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Escaping the social comfort zone

Clarice Bouwer

Software Engineering Team Lead and Director of Cloudsure

Monday, 23 May 2016 · Estimated 2 minute read

"I think that we grow when we are outside our comfort zone. If it's not breaking you down, it's not building you up." quoted by Scott Hanselman

The comfort zone. What a wonderful place. It's so safe to be in. You're familiar with the surroundings, it has few surprises and everything just makes sense.

I love it but I am never in it long enough to sit back and put my feet up with a bowl of popcorn.

I keep pushing my limits both personally and professionally. At times I may strongly dislike what I am doing but after the fact I think to myself "WOW, I just did that!" It's very rewarding.

As a developer I can relate to how awkward networking and socializing can be. This is even harder when you lack self-confidence. Here are the top three things I've done that have helped me build some social confidence.

Start conversations

When I experienced issues with whatever technology or process, I'd strike up a conversation with someone higher up than me. I'd ask questions and try brainstorm with them.

In the beginning I was so freaked out by simply talking to them that I'd instantly blush. So hard in fact that I'd feel my face burn. I ended up being so self-conscious that I couldn't hear what they had to say. It was worse when I didn't know the person at all.

Blogging and tweeting was scary for me too but it also helps start conversations. You put an idea out there and if you're lucky, people start engaging which can either validate your idea or expose you to a new mindset.

By persisting through the fear, I've built some confidence and learned a lot of cool insights from others. I've also been able to engage with some influential software developers - something the old me would never have done. The more you do it, the less scary it becomes.

Attend events with friends

I feel more comfortable to sit back and absorb information without engaging with strangers at an event. I'm shy and self-conscious. But now, I act a bit differently.

I must admit that it's easier for me to strike up a conversation with someone I don't know when I'm with someone I do know. The more the merrier.

I'd go to meetups or events with my husband (also a developer) or other dev buddies and somehow feel stronger. This makes it easier for me to initiate conversations with the speaker or other developers at the event.

Tip: The more you attend community events, the more familiar the people around you become.

Talk to strangers

Start a conversation with a stranger. Elevators and queues are the easiest place to start.

Smiling makes you approachable and immediately uplifts a person's spirits (not always, but most times).

Giving a true compliment is a great conversation starter and also has a positive impact on the other person. When in doubt, bring weather into the conversation.

This helps build confidence when talking to people you don't know which helps when you want to start networking at events or other social gatherings.

My final thoughts

I don't know how many software developers are self-conscious or lack self-confidence but I know many who are socially awkward.

Randomly talking to people may not be something you want to do but why not give it a try?

Engaging with people exposes you to different mindsets and thought patterns. This accelerates learning especially if you're new to something or just starting out. It also helps you network and grow your professional reputation. With that comes a lot of career opportunity.

"I think that we grow when we are outside our comfort zone. If it's not breaking you down, it's not building you up." ~ Scott Hanselman