The Candy Jar Effect

When I first started in Cisco TAC, as a lowly grade 3 engineer taking hardware RMA calls, I didn’t know anyone. I had just moved to North Carolina, we hadn’t found a church yet, I’m not the most social person on the face of the earth (in fact, if anything, I’m antisocial), and I was sitting in a cubicle surrounded by people who’d been working in serious networking for a lot longer than I had. Not only that, but a lot of them were a lot smarter than I was (and still are). These people were really busy; it was hard to sip from the firehose, and I really needed to find my way around. How could I go about building a network?

What to do… ??

I put a candy jar on my desk, and filled it with interesting candy. How would a candy jar work? Well, it attracted all sorts of interesting people to my desk throughout the day, and as I got to know what different people liked, it gave me an excuse to bring stuff to their desk—along with a question about a case I was working on, of course. In a sense, I learned all I ever need to know about networking technology from a candy jar. Seriously.

I work at home most of the time now, but I still find the effect useful. If you want to know something, ask someone who already knows out to a cup of coffee. When you’re in a different city, search your LinkedIn network to find someone who lives there, and make it a point to go see them. Always, always, always cultivate friendships and connections. Always be a pleasant person, quick with a joke, quick to smile, and quick to ask questions that show you care. Never be the person with the answer; always be the person who knows someone who’s smarter than you are who actually does know the answer.

I know we’re all networking nerds here, and we all got into computers because, at some level or another, none of us like to deal with people. Well, at least some of us are that way—crowds are exhausting, and I have to spend some serious amount of time hiding in my room when I’m at a conference. But there’s truth in the adage that honey attracts more bees than vinegar, and a candy jar, combined with real questions, and real caring, will attract not only the knowledge you need to survive, but also friends you need to succeed in the technical world.

The humble jar of candy will repay you a thousand times over.