Chief technology officers (CTO) or fractional CTOs often focus on keeping the process of the most up-to-date technology systems running and leading their teams. With these responsibilities, it’s tempting to push networking aside, especially if you’re short on time. However, highly influential CTOs recognize that networking is an integral and vital part of their career and company’s success.
Today networking is much more than the simple transactional aspects of business development. While it has the potential to help you find new client opportunities to secure projects for career advancement, it can provide you with endless learning opportunities and the ability to help others too.
Here are a few of our top tips for networking as a Chief Technology Officer or as a fractional CTO.
Developing a personal networking strategy will help you stay grounded and make the most of your networking efforts. Ideally, you want to focus on creating meaningful connections that will resonate with you. Take a moment and reflect on your communication style to start.
If you’re more of an introvert or more neurodivergent, establishing healthy boundaries can help you stay grounded. If you feel overwhelmed in large groups, you might want to choose networking activities where you have the opportunity to connect with others in small groups.
For Albert Volkman, CTO at Esteemed, attending conferences and events seemed like a natural fit because he is naturally gregarious. But Volkman still doesn’t consider attending events always easy.
“My mantra is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. I try to put myself into positions where I want to learn. If you look at attending conferences and events to find learning experiences, it can get you to a place where you can take the next step toward trying something new, and it can be a lot more fun.”
One way a CTO can network is by attending tech meetups or conferences organized by local chapters of organizations such as the National Center for Women in Information Technology (NCWIT) or Black Data Processing Associates (BDPA), or groups such as Women Who Code. These types of groups often have regular speaker series and lunch-and-learn events where you can meet members face-to-face and gain the opportunity to connect with other CTOs and technologists.
Kit Colbert, CTO of VMware pointed toward the value he gained from networking with customers at the VMworld conference in 2021 (now VMexplore).
“I forgot how enjoyable it can be to engage in the random conversations you strike up around the table. I was able to talk about VMware strategy, learn from customers about their pain points, and meet some new people.”
Speaking at events is an excellent way to boost your visibility within the industry or the industries associated with your expertise. It can help build your brand as a thought leader in your field. Plus, it doesn’t just benefit you. Speaking at events can also help your company by raising its profile and attracting new talent among attendees.
So how do you go about finding speaking engagements?
Another way to locate speaking opportunities is to find a tech community. Fellow members and event organizers often become good friends and colleagues, which can lead to speaking opportunities.
Leveraging your professional communities, associations, or alumni groups is another way to expand your network, find learning and growth opportunities, and access support. Communities can give you referral potential to either help you find new business or create partnerships with organizations that can fulfill expertise gaps in your company.
“According to the famous six degrees of separation principle, our personal contacts are valuable to the extent that they help us reach, in as few connections as possible, the far-off person who has the information we need,” says the Harvard Business Review, reminding leaders how they can create and use networks for support.
Perhaps you’re looking for some part-time CTO expertise to scale your business. Accessing a fractional CTO and the community associated with it can provide you with cost and time-saving benefits. A fractional CTO can engage in decision making and cross-functional communications throughout your organizations, freeing your leaders up to focus on more innovative and proprietary projects to maintain your company’s competitive edge.
Active listening is a way of listening that focuses on understanding the other person’s thoughts and feelings. It’s a skill that will help you build trust with your community, which allows you to learn about other’s business needs, and can provide you with deeper insights to create meaningful connections.
What are ways to be an active listener?
Active listening is also a great way to practice soft skills. It will make you a better communicator, show empathy, and build stronger relationships because it encourages people who aren’t as confident with their speaking skills to voice their opinions without feeling shy or nervous about how others will react when they speak up.
If you’re the CTO or a Fractional CTO of a company, you are the go-to person for technical problems. You may often feel like you’re the only one who can solve them. Asking for help isn’t a bad thing. It’s an essential part of making connections. It doesn’t make you look weak; it shows you dare to be open and actively solve problems when you’re stuck instead of avoiding potentially costly problems. What you learn from others will only help you build your network further.
Asking for help builds your network of experts, allowing you to access more knowledge than you could on your own.
Whether it’s a new tool or process that could streamline your workflow or an expert who could advise on an issue you’re facing, asking someone in your network for help is a great way to get answers quickly, potentially find new talent for your team, or build trust with others who might not have considered your company.
For instance, when looking for someone who has the experience and skills you need, look beyond your personal network. You may find the exact person who will fulfill your talent gaps at the right price point with a network of their own that can help you expand.
Mentoring and coaching are other ways to expand your network while building symbiotic learning opportunities. Typically, mentoring involves someone who has already built a successful career in an industry or profession, sharing their knowledge with someone who wants to achieve similar success. It’s a one-on-one relationship where the mentor teaches the mentee how they achieved success in their field.
Coaching can occur on a larger scale with groups of people who are trying to achieve similar goals or overcome challenges in their careers. Coaches are trained to ask insightful questions and give feedback to clients so that they can reach their goals or overcome challenges in and out of the workplace.
Mentoring and coaching can be done on an informal basis or through formal programs like those offered at places such as the Silicon Valley Executive Mentoring Group (SVEMG) or the CTO Academy for coaching.
Joining such programs puts you in contact with other CTOs and provides you with both growing and learning opportunities. You can choose to work with a mentor or coach for your development, or you can mentor other CTOs on best practices. In either case, the goal is to help someone develop their knowledge or skills.
As a CTO, mentoring and coaching skills will help your employees grow and develop the necessary skills within your organization to keep your business moving forward. Over time, investing in coaching enables employees to become valuable contributors who can take over some of your responsibilities when necessary, allowing you to spend more time on strategic projects that benefit your company as a whole rather than just managing day-to-day operations.
If you’re short on time, you may not have time for a full-on networking strategy. Therefore, making time for the people who can help you will keep you in the fold of new happenings, stay connected, and spark new ways to keep you’re network active. It will help keep those relationships strong, and that could lead to new opportunities down the line.
When scheduling regular check-ins with key contacts, here are a few things to keep in mind:
Remember, networking never stops. It is a process of continuous growth and improvement. If you focus on creating a personal networking strategy, carve out time to connect and help others while actively listening to people’s business needs, you will no doubt grow your personal network, find new opportunities, and develop your business.
If you need help building up a network of fractional CTO clients, or just looking to connect with other members, join us!