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The power of coffee chats

I get a lot of questions from students around things like how to figure out what to do next, how to know what skills are important for a specific role, or how to find open roles.

If you have a sense of what you’re interested in (even vague), I always recommend reaching out to some actual people who do that job and see if you can chat with them a bit.

In the pre-covid, non-remote days, I would recommend saying something like this.

Can I learn more about what you do over coffee, my treat?

Today, I might instead ask…

Could I have a quick 15 minute video call with you to learn a bit more about what you do?

Some people won’t respond, but I’ve never had someone outright say no no.

I’ve used some form of this question to chat with the CTO at a $55 billion tech company I used to work at, as well as some of the big names in web development and people I looked up to.

It’s such a fantastic way to learn what the day-to-day of a role is actually like, what sorts of skills you really need to be successful in it, and the typical path someone might take to get there.

Side benefit: if you decide you might want to do that kind of work at some point, you now know someone who can tip you off to openings or introduce you to other people.

What questions should you ask?

Anything you might be interested in knowing, but here are a few to get you started:

  1. How did you end up in this role/doing this kind of work?
  2. What does a typical day look like for you?
  3. What kinds of skills or experience does someone need to be successful in this role?
  4. What industry changes do you see transforming the way this job is done?

I also recommend ending a conversation like that with, “Is there anyone else you think it might be good for me to talk to to learn more?” Keep the cycle going.

People love to talk about themselves. This is surprisingly easy to do.

What if you have no clue what you want to do next?

If you have no clue at all what you want to do next, that’s a bit harder. The blessing and curse of the web industry is just how much it changes and how many options we have.

If you’re in head-scratching mode, you might want to jump start things with a bit of research.

A really easy way to do this is to pick a big conference that you find interesting, dig through the speaker list, and look at the types of places where they work and the things they do there. When you find a few that are interesting to you, do a bit of Googling to learn more about what they do.

If their work seems interesting, I would strongly recommended reaching out and using the “coffee conversation” technique to have a conversation with them.