There's been a lot of attention given to professional networking (e.g. Andy Warren's blog posts) recently and if you recall I'm planning on kicking off my PASS Summit experience this year by attending Don Gabor's pre-conference session on starting conversations. It's perfectly reasonable to go to a conference, code camp, or SQL Saturday with the expectation that you're going to meet people who share a common professional interest and that you'd like to connect with, but how many of us put those networking skills to use outside of that context? For example, say you're going on a vacation...does your networking mojo go on one of its own too?
I just got back from a cruise celebrating my 10th wedding anniversary and on a whim before I left I grabbed a handful of business cards. Cruising can be a very social event if you want it to be – think thousands of people in the same setting for several days, and in most cases you run into the same people repeatedly at dinner, ports of call, and other activities around the ship. It's a perfect setting to practice conversation\networking skills. It turned out to be a good thing that I grabbed those business cards because I ended up meeting a sales rep for a large software company, a developer for a well known tax software company, and sat at dinner every night with a fellow IT person for a home hardware company. Will I gain anything from having given them my card? That's hard to say, but the chances are much better than had I not given them anything at all. One interesting note – of the three that I met, only one had a business card to give back to me.
The moral of my story – and the lesson I learned for myself – is to always keep those business cards with you, even when you go on vacation, because you'll never know who you may run into that you'll want to stay in touch with.