Networking as an introvert CTO

19 October 2023 · 14,277 views · Updated 23 January 2024

There I was, standing in the middle of a buzzing tech event that our company organized, feeling like a fish out of water. The room was filled with chatter, but not just any chatter – Swiss-German chatter. Now, if you've ever tried to understand Swiss-German, you'll know it sounds like someone put German, French, and a dash of alien language into a blender. And there I was, focusing hard on trying to decipher it while also figuring out how to approach all these people without looking like a lost puppy. It was a networking event, so I was supposed to be talking to all of them, right?

This was my first networking event in Zurich 5 years ago. A lot of things have changed since then, except the swiss-german language, it still stayed alien.

You see, the tech world is a funny place. It's filled with brilliant minds, game-changing ideas, and… a shit-ton of networking events. Events that seem to be designed by extroverts, for extroverts. It’s like someone throwing a party and only inviting people who love pineapple on their pizza. And if you're an introvert, you're the guy who's just looking for some good ol' Margherita.

UPDATE 23 January 2024: If you prefer watching videos rather than reading, or if you just want to see my face — I recorded a video version of this article. In the podcast-style video I talk more in-depth about the stuff that I wrote here. Here's the link. I just started recording youtube videos, so comments and likes very much appreciated.

I'm that guy, the one who prefers margaritas to pineapple pizza. I'm the introverted CTO who used to dread these events. I'd often find myself in a corner, nursing a drink and wondering, "What the hell am I doing here?" But over the years, I've learned a thing or two. Actually, I wouldn’t even call it learning anything — I just found my answer to the “what am I doing here?” question. I realized that my introversion wasn't a weakness but a different way of connecting with people. I didn't need to be the loudest person in the room; I just needed to be, well, me — a genuine person trying to find other genuine people and exchanging words to see if our puzzle fit. I didn't need to impress anyone; I just needed to be interested in them (and vice versa, of course).

So, if you're an introverted developer, CTO, or just someone who feels out of place when thinking about “networking,” stick around. I'm about to share some hard-earned lessons some thoughts from my journey.

Don’t assume this is a primer on how to do networking; it absolutely isn’t. I’d like to tell you my story of how I found a way of networking that suits me. Hint: It’s the writing.

Not Just Wallflowers

The world's got some messed-up ideas about networking. In every movie, there’s this stereotypical salesperson. You know the type – the "natural networker" who's always the life of every event, slapping backs, cracking jokes, and handing out business cards like candy on Halloween. Yeah, that guy. But here's the uncomfortable truth: I’m not sure if the times have changed or our sale cycles have become longer — that guy isn't the only kind of successful networker out there. And thank God for that.

Not all extroverts are networking ninjas, and not all introverts are trembling wrecks hiding in the bathroom. Hell, not all introverts have social anxiety (that’s the thing that might stop you from approaching people). You see, introversion comes with its own set of superpowers. Deep thinking? Check. Empathy? Double-check. The ability to listen without waiting for your turn to speak? Oh, hell yes. These things allow you to connect with people on a level that Mr. "Life-of-the-Party" can only dream of.

At one tech event, while everyone was circling around and talking to as many people as possible, I met another developer, and we hit it off immediately. We were having a deep one-on-one chat for the whole evening, talking about technology and AI and how it could benefit his company and our projects. No agenda, no sales pitch, just two devs interacting about tech. I wondered if every networking event could be like this. By the night’s end, I had forged a connection more meaningful than any LinkedIn request. And the best part? I didn't feel drained. I felt energized — because, for me, it wasn't about "working the room"; it was about genuinely connecting with another person who shared my passion.

Next time you're at an event, feeling like you're not "networky" enough, remember this: Networking isn't about quantity; it's about quality. It's not about how many hands you shake or business cards you give out. Even if you talk only to a single person who will remember you when the time comes — that’s a great result.

Goal of Networking

When most people think of networking, they imagine this sleazy game of collecting business cards, name-dropping and trying to cozy up to the "right" people. But if that's your approach, you're doing it all wrong. And you’ll probably end up with a bunch of superficial connections that won't mean jack in the long run.

It's about building genuine, meaningful relationships. It's about connecting with people from various domains, understanding their world, and finding common ground. And yes, it's about forging connections with like-minded people who might be able to help you down the line. But here's the problem: you never really know who that champion is going to be for you. Today's intern could be tomorrow's CEO. So, treat everyone like they're the damn CEO.

And let's talk about time. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither are meaningful relationships. You can't expect to meet someone at an event and instantly become BFFs. Relationships, the real ones, take time. They're built on shared experiences, trust, and mutual respect. So, if you're hopping from one event to another, looking for that magic connection, slow the hell down. Take a breath. And focus on building one relationship at a time. Do follow-ups if you had a great conversation with someone, or continue it over lunch.

