My Social Network

By Alex Beal
March 16, 2018

My first serious job after graduating, I got on Twitter. Well, I got the interview at least. I’m not sure what I was tweeting about at the time. It was mostly silly nerdy stuff like trying to design my own system of time. I did this chiefly to entertain myself, and it was fun to have a place to post these indulgences. Imagine my surprise when I received a DM from a stranger asking if I wanted to learn more about an internship at a local tech company. “Seeing some of your tweets and interests, I think you would be a good fit.” I went in for the interview and got the job. A year later I woke to news that the company was being acquired by Twitter. I stayed there for four more years and learned a lot from some of the best engineers in the industry. I never imagined that signing up for Twitter would set this chain of events in motion–a chain of events where I would eventually be working for Twitter itself.

Today I find myself in a similar position. I’m on the market for a job, so naturally I tweeted out my resume. Within hours, my tweet had racked up 1,700 impressions (over 3,500 as of this writing!) and my resume had dozens of page views. Former co-workers retweeted it, some adding incredibly kind messages. I even got a few retweets from complete strangers. Looking at their profiles, I can only assume they just wanted to help a fellow Haskeller out. Seeing this response was overwhelming. Putting myself out there isn’t something that comes naturally to me, and I felt a bit flush.

I’ve never viewed my twitter as a networking tool, and although I can see now that it is, I still think that this is the wrong way to approach it. Taking the networking aspect too seriously would rob it of its character. I’ve also never viewed my twitter as a project, but in some sense it is. It’s one of my longest running projects: I started it 10 years ago and have been working on it regularly ever since. “Worked on” isn’t quite right, though. It never felt like work. I mostly just engaged because it was fun, and I admit that watching the follower count tick up gave me an encouraging spurt of dopamine.

I see now that, completely unintentionally, it’s turned into something quite valuable. It’s got me a dream job. It’s a great outlet for my weird interests. It serves as a sort of public journal of my life spanning most of my 20s (I love pulling up old tweets to figure out what I was doing and when). And it delivers to me thoughts from some of the most interesting people in the world. I’ve even had the pleasure of meeting some of them. (I recently had cocktails with someone working on creating a supersonic passenger plane. It was a great evening.)

I’ve had similar experiences with the other parts of my online persona. I’ve been working on this blog for seven years now, but at no point did I really view it as a long term project. Looking at it now, from the other end, I see that it was; it’s a project nearly a decade in the making. And just like Twitter, I’m often surprised to see that other people actually read it. When I reflect on the fact that my tweets are not actually a private journal, but are instead broadcast to people all around the world, I feel a touch of vertigo. And when I see a blog post I thought no one would ever read show up on the front page of Hacker News, I feel a bit sick.

I’m not sure what lesson to draw here, or if there even is a single lesson I’m trying to express. I’m fascinated by the fact that lots of little unplanned pieces can add up to something much larger–the tweets in my timeline and the posts in my blog. How often are things built this way? How often is it completely unintentional–order rising out of spontaneity? I’m also surprised by how valuable my social network has turned out to be, filled with kind, interesting, and intelligent humans. I guess I think people are making a mistake when, in a fit of frustration, they quit Twitter, rather than working to make their little corner of the internet better. Maybe their networks really are just irreparable (I don’t want to understate Twitter’s abuse problem), or maybe they don’t realize what they’re giving up. Anyway, if I’m being honest with myself, I don’t think I started writing this with a particular lesson in mind. It is, more than anything, just a cathartic burst like all the others.