Of course, not everything is about psychological comfort only. Gathering over 90 people together in one place who have similar aspirations for five weeks produces great dynamics. In addition to having lots of fun and bonding moments, we formed groups, helped each other with CV writing and coding, revised each other’s cover letters and searched for job adverts together. Even after the course, I know that if I need a second opinion on a piece of code/CV/cover letter/… I can contact a global community. (In fact, several helped proof this blog!)
As mentioned before, not everyone on the course was from London. Myself and a few others are based in Edinburgh, which I have always felt are a bit under-served with data-science events. This is changing; we now have and know enough to start organizing events (meet-ups, talks, learning-groups, Kaggle-competitions) on our own.
Returning to the salient point of the blog, there are valuable networking opportunities outside of the S2DS 2016 London cohort. As part of the programme, Pivigo organized a set of industry viewpoint lectures, where they invited data scientists to present their work and their companies. Afterward, there was time for questions and chatting. Through this, we were able to establish contact with a lot of interesting and exciting companies and get to know staff already working in the business.
Additionally, they organized an S2DS reunion evening, where they invited the alumni of previous years, so we could network. This was a fantastic opportunity to meet like-minded people in the field of data-science and to grow one’s network even more.
Overall, I am so pleased I completed S2DS. I managed to grow my data-science network from a handful to between 100 and 150 people all already working or soon to be working in data-science all over the UK and Europe (and some even in places as far as Mexico). One of the best things about networking is that once you have a critical mass, everything becomes easier.
So, Happy networking ahead!