The Value of a Business Card...
Throughout my career I have been fortunate enough to have met some very smart and successful people. Smart in terms of business, technology, and people skills. Successful as measured against multiple dimensions: achievements, recognition, wealth, relationships, and experiences.
Through the years I have consciously sought to observe and learn something from each of these individuals - to learn what they do best, how the do it, and why they do it.
One of those lessons learned: The value of building and maintaining a life-long network of professional contacts. A network of contacts translates into the power to help, the power to affect change.
Even as a child, I had dreams of running my own business. In college, I had business cards made for a small venture that I launched - even as I worked part-time and full-time jobs to pay my way.
I have seldom been without a business card in my pocket. It is a fundamental belief of mine that my value as a professional is in no small part a function of the breadth and depth of my network of contacts. I ENJOY making new contacts. I ENJOY being able to introduce people that can help each other solve problems.
As an example, a manager I knew had a key team member suddenly resign - putting a critical multi-million dollar client project at risk. Another colleague suffered an unexpected loss of their job. Two parts of a puzzle - and knowing each, allowed me to see how they might fit together - and by helping each - I strengthened my professional network by introducing two people to each other.
I LOVE to make those kind of connections. My only reward is the joy in helping people. I subscribe to the belief that karma accumulates - and eventually, good karma will come back to me - most often in unexpected and unlooked-for ways.
But to make it happen, you have to plant the seeds.
The seed is your business card. Have one. Give one. Eagerly accumulate them.
I've worked hard to maintain my network of contacts - some going back over 25 years.
One of those contacts: Alex VanLaningham. In 2000-2001 I met Alex. We had some brief discussions about possible opportunities to collaborate. My last business contact with Alex was in March 2002. But we know each other - and we exchanged business cards. I kept his. He kept mine.
I'll have a little more to say about Alex a little bit later in this posting...
No-Fluff-Just-Stuff, Redmond, September 21-23, 2007
So I went to the NFJS Seminar a few weeks ago. About 250 attendees. A very intense, very deep dive, series of sessions covering some leading Open Source Java projects. I looked forward to the 3-day event - to make new contacts - and possibly find some potential candidates / resources for some MAJOR upcoming client engagements that are already inflight.
I took a lot of business cards to the event...
Even though I TRIED to network with the people I met - it seemed no one was interested in giving or accepting a business card. A VERY strange experience. Not like anything I've ever experienced at any other software development conference that I've attended in over 25 years in the business.
Perhaps they thought I was trying to sell consulting services. That certinaly wasn't my intent - I just enjoy networking and adding to my knowledge of people - the kinds of interesting projects they might be doing - what interesting tools and technologies they use to solve those problems - and any lessons learned. Apparently that perspective is in the minority at NFJS Seminars.
As a matter fact, I found there to be a distinct chill in the air when I actually tried to engage in a few discussions durings breaks or at the Birds-of-Feather sessions regarding actual honest-to-god hands-on product application development experiences. Counter to the advertised "Come learn from industry experts and from each other" - I found a rather hostile response to hearing anything that wasn't either a glowing praise of their Open Source agenda - or restricted to whatever discussion agenda they had in mind.
But perhaps I missed out on my serving of the Kool-Aid.
Tuesday, October 2nd - an email arrives in my inbox from Alex (see first part of this posting). He's in Poland. He's developed a business leveraging some offshore developers he's connected with in Poland. I can't use his services at the moment - but I'll keep his information handy - and try to keep him in mind as opportunities arise.
But it-just-so-happens that I have an excellent contact in Poland for Alex to connect with - the president of a fairly substantial consulting firm based out of Warsaw: Don Bailey. Don is someone that I have done business with in the past - and know quite well. The last time I saw Don in person was February 2002 - when we had dinner and a bottle of wine in Warsaw to celebrate my departure back to the States. He's someone with a keen business sense - and has a wide network of contacts in both business and government - throughout Western and Eastern Europe - as well as exceptional connections within the Polish banking and financial sectors. My last contact with Don? A few weeks ago, via email.
All because Alex accepted my business card almost 7 years ago...