Networking for Introverts

The San Francisco chapter’s April 2015 meeting featured Rebecca Firestone, an award-winning technical writer, content developer, and trainer with 20 years of experience in startup and corporate environments. This meeting was summarized by Laurie Bouck.


Most technical writers are introverts, yet the job search process, with its emphasis on networking, seems to reward extroverts. How can those of us at the quieter end of the personality spectrum be effective at networking, a key career-building skill? At the April STC meeting, senior technical writer Rebecca Firestone explained how introverts can network in ways that work for them.

Introverts recharge through solitude; seek peace, sanctuary, and beauty; and have an active inner life. They also can be successful leaders; famous introverts include Abraham Lincoln, Bill Gates, and Barack Obama. Extroverts, on the other hand, thrive around other people and prefer to work in groups, which Firestone pointed out sounds like a contemporary job description.

Networking to Fit Your Personality

For introverts, Firestone said, networking can feel phony, especially when we’re told that networking is easy and we just need to “lean in.” Networking does not involve asking strangers for a job or following any networking book too literally. Instead, we need to recognize that networking takes time, like cultivating a garden. When approached this way, Firestone said, networking is intrinsically rewarding.

To network successfully as an introvert, Firestone recommends the following:

  • Interact with each person you meet as if that person might be important to your success—like a little sprout in the garden that might thrive.
  • Look for opportunities to talk and network with people you already know, such as friends and colleagues at meetings of professional organizations.
  • Think about one to three topics or activities that interest you this week, and use these ideas to start conversations with others at events.
  • Ask your colleagues what was your “secret sauce” that helped you shine in your work. Use these stories to tell others about yourself in a natural way.
  • Use a little social lubricant, such as a glass of wine, if it helps you relax at events (just don’t overdo it!).
  • Avoid being calculating, too self-promoting, or badgering people when networking (think of how off-putting these behaviors are in a singles bar!).

Networking is a lot like fishing, said Firestone. It takes patience. You must set multiple lines to catch something. When the line wiggles, respond immediately, but keep your cool and don’t overwhelm people—stay calm. Let the person come to you.

Make networking a regular practice. Like dating or house-hunting, Firestone explained, as you network you will realize that there is an abundance of opportunity. Good networking resources include professional associations, alumni associations, and previous employers and colleagues. You can also connect with others by sending holiday and birthday greetings to catch up with people, and writing high quality blog posts to showcase yourself and your skills.

Managing Obstacles to Networking

Firestone said that it’s important to recognize common obstacles to successful networking and develop ways to overcome them. These obstacles, and their work-arounds, include:

  • Desperation: To avoid reaching this point, plan ahead and don’t wait until your hour of need to start networking.
  • Anxiety: To manage anxiety, prepare for networking opportunities, such as bringing index cards with icebreaker topics written on them to review before you go to an event. In general, try to avoid feeling anxious about the job search, so that (for example) you don’t feel crushed if you don’t get the first job you interview for.
  • Fear of looking foolish: To manage fear, remind yourself that everyone else is worried about how they are perceived, too. They don’t notice your fear as much as you think.
  • Inertia: To overcome inertia, start small, with a low-stress person or event.
  • Despair that you’ll always be bad at networking: To counteract despair, rejoice in small networking successes.

Making Networking Fun and Meaningful

The job hunt is easier if you have fun doing it, Firestone said. For example, use a software tool to create a silly or fun project. You can use the project as a writing sample, and it also showcases your personality.

Take the time to learn about something you’re curious about that has some connection to your work. Your interests can help you connect with others in a meaningful way and can expand your career opportunities. Be open to the fact that one thing can lead to another.

Look for people who are applying the topics you are learning about (not experts who are promoting themselves), and ask them about their work. Most of them will be happy that you are interested in their area of expertise.

Try to give rather than take in order to optimize networking, Firestone said. Volunteer for STC, or mentor others, and be generous with your time. Respond quickly and courteously when you are asked to do something. Do meaningful favors for people and provide relevant referrals. The success of others is your success too, and it will build your confidence.

Remember that life paths do not always go in a straight line, Firestone said. Even successful people make big mistakes but still succeed, so be kind to yourself.


About the Speaker

Rebecca Firestone started as a technical writer in 1988. Since then, she’s worked in telecom, customer relationship management, architecture, clean energy, and software training. In her most recent role, Rebecca expanded her scope from pure writing to include strategic planning and workload scheduling, learning on the job by trial and error. Most recently, she just completed a stint as a Senior Technical Writer at SolarCity Corporation’s product development office in San Rafael, CA.


About this Review’s Author

Laurie Bouck has worked as a writer and editor for over 20 years, covering health topics and consumer technology for clients such as Blue Cross/Blue Shield, McGraw-Hill Online, Alpha Books/Penguin, and CNET. She moved over to technical writing and project management in 2012, and worked most recently at Pacific Gas & Electric Company, revising maintenance and repair documents used in the field.