In the end, networking isn't a sprint; it's a marathon. It's not about the quick wins but the long game.

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My Core Principles

Networking isn't some mystical art reserved for the extroverted elite. It's not about being able to charm the pants off anyone you meet. It's simpler than that. Here are some of the philosophies that I try to follow that might be useful to you:

Make Other People Feel Accepted

You know that feeling when you walk into a room, and it feels like everyone's staring at you, judging your every move? Yeah, it sucks. Now, imagine it the other way around if you could be the person who makes others feel at ease. The one who says, "Hey, it’s fine, we’re all just trying our best. I've got your back."

Shift your focus from your own insecurities to making others feel welcome. It's not about you; it's about them. And guess what? Everyone, and I mean everyone, has that deep-seated desire to be accepted. So, be the person who offers that acceptance freely. It's like social magic.

Give First, then Give Some More

I’ve read this book called The Go-Giver. It’s a pretty fascinating read. It was a simple book describing simple things, but it all clicked into place for me. Give value first, not with an ulterior motive of getting something in return, but genuinely because you can and it won’t cost you much.

I do the same with my consulting; the first one is always free. I mean, people also do that with drugs, but that’s a different story. I give tips, insights and help out during the first consultation, because why not? It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t lead to a collaboration; I still helped out someone, and we both left the meeting feeling good.

The lesson? Lead with a giving mindset. Don't approach networking as a transactional game where you're trying to "get" something. Instead, focus on what you can give. And then give some more. It's not just good karma; it's damn effective.

Don't Overthink it

Look, I get it. As introverts, we have PhDs in overthinking. Before even walking into a room, you know all the things that can go wrong and all the scenarios of what-ifs have already played out in your head.

But here's the thing: networking isn't coding. It's just human interaction. So, drop the script, ditch the rehearsed lines, and just be yourself. Be genuine. Be authentic. And for the love of God, have some fun with it!

Remember, people can smell bullshit from a mile away. So, don't try to be someone you're not. Embrace your quirks, your passions, and your unique perspective. And if you can do that while having a laugh and not taking yourself too seriously, you're golden.

Networking is just a fancy word for building relationships. And as introverts, we have a unique set of skills that can make those relationships deep, meaningful, and lasting.

My Tactics of Survival

I get it. You’re a developer. You probably feel more at home discussing algorithms than making small talk. That’s why I made a small list of functions you can follow. Even the most introverted coder can become a networking ninja with these basic functions. So, let's break it down, step by step, no bullshit.

Smile and Say Hi

Sounds dumb, right? But you'd be surprised how many people screw this up. A smile is universal. It's like the "Hello, World!" of human interaction. It breaks barriers, eases tension, and makes you approachable. So, flash those pearly whites and throw in a simple, e.g., “Hi. My name is Vadim. I build digital products.”

Ask Questions

Ask questions. People love talking about themselves. So, find an entry point, listen to the conversation, and when you spot an opening, jump in with a question about something that you found interesting. It's like finding a bug in your code; once you spot it, the rest is easy.

Give Gratitude

If someone offers advice, shares an insight, or makes your day a bit brighter, thank them. And mean it. Ditch the flattery and be sincere. It's a small gesture, but it leaves a lasting impression.

Find Common Ground

Do you remember me mentioning having a great conversation with a fellow developer? That feeling when you both geek out over, e.g., the same obscure programming language? That's the power of common ground. It's the bridge between strangers and friends. So, dig a little. Find shared interests, experiences, or even mutual gripes (like that one annoying framework). It's the foundation of any genuine connection.

Maybe you can share some examples in the comments when you found a middle ground with someone at a networking event?

End Gracefully

We've all been there: trapped in a conversation that's dragging on, looking for an escape route. But here's the thing: you don't need to fake a phone call or suddenly remember a "meeting." Just be honest. Thank them for the chat, express hope to catch up again, and move on. No drama, no awkwardness.

Follow Up

This is the big one. You can nail every other step, but you’re toast if you screw this up. Following up is where the magic happens. Don't be that guy who spam inboxes. Be genuine. Reference your conversation, offer value, and keep the door open for future interactions. Great, you’re done.

TL;DR; the algorithm goes like this:

  1. You go to an event.
  2. Approach person i, say Hi, and introduce yourself.
  3. Ask questions.
  4. Listen carefully and share your experiences. Keep a look out for common ground.
  5. Go to 3 if the conversation feels fresh; otherwise, continue.
  6. End Gracefully. Go to 2 if you’re not tired; otherwise, continue.
  7. Eat some food. Leave the event.
  8. Follow up with everyone you liked via email.

If you see bugs in my algorithm, do tell me.

