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Ask HN: I need a friend but I'm having trouble
47 points by jwdunne on July 6, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 37 comments
Hi, I live in Manchester, UK. More specifically, I live in Irlam, a pretty obscure town within Greater Manchester. This would be great, if there were many people interested in tech. The closest I've come to is a friend-of-a-friend web developer but outside of that, I've not heard of anyone within my physical social network.

Needless to say, I feel pretty lonely.

One of the main solutions I can see is to go out to Hackspaces and just get stuck in. I tell myself I'm going to go but I never bring myself to do it. I can be quite shy and I'm pretty frightened. For example, how do I know if I'm good/smart enough to go?

I don't know, I was just wondering if anyone could help me out here and potentially give a second perspective or something. I just generally feel like I'd be much happier with a few like-minded friends rather than ones that can't do much more than turn a computer on and use Facebook.

Here's something that's easy to forget: Everyone else at a Hackspace or a meetup or a user group is there for the same reason as you. If they just wanted to write a bunch of code they'd be at home in their bedroom. If they go to one of these events, they're hoping to meet like-minded people. The more people there, the better. So they'll be pleased if you attend.

This goes double for the organizers, by the way. Imagine organizing one of these events: booking the space, posting about it online, arriving early to set up ... Your biggest nightmare would be that no one shows up. When you arrive, walk up to the organizer, introduce yourself, and thank him for his effort. I guarantee you he'll appreciate it.

As an organizer of a Meetup group, I can say that your 2nd point is on the money.

I had one event where there were just as many sponsor reps as attendees- that felt horrible. I had another where we exceeded seating capacity, ran out of beer and pizza but everyone (including myself) came away thrilled.

The first paragraph was exactly what I was looking for. It's one of those things that really hits home when it's spelled out to you.

I'll remember that tip too, much appreciated. It never crossed my mind and, looking at it, I'd be pretty selfish if I didn't.

If there are Hackerspaces nearby then you're in luck, just go along! Don't worry about being smart enough or anything silly like that, there won't be an entry test :) Seriously though, you can just turn up and have a look at what people are doing, that's what everyone does at first. Try and talk to people about the stuff they're working on, it'll be interesting plus everyone loves to talk about their stuff.

And the more you go along to things like that the easier it gets. You'll be surprised how soon you start to feel totally comfortable with it.

Lastly, considering widening your interests. There are loads of very interesting and nice people who aren't into tech. Just because that's (one of) your interests doesn't mean you can't mix with people for whom it isn't a focus.

I know there are a good few meet ups a train ride away for a range of things I'm either interested in or interested in pursuing. I've really considered going to them but the fears I've mentioned creep in.

I do have a few friends with other interests. One of them being into music and photography. That said, however, I observe them and I notice they all have friends with similar interests too.

When I see two passionate people talking about their interests face to face, I always get the feeling I'm missing out on something. Widening my interests is fine and I enjoy doing it but I've not found anything I'm quite as passionate about as this though - I have a strong feeling I never will.

Thanks for the advice. I really appreciate the time spent helping me in my time of need.

I agree with the above, but it is also ok to just look at other people's work at the event and not talk to anyone if you don't feel like talking at first.

I guess so, but you'll get a lot more out of things if you do :) For me at least I find it just gets so much easier the more you do it, pretty soon you'll find that "hi, I'm XX, what are you working on?" comes out as easy as anything. But no one will expect anything in particular from you so don't worry about it.

Another bit of advice that might help, hacker spaces and user groups and the like have mailing lists. You can join those before you go along. It's totally normal for people to post a "Hi, my name is XX and I'm interested in YY. I'm planning on popping down sometime soon so see you guys then" and you will most likely get at least a few welcoming replies when you do that.

I'm not the brightest guy in the world. But I can tell you that human companionship often comes in forms that you do not expect.

I wouldn't look only for technical people to talk to and hang out with. While I'm sure that shared interest can create a strong bond between you, there is more to life and the soul than computers.

