Networking is not about nabbing free sausage rolls and bubbly at IT events.
If you're looking to move on up to a job in IT management, networking could be one of the tools you use to help you on your way. This week I spoke to three IT managers - two in the health sector and one in the education sector - about networking.
All the IT managers agreed networking is a great way to learn - whether it's discussing projects and products, or gaining new perspectives and ideas. Southern Cross Healthcare CIO Graeme Osborne says to maximise your learning, you should talk to as many people as you can.
He says IT and business models are changing all the time, so you need to have a very broad network of IT and business people to discuss issues with.
In the past you might have gleaned 80% of what you needed from one business mentor, but nowadays IT leaders need a broad network of people.
South Auckland Health CIO Phil Brimacombe believes another advantage of networking is to make yourself known. He concludes that if people know a bit about you, it can help with your career development.
"People are always more comfortable with the familiar than the unfamiliar."
While AUT director of IT services Wendy Bussen agrees being known may help in a job situation, she believes the real beauty of networking is it gives you new ideas so you can perform better in your job, and therefore your career.
Agreeing networking is a good thing is all very well, but how do you actually go about it?
The IT managers suggest getting involved with groups external to your work.
Osborne, for example, is involved with TUANZ, the Federation of Health Funds (a global healthcare IT group) and the CIO Network - all organisations outside of his job.
He also suggests getting to know vendors and building relationships with them - rather than just purchasing from them.
Attending conferences, seminars, forums and other events are also suggested by the IT managers. Brimacombe says conferences are a great way to network, and are particularly useful if you can get a slot as a speaker. However, he finds seminars and forums more useful because they take up less time. A number of organisations hold regular forums, like the New Zealand Computer Society's breakfast meetings.
Brimacombe says vendor-organised events and trade shows can also be good value.
However, he cautions that he's highly selective about what he attends.
"You could spend your entire life going to these things, but you wouldn't get any work done."
He says you also shouldn't forget that you can learn from successful managers right under your nose- the ones you work with. He has learned valuable lessons from watching other managers perform; something he wouldn't necessarily pick up in a networking situation.
Non-IT people can also be valuable contacts. Bussen says the further you go up the ladder, the more involved you become with the core business so the more you are likely to need to network with non-IT people. In her case she needs to network with people in the education sector so she knows the business the technology is being applied to.
One article I read suggested that if there's someone you'd like to learn from and network with, it is acceptable to approach him or her. The IT managers had mixed responses to that, with Osborne and Bussen agreeing. Osborne: "IT is still such a challenging area in a dynamic environment. You've just got to be a self-starter in whatever you do. So if you need to know something, and you think a person is going to help, give them a call."
Bussen says she's made calls herself on a couple of occasions. "People are more than obliging."
However, Brimacombe isn't so keen. He believes it could work if the IT leaders being contacted had agreed to it under some sort of programme, but otherwise he says it would depend on the individual concerned - and particularly how busy they are.
"Some might think it was a bit of a cheek, while other people might be agreeable."
Another "don't", according to Brima-combe, is expecting other people to sort your life out for you.
"Figure out what your strengths and weaknesses are and set your own goals. Then go and get some different views on how you might proceed. Don't go to someone else with your problems and hope they can come up with solutions."
Bussen's "don't" relates to keeping your personal life separate from your professional life. "The further you go up the ladder, the more you need to share your social life with friends and keep your professional life professional."
And, she says you should never approach a contact to try and get a job - if you've built a good relationship with someone, they may consider you anyway if something comes up.
Send email to Kirstin Mills.