My Preferred Networking Way

We live in a world where you can order pizza, find a date, and even get therapy, all without leaving your apartment. So, why are we still treating networking like some old-school, face-to-face ritual? Welcome to the digital renaissance. And if you're an introvert, this is your playground.

Writing, in this hyper-connected world, is like networking on steroids. It's your voice, your brand, and your ticket to global connections.

A few years back, I decided to take a stab at writing. Not because I fancied myself the next Hemingway but because I had things to say. I started penning down my thoughts, experiences, and expertise. And something magical happened. People started reading. They commented, they shared, and they reached out.

Fast forward to today, and my pieces have seen the front page of Hacker News more times than I can count. People started coming to me. I was surprised as well. Why? Apparently, they resonated with what I wrote. And just like that, without even trying, I was networking.

Even though I do have a newsletter, I don’t stick to a strict writing schedule. I promise myself to write an article every two weeks, but life always gets in the way. I write about topics that intrigue me (such as networking for introverts, for example). But I’m consistent. And that consistency paid off—big time.

People talk. When you do good work, share valuable insights, and resonate with someone through your writing, they remember. And they talk. Referrals started pouring in. People I'd worked with in the past were now pointing others in my direction.

And the best part? Many of my readers became my clients. They didn't need a sales pitch; they'd already bought into my worldview, experiences, and authenticity. By the time people reach out to me, they feel like they know me. Because, in a way, they do.

If you’re interested in connecting, drop me a line.

  • Anonymous

    Hey, first time reader of your post and stumbled on it through your reddit post. Thanks for writing this.
    I have been a CTO a few times to startups and helped them achieve their business objectives, but I fail when it comes to networking. This leads to fewer in-bound leads.
    I genuinely enjoy helping early stage startups and leading them through the path of minimum lovable product without getting lost in the engineering fluff. But its the initial funnel of folks to reach out and network with that stems my growth.

    Looking to learn more from your strategy.

  • Luca

    At my first major tech conference, I naively tried the ‘meet everyone’ strategy and quickly burned out. The disillusionment hit hard when I realized that half the connections made were superficial at best, akin to adding random friends on a social platform without any real engagement, they didnt like comment or share my posts.

  • introvert

    Networking pro tip: Find the snack table, it’s best place to meet fellow introverts! tbh, my idea of networking is updating my LinkedIn profile and hoping for the best, and when in visiting events to network, I mostly look busy on my phone.

  • Sakup

    As an experienced TechLead myself, I’ve often found networking events to be overwhelming, exhausting even. But I do agree introverted qualities can actually be an asset in creating deeper, more meaningful connections — you talk to less people, but you build better relationships. Being true to oneself can lead to the most rewarding networking experiences. Trust me

  • Greta

    The article made me rethink the approach to networking, especially appreciating small, achievable goals at events, like engaging in meaningful conversations. It’s a strategy that has lessened the dread I used to feel. Additionally, leveraging digital platforms like LinkedIn or Twitter for initiating connections has been a game changer, making the process feel more accessible and less intense. These methods have significantly improved my networking experience.

  • George

    I think the big misunderstanding about so called “introverts” is, that they don’t like being around people. But the truth is, they can’t endure egocentrism and hearing bullshit which drains their energy . It’s like taking cover under a shelter in a storm. The problem is, that we are natural social beeings and we all need respectful interaction with each other. Its a trade-off. I prefer more beeing alone and go under people from time to time. If you have to deal with people at work, its good to learn some social skills which helps to get the job done. The result of your work speaks for itsself. As you mentioned in your article give more than you take.

  • Anonymous

    This article is full of gold, thanks for speaking in your voice 👏 – As a (mostly) introverted CTO I would only add that preparation is key to being your best self. We all have those long days full of meetings, phone calls etc that drain us, so making sure that you leave space to recharge before any networking is an absolute must for survival.

  • Mia

    Great article! I totally relate to feeling overwhelmed at networking events. It’s all about building genuine relationships, not just collecting business cards. Being authentic and focusing on giving value first really resonated with me. Thanks for sharing your insights!

  • Sven

    Networking events used to drain me until I shifted my approach to seek out meaningful conversations rather than trying to meet everyone. Discovered that writing and sharing my expertise online drew in connections more aligned with my interests. This not only felt more authentic but was surprisingly effective.

  • Sami Alperen Akgun

    This is such a great post. Thank you very much for sharing your genuine insights. I am the opposite of you in aa way since I am a big extrovert. However, I believe there are so many points in this helpful post for all people not only for introvert CTOs 🙂 Thank you!

  • Anonymous

    What an awesome article. It literally addressed most of my problems about networking. Thank you

  • Saiful

    I could instantly connect with the words, I think every introverted tech person will. “Goal of networking” is the most important thing I think. Continue writing article like this. Best wishes.