Start a Coffee Club to Aid Your Job Search

White Sands Coffee MugOver the past six years I have had many friends and colleagues in sectors like IT, biotech, Internet, engineering and networking lose their jobs for one reason or another. While the impact has been particularly severe here in the Silicon Valley, it’s happened all over the U.S. No high tech center has been immune, and tech workers have had to become more adaptive, not only to face new and evolving technologies but to deal with  maddeningly myopic recruiters.

Six years ago, a group of us started to meet every other Friday for coffee. We discussed where we all were in terms of job searches, exchanged career advice and stories about our own jobs, new tech, companies in the Valley, VC activity and other subjects related to our professional lives. There were about six to 12 of us at any one meeting. Think of it as a support group for techies.

Everyone came away with a feeling of encouragement, that we were up to the challenge and, more importantly, that we weren’t alone. We had people we could turn to for opinions, support, help and advice.

Today the original Coffee Club is still going strong. We may not meet as often as we’d like, but we do still get together and are in frequent contact.

That original Coffee Club has spawned at least four others around the Valley. Their objective is always the same: to discuss job searches, exchange advice, discuss our own jobs, new tech, companies in the Valley, VC activity, etc.

Are there such gatherings in other tech centers? In Boston and the D.C. area, I’m aware of at least three. In discussions with new colleagues at DEF CON 19 in Las Vegas, I found out that what we’re doing in Silicon Valley isn’t new — such meetings are happening all over the U.S. and Europe.

Can you start a Coffee Club of your own? Absolutely! We have just a few rules that we use, though of course you can create your own:

  1. The Coffee Clubs are HR free zones.
  2. It’s okay to bitch about your previous employer but this is limited to the first 20 minutes of the meeting. After that it’s no longer productive.
  3. We respect each other as professionals and do not get personal.
  4. Because of the group dynamic, we only invite people we know into the group.
  5. The first member to arrive at the coffee house or book store is responsible for securing table space and/or sitting space for the group.
  6. The primary objective is to learn from each other and help each other be successful professionally.

Sound interesting? If you have questions, thoughts about starting your own group, or know of coffee clubs in your area, post them below.

Comments

  1. BY Josh says:

    Sounds like a really neat concept. I have to ask, though; what do you mean by “HR free zone” in your rules up there?

    Perhaps this is the 21st century LUG? Small, mostly unknown to those outside of the group? Might have to look in to starting one around here. Though I know the only one that would attend is probably me.

    -Josh

    • BY R. Emmett O'Ryan says:

      Hi Josh,

      Thank you for your comments.

      In answer to your question:
      - HR Free zones are areas where we can be honest with each other and not have to be “politically correct.”
      - HR Free zones are designed for professionals without the constraints of having to go see HR for every little thing (so they [HR] can justify their existence).
      - HR Free zones are areas where common respect for the individual is practiced and valued, and where Adults can have meet and have adult conversations.

      I am not sure what a “21st century LUG” is. I can say that looking back on them, it reminds me of what I have read re 16th century Tradesman Guilds in Holland – members of a Tradesman Guild would meet in coffee houses and share information about their trade and business.

      Yes, coffee clubs are small and they are indeed largely unknown to others outside of the group. Although the coffee baristas are always curious when one of the larger groups gets together for a meeting in their establishment.

      Coffee Clubs do provide a great support network – especially for anyone in transition. And its a great way to hear about free resources and training. Networking is a component and is always discussed (e.i. “does anyone know someone in Facebook’s Site Reliability group”). Finally, its a great way to share information about companies and those “wacky” HR recruiters, and how the interview went – both good and bad. I think most of our members try to “check their egos” at the door and that we are all equals – with our individual strengths.

      I have seen Coffee Clubs start as small as two people and grow from there. If you do decide to start one, more power to you.

      Thank you,

      Emmett

      • BY Nashville says:

        I assume LUG = “Linux Users Group” This is a great idea, but most people won’t follow through with it. I hate to sound too pessimistic, but too many people meetup to take away not give away.

        Of course, I’m a tech. Every time I get asked if I am networking, I answer with a resounding “Of course!” Then it’s followed up with “Wait! Did you mean social networking?”

    • BY R. Emmett O'Ryan says:

      In the four Coffee Club meetings I attend each month everyone is a tech – network engineer, programmer, systems engineer, etc.

      I find this interesting because most techs I know are slightly awkward in social situations… but put a bunch of techs together and have them think about ways of solving problems – like getting that next job – and some amazing things happen. You actually get some really creative and innovative ideas and approaches.

      Whether or not a Coffee Club is sustainable is dependent on the members of the group. Yes, there has to be something in it for everyone and quite often this is the case – either through comradery, ideas, shared experience, or support.

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