We spend more of our time living online and staring at our smart-phones. So why does old-fashioned, face-to-face networking still exist?

The next time you are waiting in an airport or sitting in a coffee shop, stop for a moment to look around and take inventory of how many people are paying more attention to their electronic devices than to each other. It’s well known that we increasingly spend more and more time touching tablets, staring into laptops, or studying our smartphones than we do interacting with others around us.

Yet, there still is one old-fashioned holdout that hasn’t been swept away by the rise of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media: face-to-face networking.

BrettGreeneTime magazine recently reported that “focusing strictly on e-networking and digital communication can hurt your career, not to mention your social skills where they really count — in the real world.” And a psychologist and MIT professor recently wrote in The New York Times’ editorial pages, “We have sacrificed conversation for mere connection.”

Why do people still occasionally set aside their electronic gadgets and make time to meet in person or make personal connections? Because it’s effective, according to New Tech Northwest co-founder and CEO Brett Greene.

Greene started New Tech Seattle in February 2013, created New Tech Eastside in November 2014, and created New Tech Tacoma in November 2015. Last year, the three branches were collected under one moniker: New Tech Northwest. Today, New Tech Northwest has approximately 11,000 Seattle members, 4,000 Eastside members, and 700 Tacoma members, according to Greene. A companion e-newsletter reaches about 5,000 people. New Tech Northwest meets one time per month in each area, and charges between $10 and $25 for two-hour events that offer appetizers, a no-host bar, brief presentations, and a lot of socializing.
It’s easily the fastest-growing tech meetup community in the Puget Sound region. But it’s not the only one.

The Washington Technology Industry Association (WTIA) also hosts events year-round aimed to bring tech industry workers together offline through monthly happy hours; quarterly forums; bi-monthly “tech crawls” offering food, drinks, and games; and an annual golf tournament. Other established networking communities and events include Appy Hour, Beers with Engineers, Impact Hub Bellevue, Puget Sound Programming Python (PuPPy), and UX Happy Hour.

In September, Greene invited New Tech Northwest’s community of technology workers, recruiters, and employers to participate in an online survey to gauge the networking scene. The survey yielded the following data:

  • 77 percent of respondents learned about a new employer, job opportunity, or employment resource while networking;
  • 70 percent of respondents agreed it was easier to make a new connection via face-to-face networking than via LinkedIn;
  • 90 percent of respondents said they had attended a networking event in the last six months;
  • 55 percent of respondents said they were looking to change their job in the next 12 months.

“The general takeaway is that people are obviously networking a lot — even more than we thought,” said Greene. “I was actually surprised at the numbers.”
The other big takeaway is that face-to-face networking still is an important resource for finding work. That’s fine for Greene, but he hopes the monthly events are more than just opportunities to exchange business cards. Greene, who earned a master’s degree in psychology, wants technology-sector workers to make deep connections and lasting friendships.

“We’re not just a recruiting event, though that’s a big portion of what we do,” he said. “We are there in other ways to serve the community. I guarantee that you are going to come out of (one of our events) with at least two quality connections. It might be personal, it might be professional, it might be both.”

Greene recently spoke with 425 Business to share his insights and observations on networking in the tech industry. Here are some of his thoughts:

HUMANS CRAVE HUMAN CONNECTIONS

“Our DNA is what it is, and we’ve been creatures who need connections since the cave people times. We all feel good when we are ‘liked’ (on Facebook) or somebody engages in something we put up (online). This little bit of sunshine goes off in our brain. But there’s also this thing that happens when you are physically near the person. When you are physically in front of somebody, you are reading their facial expressions, noticing their tone of voice, trying to find ways to connect with them and see where you have something in common. That’s just human nature. Those kinds of things are never going to change.”

WE REMEMBER FACE-TO-FACE CONNECTIONS

“There are advantages to offline and online networking. The biggest advantage to face-to-face networking is the fact that it is face to face. If I see you again, I’m going to know who you are. With online (networking), you really have to be persistent and have people see your face over and over, along with your name and your comments. The best thing about online networking is that you can reach a lot more people a lot quicker. The downside is that two days later, if you were asked to name three of those people, you might have no idea. If I kind of see your picture, or have seen all the other pictures online, but I’ve never actually met you in person, there’s a good chance I could eventually see you in person, and I would never even know that you are somebody that I had interacted with online.”

SUITS VS. SNEAKERS

“I think there are probably 15 to 20 percent back and forth (participation) between Eastside and Seattle — people who might go to both because they might live on one side and work on the other. We do have people who come to both. Generally, on the Eastside there are more people with families; it skews a little bit older — not actually that much — maybe five to eight years older as an average than Seattle, even though we have people sometimes as young as 21, sometimes even younger than that, who come, as well as people who are over 70 … The easy way to explain it is that you are going to see more suits on the Eastside and more sneakers in Seattle — even though you have both. Generally, Seattle people go out more. A lot of that could be that there are a lot more single people versus more families on the Eastside. But you are welcome just because you show up. It’s people wanting to meet other interesting people and have a good time.”

THE TECH INDUSTRY IS UNIQUE FOR NETWORKING

“I think a music scene is a lot like the startup scene. It attracts people who are curious, creative, inspired, and collaborative. They naturally want to find ways to do things together and support each other. There’s something about the tech community that is a little more community-minded. Even if you are an introvert, you are still in a place where you are doing cool things and showing people who (in turn) are saying, ‘Wow, that’s great!’ You want to show it to more people, and you are curious about what other people are working on, and that gives you ideas for what you are doing. (The) tech (industry) is unique in this area.”

This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of “425 Business.”

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