Networking can be actually useful

October 2013

I used to think that “networking” was completely bogus, i.e., basically people just trying to use other people for their own ends by being friendly and pleasant at them. This seemed to be borne out by some “networking events” I went to where there was a clear dynamic of interesting/important people being networked upon by less interesting/important people and not getting very much out of it.

However, there’s an actually useful version of networking which is more than just a strange ritual practiced by MBAs. The idea is that you need to have good models of the people you want to “network at”, what they’re interested in, what/who they want to know, and their other general goals. Using this, you can predict who would find what things interesting, and thus you can be a useful conduit of information through a social graph. Transmitting information isn’t free, and so simply by virtue of being another reasonably helpful node in the graph, you provide value to the interesting/important people and can engage in trade.

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Satvik Beri

A common platitude is “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” or vice versa. But this is bullshit. Who you know informs what you know, in the sense that your friends and contacts help you identify the most valuable information to learn. Ref: my anecdote about Machine Learning in the job advice post.

Networking is also a lot easier when you have the same goal (e.g. Effective Altruism)

Agree that networking events are worthless, you should generally network by reaching out directly to interesting people, going to events that have interesting content in and of themselves, or getting introductions.



It is a wonderful thing when one can introduce two friends who share passion for a common cause to each other. You seem to be developing an interest in social entrepreneurship or being involved with non-profit organizations. When you want to promote a social cause, you can more easily recruit and mobilize people of different talents if you have already established a good social network of friends with similar interests. The thing is, it is impossible to maintain close friendships with too many people even though you would want you social network to be wide as well. Expanding your social network and cultivating core friendships would be a balancing act all through life, I think.