Making the most of your experiences

Several years ago, when headed to London alone one evening, I took with me a couple of headshots and scribbled notes about people that I was hoping to bump into that night. I wasn’t out on some kind of hitman mission (well, I would say that…), but instead was heading to an industry event which some interesting people I’d previously spoken to on twitter were happening to attend.

Doing this took me back to my past, when I’d lived a mis-spent youth making friends with people that I knew off the internet. A combination of several music forums and instant messaging software had meant that I was well versed in the art of walking up to select targets who may or may not resemble their 80×80 avatar or other terrible quality webcam pictures (it was the early 2000s) and introducing myself. The story of how myself and my ‘internet friends’ knew each other used to be quite a taboo subject, and you’d frequently hear mumbled variations of “we met at a gig”, “we know each other through mutual friends” etc, and to an extent this practice carries on to this day, either out of habit or the fact that deep down we’re still a bit ashamed at the fact that our friendships were only formed through interaction with CRT monitors. If you ever ask me how I know someone and I roll out one of those phrases, now you know the truth.

Of course nowadays, with social networking being an intrinsic part of most people’s lives, conversing on and offline with digital strangers is common practice. The use of dedicated event hashtags and sites such as Lanyrd have made it easier to track the activities of like-minded individuals, and the ability to put faces to screen names and chat in person is often cited as one of the best reasons for professionals to attend conferences. Having the confidence to approach people with conversation topics already in mind from things they may have mentioned, or the ability to start conversations online before events have both likely helped to widen the social and professional circles of many.

Realising the benefits

For me, back at that event in London, realising the parallels between online interactions and business nowadays made me appreciate the benefits that I’d gained from my experiences. Rightly or wrongly, at 15 and 16 I was used to travelling around the country alone to a variety of gigs, festivals and meetups, had forged some fantastic friendships which have been maintained to this day, and had experienced a lot of things which helped to improve me as a person. I’d evolved the ability to touch type through many nights spent tapping away in the dark, and I’d gained a curiosity around the web through being exposed to variety of systems, both those used to interact online, and those needed to circumvent primitive school IT room restrictions.

This background was an important step in me gaining confidence around skills which I now use regularly for my job. Online safety is a massive topic, and one that I’m not going to attempt to cover in this blog post, but I’m thankful for the fact that I and many others have been able to experience the positive side of transferring online communication to offline.

Getting a break into any industry can be tough, and when reading through job descriptions it’s often easy to focus on the requirements that you feel you don’t meet. Job titles may not match an expected evolution path, you may not have experience with the required technologies, or your 1-2 years experience may not be the 3-4 years required. If you’re coming from outside the industry, or from an educational background the challenge can be even steeper. Recognising the experiences that you’ve had, and being able to take the positives from these is something that can help you to identify things you do well. Ok, so nights spent loading up games on the command line, or your team leadership skills from online FPS sessions may not magic up a wealth of experience and you may not want to share your anecdotes with a potential employer, but strange parallels can be found in many places. Being able to realise previously unrecognised strengths in yourself and having the confidence to focus on translating these into professional qualities can sometimes give you the extra boost that you need to take yourself to the next level.

And finally, back to the story. I was able to find and introduce myself to all of the individuals on my geek hit list that night, all of whom I have since worked with in a variety of capacities. I won’t say who they are, but I’m grateful to all of them for playing their small part in my professional evolution.