Vodka, a DJ, & Video Games… all you need for a tech networking event

Digital Dallas Networking Event

If you are going to throw a networking event for people in the tech/creative field than you might as well do it right: booze, food, & arcade games.  They had all that and more at the Dallas Digital/Dumbo launch party this week.  It was such a crazy experience for a someone like me (slightly introvertive husband/father of four who lives in a town surrounded by farms).

Walking up to the venue I could hear the club house music basing it’s way to my rib cage. As I stood in line for our nfc enabled name tags I could see the dance lights reflecting inside and smell the savory aromas from the food truck outside.  Seriously, I felt like I was going to an elite high end party in NYC.  I also felt like I was going to throw up.

Going ALONE to an event like this to network with people that work in a field that I’m trying to break into was a challenge for my inner shy side. Don’t get me wrong; I LOVE web design and the creative process that surrounds it.  However, networking for it is a little more intimidating and I was a little nervous about socially maneuvering through this event. When I finally got inside I found an expansive room with an industrial/techno feel.  I took a drink from the bartender (no idea what it was b/c I couldn’t hear above the lyrics to ‘Some Nights’ by Fun.) and slowly made my way through the crowd (emphasis on crowd).  When I had circled the room twice I stopped, leaned against a column and tried to catch my breath.  I was totally over stimulated.  I was trapped at a techno dance party where the music was too loud and I didn’t belong.

This feeling of being overwhelmed is something I get when facing an experience that’s new and unfamiliar.  Seems like I’m always doing something that’s new and unfamiliar so I’m starting to get used to it.  It’s the same feeling I got when I decided to gut my kitchen down to the studs and start over.  I didn’t know a lick about plumbing, renovation, carpentry, etc. One day during a particularly challenging issue I stood looking at faucet fixtures in Home Depot, paralyzed.  That’s the same feeling I was having at the techno party. It’s in moments like that when I can feel the facial twitch coming on that I remember two things that save my sanity.  First: pushing through fear makes fear go away.  Second: whatever challenge is before me I know others have met the same challenges (or bigger) with as few resources as I have (or fewer) and survived (or better).

While I was leaning against the column, still a little dazed from the flashing lights, I met my first networker.  A random person came over and introduced themselves to me.  It was in that moment I swallowed my fear and pushed through. It was bumpy at first, but after a few seconds my thoughts cleared and I remembered that I was at a networking event and introducing yourself to strangers is what you are supposed to be doing.

I started sharing about myself and each conversation got a little easier than the previous.  Pretty soon I felt comfortable enough to untuck my shirt (web designers aren’t supposed to have their shirts tucked in  anyways).  I even gave out my information to several people electronically via my nfc name tag. I also learned about some pretty cool resources in the Dallas area that have some great community.  Here are just a few of them:

  • AIGA – A professional organization for Design
  • Weld – A co-working facility for creatives
  • The DEC – A co-working facility & support resource center for start ups
  • 20 Over 20 – A problem solving hackathon where the winner recieves $10,000

On top of that I met some super interesting start up founders, program developers, & web designers. There was such a great community feel with everyone there – people who are eager to hear what you are doing and willing to connect you with resources and other people. Everyone was so accommodating and personable. My voice is still raw from all the shouting, but totally worth it.  I’m excited to the next networking event.  Maybe I’ll even dance.

Career Advice From a Seasoned Tech Recruiter

Door of Opportunity

When you want to start a completely new career after spending years in a different field time becomes a precious thing.  You have got to identify the most important skills you need that will make you the most marketable in hopes of switching your income stream quickly. You also need to know how to market yourself.  You may have all the skills but without the ability to best present it no one will hire you.  While I was searching for internships I found someone who had a lot of experience in this area.  Enter Julian Placino, tech recruiter for Bottle Rocket Apps.

