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How to build a network at the beginning of your career

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Networking is incredibly important in today’s working world, even at the early stages of your career. Here are some tips to help you get started.

You’ve probably heard by now that networking is a crucial part of working life. But when you’re at the start of your career, it can be hard to strike up conversations or even identify the people you should be having them with.

To help you start building a solid network at the early stages of your professional life, here are some tips as told by people in the Silicon Republic community.

Remember that networking should be mutually beneficial

While networking can be a challenge for every type of person, Iana Boghiu, IT business analyst VP at Citi, said it can be particularly daunting for introverts. In her own career, she has found that being true to herself and slowly moving beyond her comfort zone have helped.

“Some companies have formal networking; I joined Citi’s Women in Tech and wider Women’s Network groups to get to know people in Dublin as my team is global,” she said. “It’s up to you to find what’s right for you, be it attending physical events or writing articles and blogs on a topic that interests you.

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“Then build on that by slowly getting yourself outside your comfort zone to expand your skills and network, because it comes down to allowing people in your wider circle to know you and your skills.

“Look at themes that you are interested in because you want to be true to yourself. Long-lasting relationships will work only when there are genuine and mutual interests and trust. In the end, it’s about having people around you that will celebrate your success, push you during hard times or direct you when you are lost or looking for new areas.”

Niamh McInerney, head of graduate recruitment at PwC Ireland, echoed Boghiu’s point about the importance of networking being mutually beneficial.

“At its core, effective networking at any stage is based on the exchange of mutually beneficial information,” McInerney said. “Whether online or face to face, I would say the tips for effective networking are the same.

“For me, these include identifying who you want to connect with, being clear on what you are looking for, doing your research, deciding specifically what you would like them to know and listening. Don’t be afraid to give something back and do the follow-up afterwards. Connect with them on social media.”

Get involved with diverse groups

Triona Geraghty, deputy HR director at Aon, and Cat McGurren, EMEA recruiter at Patreon, both agreed with Boghiu about getting involved with different groups – both within and beyond a company.

“Invest time and show an interest in connecting with others,” Geraghty advised. “One way of networking outside of your immediate team members is to volunteer to join various business resource groups or social committees.

“A certain amount of networking will naturally occur in the day-to-day of completing tasks and other role responsibilities. One tip to go above and beyond this is to add networking as one of your goals – task yourself to connect with two new colleagues per month, for example. You never know how and when particular relationship will smooth a future path!”

‘Networking is one of the most powerful skills you can have in your career and is a skill that can be learned’
– MARIE RYAN, FIDELITY INVESTMENTS

McGurren believes it’s worthwhile looking into technology clubs and societies at college. She said: “Many of these have a Discord community to chat about graduate roles, and all of them invite companies to come and talk to them. It’s a great way to meet future employers.”

McGurren also recommended engaging with tools and technologies that reflect your interests. “It’s OK to reach out to people and ask when their intern or graduate programme opens for applications. Our vacancies are mainly in product and technology, so it’s important for us to see that candidates have a genuine passion for their industry. We like to see evidence of a GitHub account or personal coding projects.”

Present your work

Gordon Morrow, a senior software engineer at Verizon Media, believes that the easiest and most effective way to network early in your career is to “present initiatives and solutions worked on by your team to the wider audience”.

“This worked for me personally by presenting at a large internal conference in Sunnyvale, California,” he said.

“As a result of this, I interacted with a lot of people in the wider company and made many connections, which proved invaluable when working on new tech stacks or design work as I had a network now to reach out to. Tools like LinkedIn meant that I could connect and share experiences both from my own work and also what the industry trends were.”

Make your networking ‘diagonal’

According to Marie Ryan, senior corporate actions manager and scrum master at Fidelity Investments, getting to know more people will help open doors in your career and expose you to “sounder advice in making the important decisions that shape your life”.

“Networking is one of the most powerful skills you can have in your career and is a skill that can be learned,” she said.

Ryan’s tips included being your authentic self, setting out two or three specific questions to ask your new connection before meeting them, being clear about your goals, making sure to follow up after your initial meeting and being intentional about who you want to connect with and why.

