Cronyism vs. Networking


Networking vs Cronyism

In simplest terms, the difference between cronyism and simple networking is a matter of qualification. That's the TL;DR; of this post. But as with anything that involves people, the matter at hand is often more complicated.

A few weeks ago I had never given the term "cronyism" a second thought. I didn't know the definition, only that it was something people used when describing corrupt and screwed up authority systems. In a matter of context, this is a decent definition. However, the actual definition is this:

Noun (derogatory)
The appointment of friends and associates to positions of
authority, without proper regard to their qualifications.

Easy enough to understand. Now what about networking?

Verb (gerund or present participle)
Interacting with other people to exchange information and
develop contacts, especially to further one's career

On the surface level, both you and I can (hopefully see) that networking is not about getting all your friends into a position. But when we stop to consider how things actually get played out we realize a few things. Namely:

  1. Developing contacts and bringing those people into your workplace makes perfect sense.
  2. Networking happens most often at social events, charities, and events
  3. Many people network and become friends in college where personal relationships are foremost. They want to see their friends do just as well as them.

It's this third point where we start treading some water to keep away from cronyism. There is nothing wrong with recommending someone you know for a position you feel they are qualified for. And if that's what came ouf of networking alone then it would be a beautiful thing. But unfortunately, we're all human and we're all prone to trying to help a friend out.

A few weeks ago I was talking to my boss and he was asking me if I knew any good developers to hire. One of my friends had also recently lost their job at the time, and I desperately wanted to help him somehow. This was a moment where networking could come into play to get someone a job. But in this case, it would have been cronyism if I had pushed to bring in my friend.

The reason for this is that my job demands a lot. The amount of knowledge one needs to know, and be comfortable with, and to "be the expert" in within my workplace is much higher than those that I've seen in other friends post-undegraduate careers. The level of stress involved is extremely high and the demand on time, patience, and life is not something I would encourage anyone to follow unless it is their passion like it is mine. Simply put, my workplace environment demands a level of qualification that my friend simply is not at (at this current moment).

Even though I desperately wanted to help my friend find a new job, and it would be so cool to work with him, I couldn't do it in good conscious.

Now what about an instance of networking? Oddly enough, roughly 1.5 weeks ago I was contacted by a former grad student I had worked with. He started his own company and was looking to hire some developers and had reached out to me for recommendations. Even though I couldn't think of anyone in particular that would be a perfect fit, I listed off a few candidates and then promptly connected him with the current head of the The UVM CS Crew. This was networking at it's finest. Not only did a few names get dropped as hard working people who fit the bill, but an entire organization that could expand my aquaintances network was given.

If we all lived in a perfect meritocracy, cronyism wouldn't exist. But networking would. Within the Tech industry networking provides more opportunity than simply handing out resumes (this is not exclusive to one industry, but is abundant everywhere). The problems come up when social factors push an individual into a position that is simply unsuited for them. Or someone starts a company with all their friends regardless of their qualifications.

Cronyism is not surprising to come across. There have been plenty of notable examples throughout history. And if you choose an industry, chances are you'll find examples pretty readily if you do some digging. For example, cronyism in #GamerGate strikes me as another post to be written, but there's already tons of those on the web right now and I'd rather offer a few of my thoughts then rehash the others. Though if I find solid sources, perhaps I'll update this post with information.

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