When Julian graduated from University of North Texas (go Eagles!) he felt like marketing was going to be a good fit for him.  Like many fresh graduates he had a difficult time finding a position and it wasn’t for lack of trying.  He realized that part of the problem is that he really needed to narrow his career goals… marketing was so broad and Julian knew he needed to find a career that was going to be meaningful to him.  After some soul searching he discovered he had a passion for helping people who were looking for jobs. The very next interview landed him a position with a large recruiting firm that specialized in technology positions.  Since then Julian has worked at in a couple of different tech recruiting positions and has reviewed hundreds (if not thousands) of resumes/e-mails/profiles of tech hopefuls looking for positions.  As I said I first met Julian in my search for an internship (through a friend of a friend of a friend).  While I wasn’t a good fit for the internship, I had already looked up Julian on LinkedIn and saw his experience so I asked him if I could interview him.  I was also itching to see the inside of the Bottle Rocket Apps offices.  I was very grateful that he consented.

A Little About Bottle Rocket Apps: 

When you think ‘mobile development company’ you might expect an edgy work environment where employees wear t-shirts to work, there is a slide instead of stairs & a plethora of bean bag chairs.  You would be right in the case of Bottle Rocket Apps (except for the slide – but they do have a ‘decompression chamber’ for employees complete with a massage chair).  Very non-traditional environment as far as work places go, but not so crazy when you consider web company environments in general.

What was most impressive about the place to me was the overall vibe – it was buzzing with creative energy.  In every room I saw groups of people collaborating on various projects (I perceived this by the ecstatic talking with hands & exuberant writing on white boards).  It reminded me of what the first day of summer camp looks like.  I could see that this is an environment where things are happening.  Not to mention their impressive client board – BMW, NPR, & Discovery were some of clients that I noticed.

On To the Interview: 

Me: You have received dozens of resumes/portfolios in your career.  What are the things that make candidates stand out vs. what is just ‘white noise’?

Julian: It depends on the type of position they are applying for but for a design position like you are interested in the first thing I look for is evidence of their skill and passion: portfolio, awards, links to sites they have built, organizations they are a part of…

Me: Organizations? Why would that be important?

Julian: When I’m looking for people who are passionate about what they do their involvement in related organizations gives me an impression of the seriousness of their interest.

Me: That makes sense… what about the things you see that you consider ‘white noise’ or just fluff?

Julian: Whenever I see statements like “I’m really interested in finding a position where I can use my skills… blah, blah, blah.”  It’s just a bunch of adjectives but nothing measurable or achievable.  As a recruiter it’s my job to match the company with quality people that will be a good investment so ideally I’m looking for someone who has already achieved the result for the position I’m trying to fill.  As a candidate you really need to study the needs of the business you are applying to.

Me: So a typical ‘objective statement’ on a resume would be a good example of white noise?

Julian: Yes, exactly.

Me[mental note: delete objective statement from resume]

Me: What resources would you recommend for staying in touch with the needs of the industry?

Julian: Definitely reading Mashable.  I’d say they lead the pack as far as industry knowledge goes.

Me: Any podcasts that you listen to?

Julian: Well, it doesn’t really have anything to do with tech or design but I’m a big fan of Joe Rogan.

Me: Any other advice for someone in my position who is starting out but still trying to build up a portfolio?

Julian: Know what you want to do.  Create the opportunities you are looking for.

Parting Words

There was more to the interview but honestly it was like a whirl wind.  Julian knows his stuff and it was tough to type as fast as he was answering my questions.  I did want to expound more on his last answer.  Julian specifically recommended connecting with people who are either in the position you want, heading toward the position you want or work alongside the position you want.  In a job search it’s all about who you know.  I used to think that was talking about the people you already know.  I’m learning that if you don’t know them now, you gotta learn to make new friends.

Speaking of making new friends, I’m going to attend a swanky tech event in the Deep Ellum area next week.  You know it’s a geek event when the name tags have microchips and are interactive.  The group hosting the event is geared toward creatives & entrepreneurs who love technology so I’m hoping to make some good connections and hear about some cool things going on in DFW.  Of course I don’t know a single there which brings out my inner nerd so I am trying to psych myself up to be outgoing (thinking though the balance between friendly but not creepy).  I feel that a semi-embarrasing post is in my near future.

Until next time…