“Networking is not always about looking for upwards leaders; ensure to network diagonally and use other resources such as groups, affiliations and team initiatives to get involved.”

Say yes

Conor Davin, a quality control analyst in MSD Dunboyne’s microbiology lab, says that “putting yourself out there” is an important part of building a network. This is what helped him take on the role of biosafety officer alongside his main job, giving him opportunities to present to more senior colleagues.

“I’ve had the chance to take on new responsibilities, acquire additional training and get more involved in different tasks,” Davin said. “I would strongly recommend taking opportunities when they’re offered.

“While you might feel like you’re too busy or don’t have time, you should take those opportunities when they arise, because otherwise you’ll never get a chance to see what you like or meet new people.

“It all comes down to putting your hand up, saying yes, and getting involved.”

Don’t be put off if you’ve changed career

Networking can be just as daunting if you’ve decided to make a career change later in life. Dun & Bradstreet software engineer Stuart Grimes, for example, completed a diploma in computer science after working as a chartered accounted for almost 20 years.

“Looking back on those first few months, I would recommend that you take the time to establish a network of knowledge for yourself,” he said. “There are many technologies we all use in our day-to-day work. Try and understand the constituent parts of your role, identify the people who have the most knowledge about that topic, and approach them. Ask if it’s OK to reach out to them with questions or, better still, try to schedule a regular time with them where you have a chance to build up a bank of questions.

“This is a great way to build your knowledge and your network, and really helps establish a great working relationship with your new colleagues.”

Make the most of online networking tools

Avanade’s early careers lead for Ireland and the UK, Isabelle Fernandes, reminded us of the importance of tools for networking in the era of remote working.

“LinkedIn is your friend,” she said. “Tell people why you’re interested in them and suggest a virtual coffee; a 15-minute Teams chat translates across continents, professions and generations. So long as you match up the time zone, you are more empowered than ever to learn from others and meet new people and opportunities.

Fernandes also said that LinkedIn’s Recommendations feature can be a great addition to your networking toolkit. “Remember, no one is totally out of reach.”

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UK signs US border deal to share police biometric database • The Register

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The UK has signed up to a US plan for sharing police-held biometric data about citizens with US border officials.

According to a member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), the body met “informally” with representatives of the US Department of Homeland Security this week to discuss the plans.

They come under the auspices of the Enhanced Border Security Partnership (EBSP), which is designed to increase the US Department Of Homeland Security’s ability to detect threats through biometric information sharing. Israel signed up to the arrangement in March.

LIBE committee member and Pirate Party MEP Patrick Breyer said that during the meeting last week, the committee discovered that the UK – and three EU member states, though their identities were not revealed – had already signed up to reintroduce US visa requirements which grant access to police biometric databases.

In the UK, the Home Office declined the opportunity to deny it was signing up for the scheme. A spokesperson said: “The UK has a long-standing and close partnership with the USA which includes sharing data for specific purposes. We are in regular discussion with them on new proposals or initiatives to improve public safety and enable legitimate travel.”

Under UK law the police can retain an individual’s DNA profile and fingerprint record for up to three years from the date the samples were taken, even if the individual was arrested but not charged, provided the Biometrics Commissioner agrees. Police can also apply for a two-year extension. The same applies to those charged, but not convicted.

According to reports, the US Enhanced Border Security Partnership (EBSP) initiative will be voluntary initially but is set to become mandatory under the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which allows visa-free entry into the United States for up to 90 days, by 2027.

MEP Breyer said that when asked exactly what data the US wanted to tap into, the answer was as much as possible. When asked what would happen at US borders if a traveler was known to the police in participating states, it was said that this would be decided by the US immigration officer on a case-by-case basis.

The DHS program is part of a project to update the visa waiver scheme under which EU members and other European countries enjoy visa-free travel to the US under certain conditions.

Breyer noted: “I expect the EU Commission and also the German government to reject the demand of the US authorities and not allow themselves to be blackmailed.

“If necessary, the visa waiver program must be terminated by Europe as well. Millions of innocent Europeans are listed in police databases and could be exposed to completely disproportionate reactions in the USA.

“The US lacks adequate data and fundamental rights protection. Providing personal data to the US exposes our citizens… to the risk of arbitrary detention and false suspicion, with possible dire consequences, in the course of the US ‘war on terror’. We must protect our citizens from these practices,” Breyer said.

