On networking: Our success largely depends on the people we surround ourselves with.Featured

Hi, I'm Camille Eddy, and I'm a robotics engineer. I recently did a featured post about what we don't get about hardware. Today, I'm going to share my experiences with networking, and how to grow and maintain a strong network. Who knows what you knowIt’s not who you know, it’s not what you know, it’s who knows what you know! When I look back at my journey to becoming a professional, the way I spoke about my previous experience is what continues to land me jobs and opportunities. When I was a high school student and it was time to start thinking about my career, my mom took me down to the local university and we spoke to a lot of women in the engineering college. We had hours long conversations with astronaut Barbara Morgan about her experience, from how she was selected as a candidate for the job.These informational interviews allowed me to take my aspirations and put some real knowledge behind them. I learned early in my career that this is the difference between making my resume fit ‘keywords’ from a job description versus knowing how they want those skills to be applied day one on the job. Every passionate person has valuable informationWhen I was a kid, my mom often took my sister and I to meet experts in different industries. It was like our own version of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. We would go on these field trips and learn about professionals at work outside of the classroom and textbooks. But it was nerve-wracking and I thought I was going to die of embarrassment talking to these adults. I eventually learned how to talk to the experts and realized that these were low stakes situations in which I had nothing to lose. It taught me to speak up! When you are in a low stakes situation, you feel more at ease to talk and ask questions. And that is a good position to be in when talking to someone who has a lot of information. There are experts all around us, not just people with titles. Every passionate person has valuable information - the trick is finding the people you need to talk to.Ask about how people spend their timeToday, I try not to put limits on how I receive or give information. In our own conversations, when we find someone very relatable or interested, we often are enthusiastic about continuing the discussion. Whether that happens to be in a coffee shop, over email, or in the middle of a loud room, let it happen! And equally, not relating to someone is a convenient signal to politely move on because there are others to talk to. Instead of a list of rigid questions like, what do you do, where do you live, where did you grow up, I ask, “What are you passionate about?” If that is not successful, I try figuring out where they spend most of their time. Are they in the office from 9-5 or longer? Do they mentor anyone? Why did they choose to be a business owner? The questions about time investment are endless and tell you a lot about how you might relate to someone new.Become "network entrepreneurs"The next part is to follow up with them outside of the office or networking events. It is simple as meeting after lunch or at a coffee shop. Some of these relationships I have developed into long discussions over months or years. And others yield immediate fruit in the form of a job, a great product idea, or another networking opportunity. Our success in our work depends largely on the people we surround ourselves with. We should become "network entrepreneurs", and focus on professional relationships that feel right. With this genuine connection to our peers, we will feel knowledgeable because of the high value information that exists in other networks, which gives us a competitive advantage. We can provide value across networks, develop better ideas, find more satisfaction in professional relationships, and hopefully get higher earning opportunities as well. My final thought is that it’s not who you know, and it’s not even what you know, it’s who you are and how you use your access to translate and understand diverse ways of thinking and behaving to create a stronger network.- Camille Eddy is a robotics engineer and tech expert. She studies bias in AI and uses her international speaking platform to teach engineers, testers and non-technical founders the use cases of de-biasing algorithms released today. She serves on the board for two nonprofit STEM outreach organizations based in San Francisco, California and San Diego, California and regularly coaches students and early career professionals through her website.
Thank you, Camille for sharing your lessons on networking with us! Your point about "who knows what you know" made me think about navigating networking events/situations as an introvert. Meeting people and following up are both taxing activities for introverts. Is there a way for introverts to build networks effectively? Or do you think that's how we're wired, and that's something introverts must overcome? Would love to hear your opinions on this!
Hi Kuan, Great question. Now, not to take too much away from how we personally identify ourselves, but I personally do not like the titles extrovert and introvert. I think because I used to be an introvert and found a better way to navigate "networking". My take is, we go through events in life with either a risk-averse lens or a risk-friendly lens. And some of us find it easier or harder to make connections with people we barely know in a public setting. (I think this has to do with our personal levels of boldness and attachment styles.)With this in mind it is possible to create a personal environment that would make "introverts" able to move around a networking event with more ease. Even I get exhausted after sharing my story with a large group of people, I put a lot of energy into it. But what I have now is a very practiced regimen of avoiding early fatigue and having people check in with me on a regular basis. A few tips on how to make it better...First, I would have stories ready to go that are for the consumption of the masses. Even though there is a finite number of people in the room, the pressure on performance might make it seem like you are talking to a million. So I go with that, plan out what would you be comfortable sharing with a bigger audience versus someone one on one in a private setting. This is the same advice I give to students just starting out with their online personal brand because often they have never thought about what they want other people to see from their personal views and opinions. But it's not just about feeling you are talking to a lot of people in a public setting...When I was feeling risk-averse to a networking situation, I took someone with me, like a peer or a mentor, whose opinion I trusted. Then I could simply glance over and see if they were comfortable with how the conversation was progressing. Seeing my networking partner at ease instantly makes me feel more comfortable. Another way my trusted network comes into to save the day is they often know when I am doing something new or stressful and they will send a text or call to give encouragement. This is something I know I have to be open to receiving in order to benefit from it, which is why trust is important. When it comes to being in a situation where you cannot fully know the outcome it's always helpful to zoom in/zoom out. For the things you are most uneasy about, take a look at the bigger picture. "I am worried that my story is not compelling enough for the most senior person in the room....", can turn into, "A fun and interesting conversation can begin with a slight connection with another individual, it's not just about my story."And, "I need to develop the right 30-second elevator pitch....", can turn into, "What are the specifics of my work that I am most confident about, let's talk about the stuff that makes me excited."My tips are to manage your energy levels. Hopefully, I've shown how you can engineer boosts of energy/positivity at the right time and give yourself permission to take a mental break in the middle of networking.
