“My calling card.”
“How quaint. And what’s this odd box in the middle of it?”
“The QR code for my LinkedIn presence.”
Oh, how the world has changed! And yet, it’s interesting how people have basically remained the same over the past century.
A Brief History of Business Networking
A century ago, in 1922, the company name “IBM” had already been around for eight years, but they wouldn’t complete renaming all their business units from Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company, or CTR, to IBM for another two years. Electrical technologies, such as the light bulb and punch card machines were already in use, but social traditions were still firmly rooted in the pre-electronic era — though often enhanced based on industrial revolution needs. For example, “calling cards,” which essentially provided a brief introduction to someone who was visiting a residence or establishment, slowly merged with “trade cards” to become “business cards.” Once they became “business cards,” the keepsake came to be more focused on business information than being a playing-card-sized biographical brochure. Their further merging with the type of information contained in “punch cards” was decades in the future.
By the late 1960s, as the IBM System/360 began to take on the mantle of being the system of record for the world economy, “punch cards” came to be synonymous with electronic computing. (Not to mention the rather clunky customer interactions that sometimes involved the receipt and return of punch cards by customers who were advised not to “fold, spindle, or mutilate” them, leading to a movement of people who demanded to be treated with the same care: “Do not fold, spindle, or mutilate me” – see http://www.cs.mun.ca/~harold/Courses/Old/CS1400.W15/Diary/Lubar1992.pdf.)
Business cards, embedded in their key role for keeping track of business — and sometimes personal — contacts, were key parts of professionals’ business networks, and were often stored in random-access devices offered by companies like Rolodex®. They were also a commonly used data element in our personal and social networks, with their details generally transcribed to personal address books.
Then came email. While the still-nascent precursors to the internet had various messaging protocols, so did IBM’s VNET. And, in 1981, they all coalesced into official email systems — SMTP on the internet and PROFS for IBM systems. Concurrent with those innovations was the arrival of electronic address books, conceptually similar to both personal address books and business card random-access devices. While these versatile data sources were vulnerable to misuse by malware such as the Morris Worm (1988) and CHRISTMA EXEC (1987), their usefulness outweighed the potential downsides.
Another emergent set of technologies that grew up in the 1970s and 1980s were bulletin-board systems and similar forums, sometimes hosting a virtual location or news servers (Usenet) for exchange of group conversations, sometimes implemented using email lists such as LISTSERV® or LISTPROC.
While official emails might be exchanged in formal work contexts, such as those that used PROFS, legitimate business contacts tended to still be carried out using business letters, in-person meetings, or sometimes conference calls. Meanwhile, early mass-bulletin-board systems, such as AOL, had their day in the sun, but were not generally taken seriously enough to become a common venue for business interactivity. This may have been, in part, due to the distaste that most early internet users had for business activities, which was made stronger by the arrival of spam emails.
Concurrent with all of this was the in-person social networking inherent in user groups, like SHARE, which increasingly took advantage of available electronic means to support and advance the sharing of input, insight, and content. While in-person meetings continued to be a primary focus, electronic offerings such as the CBT Tape by members of the relevant ecosystems were an increasingly valuable resource and community for the promotion and sharing of utilities and related matters.
It can be hard to believe that this remained the state of the art for the rest of the millennium, but the desire to bring electronic, internet-based interaction together with our social networks finally bore fruit.
During the first decade of the 21st century, there was a rapid succession of changes to the business contact/networking landscape: LinkedIn (2003), Skype (2003), Facebook (2004), and Twitter (2006) were launched. Since then, many competitors to Skype have been launched, from Apple’s FaceTime (2010) and Facebook’s Messenger (2011) to Zoom (2012) and others, most of which now support group videoconferencing. But, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter have settled into predominating roles that have not yet been significantly challenged by alternative social media networking sites offering specialized versions of the same services.
Which brings us to the crux of this article: Where and how can we, as IT professionals — and particularly mainframers — use social networking as an effective part of our careers?
The Core 3 Social Networking Sites: Considerations and Rules to ‘Type’ By
The first thing to recognize is that the least effective, or legitimate, use of social media is as an exclusive means of interaction, networking, and career building. While the era of COVID-19 has shown us how far we can go when forced to interact exclusively online, SHARE Dallas this coming March is, by its very occurrence, an illustration of the central importance of dealing with real people in person. And for that reason, the social media offerings that are available through the SHARE.org website are a strong place to augment that interaction. (Related to this is the fact that the insufficiently humane experience of videoconferencing cannot replace the full experience of in-person interactions.)