The Register has asked DHS for comment. ®

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Google to auto-delete the location history of abortion clinic visits

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Google’s decision follows concerns that law enforcement could use personal data from certain apps against people who have sought abortions illegally.

Tech giant Google has said it will soon auto-delete the data of users’ visits to abortion clinics and other medical sites from their location history.

This followed the US Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v Wade, eliminating the constitutional right to an abortion in the country.

Other medical facilities that Google mentioned in its planned location changes include counselling centres, domestic violence shelters, fertility centres, addiction treatment facilities, weight loss clinics and cosmetic surgery clinics.

The tech giant also said location history is off by default and that there are tools such as auto-delete so users can easily get rid of parts or all of their location data.

Google said the location data changes will take effect “in the coming weeks”. The tech giant also shared planned data changes around its fitness apps to protect the privacy of users.

“Fitbit users who have chosen to track their menstrual cycles in the app can currently delete menstruation logs one at a time, and we will be rolling out updates that let users delete multiple logs at once,” said Google senior VP of core systems and experiences Jen Fitzpatrick in a blog post.

Fitzpatrick said the tech giant considers the “privacy and security expectations” of people using its products and that it notifies users when it complies with legal demands for information.

“We remain committed to protecting our users against improper government demands for data, and we will continue to oppose demands that are overly broad or otherwise legally objectionable,” Fitzpatrick said.

Following the decision to overturn Roe v Wade, there have been concerns that law enforcement could use personal data from certain apps against people who have sought abortions illegally.

One type of app where this has been a concern has been period tracking apps. The Stardust app saw a recent surge in popularity in after it claimed to implement end-to-end encryption.

However, the app’s privacy-focused claims appear to be at odds with its practices, while its encryption claims were recently removed from its privacy policy.

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Is your smartphone ruining your memory? A special report on the rise of ‘digital amnesia’ | Memory

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Last week, I missed a real-life meeting because I hadn’t set a reminder on my smartphone, leaving someone I’d never met before alone in a café. But on the same day, I remembered the name of the actor who played Will Smith’s aunt in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in 1991 (Janet Hubert). Memory is weird, unpredictable and, neuroscientifically, not yet entirely understood. When memory lapses like mine happen (which they do, a lot), it feels both easy and logical to blame the technology we’ve so recently adopted. Does having more memory in our pockets mean there’s less in our heads? Am I losing my ability to remember things – from appointments to what I was about to do next – because I expect my phone to do it for me? Before smartphones, our heads would have held a cache of phone numbers and our memories would contain a cognitive map, built up over time, which would allow us to navigate – for smartphone users, that is no longer true.

Our brains and our smartphones form a complex web of interactions: the smartphonification of life has been rising since the mid 2000s, but was accelerated by the pandemic, as was internet use in general. Prolonged periods of stress, isolation and exhaustion – common themes since March 2020 – are well known for their impact on memory. Of those surveyed by memory researcher Catherine Loveday in 2021, 80% felt that their memories were worse than before the pandemic. We are – still – shattered, not just by Covid-19, but also by the miserable national and global news cycle. Many of us self-soothe with distractions like social media. Meanwhile, endless scrolling can, at times, create its own distress, and phone notifications and self interrupting to check for them, also seem to affect what, how and if we remember.

So what happens when we outsource part of our memory to an external device? Does it enable us to squeeze more and more out of life, because we aren’t as reliant on our fallible brains to cue things up for us? Are we so reliant on smartphones that they will ultimately change how our memories work (sometimes called digital amnesia)? Or do we just occasionally miss stuff when we don’t remember the reminders?

Neuroscientists are divided. Chris Bird is professor of cognitive neuroscience in the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex and runs research by the Episodic Memory Group. “We have always offloaded things into external devices, like writing down notes, and that’s enabled us to have more complex lives,” he says. “I don’t have a problem with using external devices to augment our thought processes or memory processes. We’re doing it more, but that frees up time to concentrate, focus on and remember other things.” He thinks that the kind of things we use our phones to remember are, for most human brains, difficult to remember. “I take a photo of my parking ticket so I know when it runs out, because it’s an arbitrary thing to remember. Our brains aren’t evolved to remember highly specific, one-off things. Before we had devices, you would have to make a quite an effort to remember the time you needed to be back at your car.”

