Getting Out of the Office to Network Doesn't Have to Suck
It's easy for developers and freelancers -- and job seekers -- to become isolated and frustrated as they bang away on their keyboards, writing code, attending to virtual clients and tweaking cover letters. The quest to finish that project, sell their services, or find that next stable job is never-ending. And as much as we're all told that “social media” is “the solution,” it's not. The in-person elements of production, promoting and selling yourself will always be there... because they're effective. It's time to get mobile, physically. Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the O'Reilly Mini Maker Faire in Orlando. I had great conversations with about two dozen like-minded inventors, independent thinkers and artisans, touring the roughly 30,000 square feet of regional technology goodness. All manner of sophisticated niche “makers” promoted their wares and manned their displays. Exhibitors included everyone from an older gentleman who makes his own charcoal (he calls it Biochar) to an amateur astronomer with his 18-inch reflecting telescope, who's nearly completed building his own observatory. There were several tables full of 3-D printers, overseen by an army of highly animated 10- to 16-year-old amateur engineers (boys and girls, I might add). And, let's not forget the amazing woodworking craftsman on a scroll saw, and all the insane robots rolling around. There was even a guy demonstrating a laminar-flow water fountain. How exotic is that? Most everyone said they had a day job and were there on their own dime. It was a real geekfest and everybody in the place was happy. The $10 to get in and four hours it took to see everything were well worth it. I came away refreshed and optimistic. Met a whole bunch of smart, geeky and genuine people. I met one guy with a pair of magnifying glasses on his head, a white lab coat and a light-up LED belt. When I asked if it was Arduino powered, he said yes and pulled a Pro version of the micro-controller out of his pocket. I told him about my upcoming talk at OSCON and the next thing you know, he asked me to give a presentation on using Xbee radios with the Arduino and Linux at the local hacker lab. Now I'll possibly be up in front of a dozen hackers, discussing the finer details of using the X-CTU tool under Wine, how to hook up the serial lines, and what needs to be in the code to make the whole thing work. Not only will I expand my network of friends, I may be able to leverage my talk into more gigs and paid client engagements. You can do the same. Meetups, hacker spaces, tech events, conferences, BarCamps and seminars happen all the time, all over the country. I even go to the “Third Thursday Gallery Hop" in Orlando so I can hang with the creative crowd. Yes, art geeks do exist and they're pretty interesting people. So whatever you do, get creative, get out of your cave and get mobile.