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My Career Regret: I Should Have Had More Lunch Dates With the Guys

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After a successful career in tech, one woman looks back and realizes she missed a whole lot of networking opportunities.

By Karen Catlin (CEO of Athentica)

You’ve heard the advice, “Go out and network,” and you’ve probably made every excuse not to. The people I should network with are too busy for me to bother them. I’m too busy with my job responsibilities to have coffee or lunch with someone. I’m an introvert, and I need to recharge mid-day by having lunch at my desk. The list of excuses is long, and I know them well. I’ve used them all over my career.

Recently, a student interviewed me for her PhD research on women and STEM education. During the interview, she asked about my background and my career, and then she posed a question that really made me think: What do I wish I had done differently over the course of my career? Well, I have no regrets about any of my career decisions. I started off as a software engineer, after which I moved into project management, people management, and then executive leadership. I worked internationally as well as in Silicon Valley, in academia, startups, and established software companies. Now, I’m  focused on helping other women with their careers in the tech industry. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, and I’m not sure I would have done anything differently.

However, as I thought about her question more, I realized I did have an answer: I should have had more lunch dates with the guys.

As a senior leader at a software company, most of my peers were men, and frankly, I preferred hanging out with the few women in my office. What would have been different if I had invited more of the guys to have coffee or lunch? What aspects of my job would have been easier if I had built more friendships, or if I had better understood the challenges they were facing and how I might help them?

While I certainly did a lot of networking over my career, I know that forging even more connections would have been helpful. People are more likely to support you if they share something in common with you. By casually meeting with more of my peers, I would have identified those things we had in common. Our favorite books as kids? Our first programming language? The thrill of shipping our first product? It almost doesn’t matter what the shared interest is; what’s important is to build that connection. Then, when you need the support of others to drive change or deal with pushback, you have your network to rely on.

The more that people know you, the more likely they are to help you when you need it.

Everyone, at every phase of their professional career, needs to network. This Femgineer recommends that you set weekly or monthly goals for your networking. Have coffee with a co-worker you don’t know well. Send email to someone in your LinkedIn network that you haven’t spoken to in a while. Reach out and forge relationships. You never know how it might help make things easier for you in the future.

This post originally appeared on Femgineer

Are you too shy about hanging out with the guys in your professional circle?

kcatlinAbout the blogger: Karen is the CEO of Athentica, an online learning startup. Formerly, she was a vice president in the CTO’s office at Adobe Systems, and most recently, co-founder of Femgineer. Karen blogs about the intersection of parenting and leadership at Use Your Inside Voice. Follow her on Twitter @kecatlin