Professor Oliver Hardt, who studies the neurobiology of memory and forgetting at McGill University in Montreal, is much more cautious. “Once you stop using your memory it will get worse, which makes you use your devices even more,” he says. “We use them for everything. If you go to a website for a recipe, you press a button and it sends the ingredient list to your smartphone. It’s very convenient, but convenience has a price. It’s good for you to do certain things in your head.”

Hardt is not keen on our reliance on GPS. “We can predict that prolonged use of GPS likely will reduce grey matter density in the hippocampus. Reduced grey matter density in this brain area goes along with a variety of symptoms, such as increased risk for depression and other psychopathologies, but also certain forms of dementia. GPS-based navigational systems don’t require you to form a complex geographic map. Instead, they just tell you orientations, like ‘Turn left at next light.’ These are very simple behavioural responses (here: turn left) at a certain stimulus (here: traffic light). These kinds of spatial behaviours do not engage the hippocampus very much, unlike those spatial strategies that require the knowledge of a geographic map, in which you can locate any point, coming from any direction and which requires [cognitively] complex computations. When exploring the spatial capacities of people who have been using GPS for a very long time, they show impairments in spatial memory abilities that require the hippocampus. Map reading is hard and that’s why we give it away to devices so easily. But hard things are good for you, because they engage cognitive processes and brain structures that have other effects on your general cognitive functioning.”

Hardt doesn’t have data yet, but believes, “the cost of this might be an enormous increase in dementia. The less you use that mind of yours, the less you use the systems that are responsible for complicated things like episodic memories, or cognitive flexibility, the more likely it is to develop dementia. There are studies showing that, for example, it is really hard to get dementia when you are a university professor, and the reason is not that these people are smarter – it’s that until old age, they are habitually engaged in tasks that are very mentally demanding.” (Other scientists disagree – Daniel Schacter, a Harvard psychologist who wrote the seminal Seven Sins Of Memory: How The Mind Forgets and Remembers, thinks effects from things like GPS are “task specific”, only.)

While smartphones can obviously open up whole new vistas of knowledge, they can also drag us away from the present moment, like it’s a beautiful day, unexperienced because you’re head down, WhatsApping a meal or a conversation. When we’re not attending to an experience, we are less likely to recall it properly, and fewer recalled experiences could even limit our capacity to have new ideas and being creative. As the renowned neuroscientist and memory researcher Wendy Suzuki recently put it on the Huberman Lab neuroscience podcast, “If we can’t remember what we’ve done, the information we’ve learned and the events of our lives, it changes us… [The part of the brain which remembers] really defines our personal histories. It defines who we are.”

Catherine Price, science writer and author of How to Break Up With Your Phone, concurs. “What we pay attention to in the moment adds up to our life,” she says. “Our brains cannot multitask. We think we can. But any moment where multitasking seems successful, it’s because one of those tasks was not cognitively demanding, like you can fold laundry and listen to the radio. If you’re paying attention to your phone, you’re not paying attention to anything else. That might seem like a throwaway observation, but it’s actually deeply profound. Because you will only remember the things you pay attention to. If you’re not paying attention, you’re literally not going to have a memory of it to remember.”

The Cambridge neuroscientist Barbara Sahakian has evidence of this, too. “In an experiment in 2010, three different groups had to complete a reading task,” she says. “One group got instant messaging before it started, one got instant messaging during the task, and one got no instant messaging, and then there was a comprehension test. What they found was that the people getting instant messages couldn’t remember what they just read.”

Price is much more worried about what being perpetually distracted by our phones – termed “continual partial attention” by the tech expert Linda Stone – does to our memories than using their simpler functions. “I’m not getting distracted by my address book,” she says. And she doesn’t believe smartphones free us up to do more. “Let’s be real with ourselves: how many of us are using the time afforded us by our banking app to write poetry? We just passively consume crap on Instagram.” Price is from Philadelphia. “What would have happened if Benjamin Franklin had had Twitter? Would he have been on Twitter all the time? Would he have made his inventions and breakthroughs?