So, let’s look at it from the inside of our humanity out to social media platforms as augmentations, rather than central locations, of our career and network development.
The first thing to notice is the increasingly firm distinction between Facebook and LinkedIn. While people do still post some non-business content on LinkedIn — and some even misuse it as a platform for trying to initiate romance — it is increasingly apparent that LinkedIn should be the keeper of your business life, from your CV/résumé and achievements to your business contacts and publications. The more professional your LinkedIn presence, the more credibility you have as a businessperson.
By way of contrast, while you can do business-related stuff on Facebook (e.g., the 22.7K-strong COBOL Programmers group), it is normal to get personally involved to the point of sometimes stirring up emotional debate about topics that may or may not have business relevance.
Twitter, on the other hand, is like a public soapbox that anyone can get up on and shout to the world about everything from their personal journey to their organization’s latest business achievements.
So, how do these all come together?
The first rule is: What happens on the internet stays on the internet – potentially forever. That’s true on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and anywhere else you leave digital footprints. As someone who made my adolescent mistakes in the pre-internet era, I have great relief, and great sympathy for those whose mistakes may follow them around long after the rest of their existence has been forgotten. So don’t assume that, just because you’re using Facebook with friends-only visibility, your boss won’t find out about your Vegas escapades that you post online (because it doesn’t stay in Vegas).
You have a digital persona that is made up of everything you post online, anywhere, and everything anyone posts about you. To a lesser extent, it’s also true of any groups or associations — or even employers — that you partake in. What sullies another’s reputation can also hurt yours, so be careful what you post and be aware of what is posted about and by others associated with you.
The second rule is, be considerate of your current, past, and future employers. Disgruntlement is something that will likely hurt you more than those you are “outing,” so consider carefully the impact on your reputation when referring to others, especially if, like most mainframe shops, they’re very sensitive about their public image. That even includes inappropriate praise, and it certainly includes not violating confidentiality requirements.
That’s a whole lot of DON’Ts. Let’s finish up with some DOs.
Tips for ‘Doing’ Social Networking Right
First, for as long as it stays relevant, DO use Facebook as a way to maintain relationships that go beyond business, and to keep your contacts who are also friends or fellow members of groups informed about what you care about, including business matters (but consider branching this into Instagram or TikTok should the landscape shift). For example, don’t be shy about proclaiming the power and importance of the mainframe — feel free to use respectful and entertaining memes even. But, try not to turn your personal Facebook account into a business, or you might see members of your network “unfriend” you.
Second, DO use Twitter to increase your visibility within your professional community, as well as that of groups, organizations, or even your employer (but only in ways that they agree with and that don’t make you look bad — check with your organization’s HR and PR for their policies about making public statements). If you’re taking up a cause and representing an organization at the same time, be sure that you’re willing to risk your professional reputation for it. My suggestion? Try to stay in the lane of celebrating positive/upcoming news, centering tweets around your passions, or announcing general industry news, rather than complaining or berating.
Third, DO use LinkedIn vigorously … but professionally. Unlike Facebook, where a friend should be someone you know personally, it’s OK to have LinkedIn connections that you just know about through other trusted sources or who share common interests with you. Make sure to list your qualifications and publish your successes — particularly including digital badges and any writing or presentations you’ve done. It’s even good to put the URL of your LinkedIn profile on your business card (bonus points for doing it as a QR code or just noting your handle with an “@-“ symbol). Keep LinkedIn business-like and avoid anything even mildly unprofessional. And, of course, use it for seeking new opportunities in a manner that won’t run afoul of your current employer’s expectations.
This article is just a starter — food for thought, if you will. There are unlimited resources available online for optimizing your presence on each of these platforms. However, once your participation takes the above into account, you’re well on your way to using social media networking sites as valuable resources in your personal and professional journey. Just remember: social media is not a substitute for strong interpersonal skills, contacts, and interactions. Keep it human, and use social media to support that humanity. From there, the sky's the limit to what you can achieve.