Networking. A word that means many things in the world of tech; whether it’s the Cat 6  type or the social type, it tends to be a word that tastes like Marmite in the brains of techies. You’re either a major advocate for it, or you put up barriers at the very mention of it.
In this blog post, I’m going to talk about the social version of networking, drawing comparisons from the world of networking within computation, and showing how these homonymous concepts are not that different and share more than just a name.
In the world of tech, it is usually the nature of our work to be somewhat isolated. Only one person can be controlling one computer at one time, after all. And for all that we can ostensibly argue that collaboration and constant socialization exists in tech in the form of pair programming and IM clients like Slack, going back to biological basics and engaging in little human interaction never goes amiss. After all, some of the greatest breakthroughs in computer science have come from mimicking and prototyping biological phenomena:
- Neural networks which are used widely in machine learning are modelled on mammalian brains ,
- Conway’s Game of Life is based loosely on evolutionary principles of single celled organisms and has been used widely in many fields ,
- The design of robots that need to interact with the physical world have been based on living organisms – simply because there is no design that can be better than millions of years of trial and error by natural selection .
It would seem a natural conclusion then, that networking in the technological sense would mimic aspects of the physical world – there’s always some interplay between tech and reality. Some major breakthroughs and algorithms in networking have used metaphors to illustrate their efficacy; such as the Shortest Path algorithm, which is used by many sentient beings in general life without realizing it.
But the inverse is true too. Networking in the human sense mimics the technological stack in many ways, and it can help us define the importance of networking as a constant feedback loop. A great example of this is the standalone server. It can store information, perform data processing, and output the results of this work. However, unless it is provided with connections and external input, it will not receive new data and it will always stay the same. It won’t update. It won’t store new data. And it won’t patch existing faults.
Just as the standalone server needs network connectivity to improve, humans need the feedback loop of a good network too. We all need to patch our software from time to time with some good advice from a friend or a good book that teaches us something. And that’s one of the great parts of networking; it provides a way in which we can gain new insights, and not stagnate.
I met a friend for coffee a few weeks back: she was looking for a new job, and had said that she couldn’t find anywhere that was looking for her particular skillset, alongside the company culture she wanted. Fortunately, I had been talking with a representative from a new business coming to the city that sounded like it could be the right move for her, and was able to put them in touch. That’s another amazing thing about networking; connections form new connections. With the right connections, you can route people to the correct and shortest path to their intended destination. Maybe my friend would have found that company eventually, but because we had that human connection and she told me what she was looking for, we were able to route her there even faster. Once you take a little time to help someone, you’ll be remembered, and more opportunities will come your way.
Be a human router with a good cache; it really will earn you a lower latency life when you listen to people.
So whilst it might be true that networking in the technological sense and networking in the social sense carry some similarities, the human element will always be the most important one. A computer may be able to connect you via TCP handshake, but that’s no match for the real physical thing, over a great cup of coffee.