“I became really interested in whether the constant distractions caused by our devices might be impacting our ability to actually not just accumulate memories to begin with, but transfer them into long-term storage in a way that might impede our ability to think deep and interesting thoughts,” she says. “One of the things that impedes our brain’s ability to transfer memories from short- to long-term storage is distraction. If you get distracted in the middle of it” – by a notification, or by the overwhelming urge to pick up your phone – “you’re not actually going to have the physical changes take place that are required to store that memory.”

It’s impossible to know for sure, because no one measured our level of intellectual creativity before smartphones took off, but Price thinks smartphone over-use could be harming our ability to be insightful. “An insight is being able to connect two disparate things in your mind. But in order to have an insight and be creative, you have to have a lot of raw material in your brain, like you couldn’t cook a recipe if you didn’t have any ingredients: you can’t have an insight if you don’t have the material in your brain, which really is long term memories.” (Her theory was backed by the 92-year-old Nobel prize-winning neuroscientist and biochemist Eric Kandel, who has studied how distraction affects memory – Price bumped into him on a train and grilled him about her idea. “I’ve got a selfie of me with a giant grin and Eric looking a bit confused.”) Psychologist professor Larry Rosen, co-author (with neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley) of The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World, also agrees: “Constant distractions make it difficult to encode information in memory.”

Smartphones are, of course, made to hijack our attention. “The apps that make money by taking our attention are designed to interrupt us,” says Price. “I think of notifications as interruptions because that’s what they’re doing.”

For Oliver Hardt, phones exploit our biology. “A human is a very vulnerable animal and the only reason we are not extinct is that we have a superior brain: to avoid predation and find food, we have had to be really good at being attentive to our environment. Our attention can shift rapidly around and when it does, everything else that was being attended to stops, which is why we can’t multitask. When we focus on something, it’s a survival mechanism: you’re in the savannah or the jungle and you hear a branch cracking, you give your total attention to that – which is useful, it causes a short stress reaction, a slight arousal, and activates the sympathetic nervous system. It optimises your cognitive abilities and sets the body up for fighting or flighting.” But it’s much less useful now. “Now, 30,000 years later, we’re here with that exact brain” and every phone notification we hear is a twig snapping in the forest, “simulating what was important to what we were: a frightened little animal.”

Smartphone use can even change the brain, according to the ongoing ABCD study which is tracking over 10,000 American children through to adulthood. “It started by examining 10-year-olds both with paper and pencil measures and an MRI, and one of their most interesting early results was that there was a relationship between tech use and cortical thinning,” says Larry Rosen, who studies social media, technology and the brain. “Young children who use more tech had a thinner cortex, which is supposed to happen at an older age.” Cortical thinning is a normal part of growing up and then ageing, and in much later life can be associated with degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, as well as migraines.

Obviously, the smartphone genie is out of the bottle and has run over the hills and far away. We need our smartphones to access offices, attend events, pay for travel and to function as tickets, passes and credit cards, as well as for emails, calls and messages. It’s very hard not to have one. If we’re worried about what they – or the apps on them – might be doing to our memories, what should we do?

Rosen discusses a number of tactics in his book. “My favourites are tech breaks,” he says, “where you start by doing whatever on your devices for one minute and then set an alarm for 15 minutes time. Silence your phone and place it upside down, but within your view as a stimulus to tell your brain that you will have another one-minute tech break after the 15-minute alarm. Continue until you adapt to 15 minutes focus time and then increase to 20. If you can get to 60 minutes of focus time with short tech breaks before and after, that’s a success.”

“If you think your memory and focus have got worse and you’re blaming things like your age, your job, or your kids, that might be true, but it’s also very likely due to the way you’re interacting with your devices,” says Price, who founded Screen/Life Balance to help people manage their phone use. As a science writer, she’s “very much into randomly controlled trials, but with phones, it’s actually more of a qualitative question about personally how it’s impacting you. And it’s really easy to do your own experiment and see if it makes a difference. It’s great to have scientific evidence. But we can also intuitively know: if you practice keeping your phone away more and you notice that you feel calmer and you’re remembering more, then you’ve answered your own question.”

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