Recently I’ve started interacting with some people in Seattle startup community. Honestly, I half expected to find a bunch of antisocial geeks who troll about their employers and exchange “check out my new killer social entertainment network” messages. To my amazement, I found a really vibrant community of smart individuals who are willingly helping each other with useful information, references, ideas, and treat each other (mostly) with enormous respect. These people have nothing to gain from giving out their advise or sharing their valuable ideas. On the contrary, somebody somewhere might benefit from this information to make their endeavor more successful, to get better funding, to hire better engineer, to meet interesting people.
So I started thinking about why this happens in this age of cutthroat competition. I don’t think it is Karma or “Pay it Forward“, though for some people out there that is a legitimate and commendable driver for this behavior. Instead, I think that it is a basic drive to look for and find better social interaction in our professional lives. Plus a lot of networking, of course. I firmly believe based on my own experiences that we strive to be accepted professionally, and these loosely coupled peer-to-peer communities satisfy that need. People treat each other as equals, assume the best instead of the worst, listen, share their advice and help because they like to do it. It gives them a great feeling of self-worth, especially when they get the same kind of treatment from the others. Notice that this is slightly (and in some cases drastically) different from the corporate world. First, no matter how senior your position is within your company, you are constrained by its reporting structure and by its culture. In some situations you are treated as a resource, and in some situations your opinion or ideas have hard time reaching the right audience. In these startup communities, however, things are different because these constraints don’t exist. So meeting somebody for coffee and chatting with them about your and their ideas is a much simpler proposition.
So, in light of these observations I’ve made a resolution this year – to help my friends in their crazy ideas when they need my help, or advise, or a sounding board, or all three. Just to have a professional environment outside of work that is slightly different from what I have at work. Just to geek out with my buddies on my free time while feeling important. Just to be free for a few hours every week. Ha!