Hi Camille - thanks for sharing your story! Your point on asking the right questions really resonated with me. I love creating connections and getting to know people for who they are, not just what they do or how they can help me. They questions you shared are perfect for getting to know people and creating a genuine network.
Hey Camille, thanks for yet another awesome and insightful post! My question for you is this — in many instances, we get introduced to a certain network of people through mentors. For individuals who don’t have a trusted mentor to help build their network, how would you recommend they approach the process of finding mentors?
Hi Quinn, I know the feeling. I have met my best mentors through chance meetings at an event. Every single one of them. And now I benefit from getting opportunities through these mentors. I think we often put a lot of energy into a specific kind of formal mentorship relationship and often don't get results. So to remedy that I tell myself there are 1 million mentors out there for me. Which means everyone can be a mentor for a short or a long period of time. It might be the space of one conversation or a space of years. I ask questions or dive deep with people at BBQs, happy hours and conferences and turn conversations into text messages, lunch meetings and emails. And then I accidentally find myself in a mentorship, where we never said to each other, 'You are my mentor' or vice versa. But instead we might be in a conversation with a third party and it comes out like, 'Well Camille is my amazing mentee." This has happened to me 3 or 4 times and it is an awesome feeling. My second tip is to visit or travel to places or spaces you would like to work or be involved in. Make some footsteps appear and plant a seed. For example, during my first internship in the Bay area, I went to a Data Science conference in SF because I was interested in checking out that industry and I met for the first time, a Black woman in Data Science who turned out to be my now mentor and friend Dr. Jeannice Samani. We didn't know when we met, that we worked in the same building for different companies, and our relationship developed over directing my career path. It went from casual to a serious mentorship bond over 2 to 3 years.Hope this helps!Camille
Wow, this is great! Thanks so much for the thoughtful reply!
Hi @camilleeddy! Thanks so much for sharing your story.! There is so much goodness in what you shared. I specifically like your emphasis on stories. One of my favorite questions to ask whenever I meet someone new is -- "What inspired you to do X?". If I don't know their line of work, I'll ask -- "What inspired you to come tonight?" or "What inspired you to get into your line of work?" I really like that phrasing because it opens people up to share their stories and context behind it, if they so choose. I think it also humanizes them (especially if they're high up and we're feeling intimidated) because part of sharing your story is sharing the ups, downs, and decision-making processes they underwent where they very likely experienced uncertainty and doubt and then overcame it. I'm kind of a career path nerd, so I am so in love with the fact that your mother took that initiative to have you go out and speak to professionals throughout your childhood. What insight that must have brought! It's sometimes hard to translate what we learn in the classroom to how it's applied in the real world. It's also really easy to have assumptions that hold us back. Literally today I was chatting with a data scientist about her day to day and I was so impressed with how human data science really is. My bias had me thinking it was purely about numbers, but hearing how tied it is to human behaviors was enlightening. If I had gone out and heard more stories from a much earlier age, maybe my biases and assumptions wouldn't have stopped me from pursuing certain paths. My question for you is this: How might we create opportunities for all students to have the kind of deep, insightful career discussions you had? How can we create those systems and opportunities and really engage? Is there something out that that already does this kind of work on a broad scale? I wholeheartedly believe that through stories we learn what's possible. I love that learning the stories of others inspired you on your path and I'm so grateful that you're here sharing yours now. Thanks so much and sorry for the long rant! :) :) :)
Thank you so much for your comment Laura! It is really nice to hear that you got what I was saying and you so thoughtfully put it all together. :) :)I have asked myself the same question and I think the answer is peer to peer mentoring. Something I have started to do on my personal website hellocami.comUsing stories and face to face (or phone to phone) connection to show students how they can have a personable networking strategy has been working for me lately. The students I talk to get that they have to be strategic and open after listening to a couple of stories. The next question is usually what do I open up with? And I work with them on that type of content too. Then we can use testing environments to help students practice better. University Innovation Fellows, Entrepreneurship clubs and other conferences help with this. I generally send students to these with nervous management tips and some targeted questions. And I emphasize the need for 'fruitful and prototyping discussions' where they first have created a low stakes situation and take it from there.The other thing I tell them is that if they learn from their mistakes and failures in one conversation the next conversation or the next day at the conference will be the most fruitful one they have had up to that point. Would love to have a deeper conversation with you about getting more resources like this in the hands of college students. Camille
Hi Camille! Thanks so much for your thoughtful response and apologies for the delay here! I'll shoot you a message and let's set up a call. I'd love to dig deeper into these ideas!