By Jim Grey (about)
I had lunch with a favorite colleague recently, someone I worked with several years ago and think the world of. She’s among the best at what she does, and is fun and warm and genuine while she does it. I’d work with her again in a heartbeat.
She moved here from elsewhere to take her current job, and finds herself wishing to be better connected in our city’s software industry. So she has been talking to everybody she knows to find out who the movers and shakers are, and try to get introductions to them.
She ran through the litany of people she has met and wanted to meet, a dozen names or more. We were both astonished that I had worked at some point with all but one of them, most of them as they were on their way up to enormous success. It made me realize I may have let something valuable slip through my fingers.
I told her funny stories about some of these people. One fellow owned a software company where I was a first-level manager. He was a veteran bathroom talker — you’d be standing there draining the tank and he’d come up next to you and start a conversation. And it wasn’t always small talk. You could end up making important business decisions right there at the urinals. Men everywhere know that this breaks the Guy Bathroom Code: no eye contact and absolutely no talking. In, out, move on. But not this CEO.
He sold his company and started a venture capital firm. Through his investments sits on the board of pretty much every growing software company in town. I hadn’t seen him in four or five years when he spotted me in a restaurant last year and came over to say hello. And my colleague said he was hard to meet because he’s so sought after.
I’ve worked with scores of people in my 25-year career, but keep up with just a handful. If I used to work with you and sometimes meet you for lunch, you’re not just a colleague, but a friend.
But lunch with this friend and colleague made me realize that I am very well connected — and I’ve let those connections languish. It’s a shame not only because these people might help me into a better gig someday, but primarily because they’re interesting people who do big things.
When I worked with many of them, there was no way to know that they would do so well. Most people I’ve worked with have not risen so far, actually; most of them are still writing code, or testing, or writing documentation, or leading teams. But so many of them are interesting, too.
But I’m an introvert of working-class roots — a fellow who prefers to keep to himself and let his work speak for itself. At least that’s what I tell myself so I don’t feel so bad about not reaching out to the good people I know. But if I could go back to the beginning of my career and give myself one piece of advice, it would be to not lose contact with the people I enjoyed or admired.
Fortunately, even though a quarter century has slipped by, it’s not too late to start now. I can reach out to people I’ve worked with recently, and rekindle some long-ago connections. I’d like to build a habit of keeping in touch. Maybe I’ll be able to help someone along in their career, or maybe someone will help me along in mine. If not, simply catching up and swapping stories will be ample reward.