My New Social Network

I had an invigorating experience today involving Basecamp, two cool people, and a client challenge.

But first, a lot of backstory:

The Ideal Workplace Days

Take a time machine back to visit my workplace in the first half of this decade:

A cute fluffy Australian shepherd rushes up to you, begging you to pet him. A large German shepherd playfully runs up after him, focused on fitting the aussie’s head into her mouth. The shared office suite houses not only me and my coworkers but a smattering of CPAs and other business folks. The company owners have their own “real” offices; an open room called the “war room” houses the interns, part-timers, and old computer parts, while the rest of us full-time young-people types have taken over the former conference room, painted it bright yellow, and have our L-shaped desks lined up in a row. A comfy couch on the other wall (facing the X-box and large monitor dedicated to said X-box) is perfect for tired executives to collapse into after a meeting.

The three of us in the Yellow Room were great pals; we could all type just about as fast as we could talk, and despite being in the same room, would often end up IMing each other in a completely geeky way. Keyboards clattering would be followed by snorts of laughter as we IMed customer haikus or witty commentary back and forth.

I was very lucky to fall into this nearly ideal work experience straight out of college. I could bring my dog to work, I could set my own hours, I had four weeks of paid vacation the first year I worked there (because no one really kept track). Perks aside, I was working with smart, friendly people in a supportive and relaxed environment.

The “Grand Central” Days

After leaving full-time employment, my husband and I went through a tumultuous time which involved some big life direction changes, the beginning of paying self-employment taxes, and living with a family of four. Although I was working “at home,” I didn’t feel lonely because there were usually people around; the family we lived with included a stay-at-home mom with two young children and had an open-door policy with lots of different people coming by all the time, so I could always work out in the living room and be fully entertained.

The Working-Home-Alone Days

When we moved out into our own apartment, I noticed that with Steve being gone all day, there would be some days when I wouldn’t step outside at all or see anyone else at all. When Steve came home, my voice would be rusty with disuse. I became even worse at small talk than I usually am. To combat the onset of social awkwardness, I had to plan time to get together with friends during my “workday” or invite people over for dinner. I’m lucky that I have good friends from college still in-town and also have other close friends from church.

Now: The Beginning-to-Network-Online Days

One thing I’ve missed is having a community of people that I can “talk shop” with; where I can talk about clients and customers and CSS without having to go into a lot of backstory and technical jargon deciphering, where I can get commiserating commentary, different perspectives, and advice. This is one of the reasons why I started this blog and installed Tweetbar.

My forays into social networking have been positive so far. I still feel like a small, invisible fish in a very large pond (I’m still shocked when any stranger starts following me on Twitter), but there have been a few other fish that have bumped into me and kindly swam along for a little while, including one bigger fish who then hired me for some production work on a project!

Finally, back to today…

Today, I had an experience with two people that I’ve only interacted with “online” through blogs, Twitter, and a Basecamp collaboration site in the past couple of months since I’ve started my blog. (I’m not sure what etiquette is right now — do I name them? I won’t, for now.) I was in the midst of a Client Communication Challenge and took a break to vent via a Basecamp message. Over the span of just a few hours, a flurry of commenting sprung up. Sympathy, wry jokes, and “how I work with client” anecdotes were passed back and forth. In the middle of it all, simply because I was analyzing the situation instead of just being frustrated by it, an insight appeared about why communication was so difficult with the client. It was awesome.

I live on the other side of the continent from these two fine folks, we’ve never met in person, but a polite yet exuberant camaraderie seems to be developing. (From my limited perspective, at least; maybe they feel the same way.)

One new thought that I’m having now is to make it a priority to attend an “industry event” next year, and to squeeze money from my budget starting now to try to make it happen. Any suggestions?

2 thoughts on “My New Social Network

  1. Go! And again I say GO! I just went to a conference and didn’t realize how much I missed my own kind (I am the only tech writer at my company). Whatever the expense – it is worth it.

    I know it is hard for an introvert to go to these kinds of things, but if the event offers networking receptions, lunches, dinners, or fun events (mine had an Open Jam night with various musicians and vocalists getting down with their bad selves) – go to those too.

    Also, look at joining some professional organizations that have local chapters. These usually have monthly meetings, blogs, wikis, listserves, etc. where you can build community.

  2. Thanks for the encouragement, Doodah! I looked at some of the prices for current events and had sticker-shock, but I’m still going to sit down and make it a priority. Maybe it will be a goal for next month to pick an event and figure out a budget!

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