Salesforce Trailhead: How two teams converged to blaze a new trail

The San Francisco chapter’s January 2016 meeting featured Lauren Grau and Kim Shain, both from Salesforce, Inc., presenting Salesforce Trailhead: How two teams converged to blaze a new trail.

Something New Under the Sun

Most technical communicators would agree that when it comes to information products, Ecclesiastes 1:9 has it right: What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

On the other hand (and with apologies to George and Ira Gershwin), there’s Gershwin’s theorem: It ain’t necessarily so. Salesforce Trailhead reinvents the way new Salesforce developers, administrators, and users learn Salesforce. Rather than an online help system or traditionally structured tutorial, Salesforce Trailhead uses gamification to lead learners along a series of virtual hiking trails. Each trail in turn comprises a set of targeted learning challenges.

Underlying Trailhead’s innovative approach is the integration of marketing automation and social media into Trailhead’s game-oriented learning cycle. To both encourage learners to begin and then keep going, and to provide learners with a visible measure of their progress, Trailhead:

  • Awards publicly displayable points and badges when learning challenges have been completed
  • Highlights learners’ successes on community profiles
  • Celebrates the completion of learning challenges on social networks

Providing clear feedback to individual learners in the form of points and badges, while at the same time enabling one to measure one’s progress against other learners, has made Trailhead unimaginably popular with its large and growing community of enthusiastic Salesforce developers, administrators, and users.

Salesforce Trailhead truly is something new under the sun.

Two Teams, Many Contributors, One Goal

The subtitle of Lauren and Kim’s presentation — How two teams converged to blaze a new trail — merely hints at the complex set of collaborative interactions required to design and deliver Salesforce Trailhead.

In many companies, tech pubs, marketing, and product development refer to each other as “those guys”. Or worse. But when it came to Trailhead, Kim and Lauren needed to make collaboration between the documentation, marketing, and Trailhead product development teams more than a management buzzword.

And they needed to do it quickly: To enable Trailhead to be soft-launched at Dreamforce 2014, the project team needed to deliver an initial version of Trailhead, including an initial set of learning challenges, in only ten-weeks.

The combined team first needed to understand each other’s different working styles and technical vocabularies. Shared values and mutual trust enabled the unified project team to create Trailhead learning challenges at the same time that the product was being developed.

At the time that Kim and Lauren delivered their presentation to the chapter, they were able to provide the following concise retrospective on their teams’ successful collaboration:

  • Focus on shared goals and principles: Use shared values to make decisions and resolve differences of opinion, be sure your assumptions about terminology, et cetera, are valid.
  • Commit to a deadline: A tight delivery date can be made to work to your advantage, focus on delivering a minimum viable product.
  • Assemble a critical mass of supportive stakeholders: Start with a proof of concept (or two), be sure to market the project internally.
  • Put customer needs first: Love your community, don’t be afraid to try something new.

But Does It Work?

Trailhead was an immediate success. Two weeks after going live in October 2014, Trailhead generated more than 1,500 social media postings and more than 20 community-authored posts. By the time Kim and Lauren delivered their presentation to the S.F. chapter on 20 January, 2016, Trailhead’s adoption rate comprised:

  • Month-over-month growth in active users of 40-percent
  • Month-over-month growth in badges earned of 50-percent (more than 250,000 challenge-completion badges so far)
  • More than 175 user-authored blog posts praising Trailhead
  • More than 71 modules and projects

Obviously, then, Trailhead is working. So well, in fact, that one year after its soft-launch, Trailhead was a featured presentation at Dreamforce 2015.

Maintaining User Momentum

Behind Trailhead’s impressive-user-acceptance numbers was another key contributor to Trailhead’s success: sophisticated data collection and analysis.

Trailhead’s criteria for success was defined as the:

  • Number of learning path page views
  • Number of Trailhead learners who completed at least one challenge
  • Number of learning challenges completed across the entire Trailhead users community
  • Percentage of new Salesforce developers who became active

To achieve those goals and keep Trailhead learners on the figurative trail, Lauren’s Trailhead Marketing group constructed an action-based, personalized marketing campaign that, among other things:

  • Tracks and incentivizes learner activity, not just page views
  • Guides different categories of Trailhead learners to the appropriate trails and challenges
  • Uses targeted email to encourage learners to remain active
  • Announces new content to Trailhead users
  • Conducts Trailhead Live global meet-ups, webinars, and workshops

The key point is that another of Trailhead’s important innovations is the recognition that it’s not numbers alone that matter, but rather how those numbers can be used to measure, and if necessary improve upon, Trailhead’s ability to transform new Salesforce developers, administrators, and users into committed Salesforce customers.

References And Links

When discussing the many challenges required to build Trailhead’s collaborative Developer Marketing + Doc & User Assistance team, the presentation cited the following two books:

  • The Collaboration Imperative by Ron Ricci and Carl Wiese
  • Behind the Cloud by Marc Benioff

You can also experience Salesforce Trailhead for yourself at

About This Review’s Author

Riley VanDyke has been a contract and consulting technical writer since 1998 and is an STC-SF chapter volunteer.