I'd like to recommend three books to you that really changed my perspective on how to deal with people. Arguably any value I have in communicating with people comes from the lessons of, or derived from using, these books.

1) Life Would Be Easier if it Weren't for Other People 2) How to Succeed With Women 3) The Demon Haunted World, Science as a Candle in the Dark

The first is the most important, how you convey yourself to others and how they convey themselves to you. However, the book focuses on the dysfunctional aspects of communication. This book has made my more worth living in every single way.

2) How to Succeed with Women. You didn't mention whether or not you have a girlfriend. This of this like Cosmo with useful advice for me. Basically, it is how women look at dating and how men often don't even come close to thinking about what they want.

3) Just a great book on human nature.

Good luck buddy. Got carried away.

I can't vouch for the Manchester hackspace but I can say that the London hackspace has been one of the most friendly and welcoming groups I've ever visited. Admittedly I did go with a friend the first time, but everybody there was happy to stop and chat with me and tell me about what they were working on, and there were several ongoing group projects which welcomed extra people (one of which I have now joined). So, I would say that it's worth mustering up the courage to drop in one evening.

You are certainly good / smart enough to go. Like anywhere, each project has a wide range of people, from domain experts to complete newbies. Try to visit with the mindset that a) you will be friendly and interested in what people are doing, and b) you won't be intimidated. :) In practise, I don't think (b) will be a problem.

That's the thing that seems most attractive to me. Meeting real people and working together to build something cool. I think that's one of the main reasons why I need this really.

As mentioned above, I have a friend who's well into his photography. If I sat down and said "Right let's build a photography-themed web app", he wouldn't be half as interested as I am.

Go to the hack spaces. Go to every event. Even if you say not a word to anyone. Have a project and work on it. Nerds are not very good at making other nerds feel welcome: it's not that we are unwelcoming, it's just that we forget. Eventually someone asks if anyone has a recommendation for a templating engine, or a knows the syntax for a reg ex.

Then you're in.

I'm assuming that the people who go to these things won't need to ask things like that but then looking at it from a different angle, it seems unrealistic.

Please don't think like that. I'm one of the people that originally started and actively works towards promoting NSCoder Night Santa Monica located in Los Angeles (Tuesday dinners for Cocoa developers).

The overwhelming majority of newcomers I talk to were intimidated to show up because there were people (like me) that had at least dabbled with Cocoa for years, but they had just started that month/year/hadn't started at all but wanted to start someday and they felt like they would be out of their league and unwelcome to the group.

But you know what? We all have stupid and awesome questions to ask each other. We all have something to offer to the group no matter our experience level. Just showing up and opening up is a huge deal. We have people with all kinds of programming experience spanning decades (including one guy that started programming in general a scant couple months ago). We don't even always talk about programming. It's a very casual event where we talk about film editing (this being LA, lots of people are employed in that industry), baking bread, making ice cream, exercise, photography, and more. The only thing that ties us together is that we all are interested in Cocoa. Nobody is ever obligated to talk at all about anything (other than a brief introduction, but we all share in that even if it's our 50th time at the event) or bring anything to the table if they don't feel comfortable doing so, and I'm hoping that newcomers find this environment to be friendly. The fact that we've had several new people that keep on showing up makes me think we're doing it right :)

I know I am a very antisocial person and I really don't enjoy spending time with total strangers, but being an organizer of this event has made me further appreciate the benefits of networking and coming to terms with my being antisocial. Not everyone out there is expecting to hang out with people who are stupider or smarter than them or that you need to do this or that to participate. You won't know that until you actually go and try to at least introduce yourself to people. Don't worry about it :)

In the event anything really doesn't work out, start your own group. That was my reason for joining in on trying to organize our NSCoder group. Los Angeles is huge and lots of events I wanted to go to would have involved being stuck in an hour of traffic to get there. Lo and behold, there were other people that thought the same as me and our group was born. We had 15 people show up yesterday night, I think we were pretty successful in that regard :)

I live in Manchester, UK.

I don't know how easy it is for you to get into the city centre on weeknights, but Manchester has plenty of user groups nowadays - some of which are rather well established.

I'd recommend you start with something like the tech-generic Geekup http://geekup.org/events/ which tends to get a wide variety of geeks, and then from there you may also want to get involved with the more specific user-groups. You should also join the mailing list and introduce yourself - do this today!

Admittedly I've not been to a Geekup yet myself, but I know plenty of people who go through some of the other groups I attend and they're all very friendly.

You didn't mention your age. Being under 18 may influence which groups you can attend (a fair few are held in pubs/bars) but a fair few groups regularly meet at MadLab which I don't think has age restrictions.

I can understand your trepidation (been there, still experiencing that!) but you won't regret attending any event. Good luck.

Well, it's only one bus from work and I can be there for about 18:00, so I don't think that's great a problem. I heard there are some things going on around the Northern Quater.

Apparently I've done this already so I must have been this far before. Looking at the time, I think I could make it but I don't think there's anything worse than turning up after everyone else!

I'm 19 so I don't think I will have MUCH trouble regarding that. It depends if an over-21 or 25 bar is used. I think maybe MadLab is the place I was talking about above.

Again, much appreciation for your advice and taking the time to help me out. I can't thank you enough.

+1 for GeekUp - I lived in Manchester for a while and went through a bit of what you did until I discovered the thriving user group culture among the Northern Geeks; some are listed on this page: http://www.manchesterdda.com/usergroups/

I would very highly recommend the NW Ruby user group, even if your not a Rails dev (I'm not!), they were a really friendly bunch the couple of times I turned up.

GeekUp also has a mailing list, join it! There's a lot of inane chat but also regular announcements about tech-related stuff going on in the area - that's how I got to hear Richard Stallman giving a talk at the University - and even the inane chat will help you get to know some of the personalities so it might be a bit easier to overcome that shyness when you meet them in person.

Oh, and the Manchester Geek Nights organized by Thoughtworks seemed pretty good, free to attend and a good mixture of some tech talk and socializing: http://www.superdevs.com/groups/manchester-geek-nights

Good luck!

Hey ;-)

How can we contact you - can you put an email address or equiv in your contact

I work for a start-up based in the center of Manchester and always looking for interesting people to hang out with (or to employ ;-)

Alternatively there are several grass roots (hackspace type groups in Manchester) [PHP-North West, GeekUp, Manchester Digitals that are all very welcoming]

Feel free to from me a line (tim@canddi.com or @TimLangley) and maybe we can catch up for a beer / coffee after work one evening


Everyone who says, "Just go, don't be shy!" has either never been shy, or gotten over it so long ago that they don't remember how it feels.

A good way to dip your toe in the water is to find an IRC channel that meets every so often. You can get to know people there, so when you first show up, you'll already be somewhat familiar with them.

"Everyone" is a very blanket statement. How do you know the people suggesting "Just go, don't be shy!" aren't speaking from personal experience?

I think "conquering your fears" is an important life lesson. You shouldn't shelter yourself or others from things they fear. That never seems to help anyone.

I know exactly how the OP feels. I grew up in a small country town and moved to the big city. Going to these sorts of things used to make me break out in a lather of sweat and my heart beat would be going so fast i'd barely be able to speak. Lucky for me I'm a bit of an adrenalin junky.

Social skills are are just like any other skill. The more you do it the better you get. And unless you expose yourself to experiences where you can practice your skill you're not going to get any better.

> Lucky for me I'm a bit of an adrenalin junky.

I'd wager most shy people aren't. I'm not. I met a bunch of redditors after moving to New York, but only after meeting them all in IRC first. It would have worked out fine, but it saved me a lot of pain and effort.

Yes, you need to learn more skills, but you can wade in instead of going for the high dive right off the bat.

Not a single one of my friends is tech savvy. We have a music guy, a general knowledge guy, a sports guy and me, the tech/biz guy. As well as a few other unspecifieds.

I don't agree you need them instead of your old friends. Get a few web contacts, go to a meetup, its not like you live in the Scottish Highlands or something!

"how do I know if I'm good / smart enough to go", nobody will care that much as long as you are nice to people ans try to make friends.

Besides, I'm sure you're just as smart as most of the people in attendance.

Trust me, if you go, and make an effort to make new friends, you'll come home with many new people to talk to.

I would say the smaller the group the better.

With a larger group there are already smaller groups of people talking together and it is hard to approach and invade their discussion for an introvert. And the discussions are also more likely to be presentation style where everyone sits and listens to an expert.

With a smaller group, e.g. meeting around a pub table, you are almost forced to take part, and are a part of the discussion from the beginning.

I greatly prefer the two groups I belong to that have less than 15 people and meet up in pubs, compared to the larger ones, that have good information but are less useful for me for meeting people etc.

None of my regular or close friends are programmers. A couple who are live quite far. I know how you feel. So I started going to the local Hacker News meetups and have met some fun people.

I know I'm not as good or smart as most of the people I meet there but I find people are quite helpful. So, it's best to think in terms of how much you can learn from them and get better.

In fact, I've arranged to meet a couple of hackers tonight just to help each other out with projects and hang out.

The only way to stop being lonely is to go out and seek out new friends and do fun stuff together.

I feel for you and hope some people here are able to bump you into the right direction. It should take nothing more than 3-5 contacts and you should be good to proceed (by joining one of them to another geek event, easily extending the network with lots of stress removed).

You're not alone with these fears - in fact, you're probably in a field where this seems to be well-known (and sometimes the stereotype). I moved to Israel recently and, while not the prime example for being an introvert, I tend to sympathize with you.

Except for one contact (via HN, no less) I've yet to convince myself to join a local networking event - and I even declined a nice (via HN, no less..) invitation for a meetup recently, because I felt that I couldn't 'show' or 'offer' something of interest.

Bottom line: You're not alone with your situation and your fears. Asking for help here is already a great step, now just accept some of the offers from people around you.

Contact the guys that are available and set up a date as close to now as possible. That way you won't try to think it through for a long time ("Should I?"..). Jump! :)

How to get over shyness:

1) Take up some kind of partner dancing as a hobby eg. salsa, swing, etc. It doesn't matter as long as it looks like fun. This will force you to connect with people and push your comfort limits.

2) Start going to social dances after you know a few moves. Usually the class teacher will be able to tell you where you can dance socially. This will get you in the habit of asking women for dances.

3) To make friends, you need to invite people to do things away from the place you know them from. So if you meet someone you seem to get along with, say something like "Hey, I'm thinking of going to see this movie this weekend. You interested?" Since you've been asking women to dance, this should be much easier by this time.

And don't think you won't meet programmers dancing. I once asked my teacher once why so many of the regular guy dancers were programmers or accountants. She said that it wasn't just limited to my city but all over the world, programmers and accountants make up a disproportionate amount of the male dancers.

Hey James, Your question encouraged me to look into this myself as I'm working in Manchester a lot at the moment.

I came across this which might interest you: http://madlab.org.uk/events/

I even added a calendar event to my Outlook to remind me of the Android meetup but I'm not sure if I will pluck up the courage to attend!

Shyness is hard for me to over-come. I feel a lot of pressure to conform to expectations of me when I meet new people. It doesn't help that I think I'm weird and so very different than everyone else. I might say something stupid or strange and no one would want to talk to me. Often I just don't even bother going out. I'm that shy.

Here's what I've learned from meeting lots of smart people over the years:

Just be yourself. It's simple advice I know, but here's where it hits home: nobody can fault you for learning. If you try and act really smart and knowledgeable but someone catches you faking -- that's bad. But if you're just honest about what you do know then people will trust you and want to help you.

It's a big hurdle and not one I always make successfully; but I know it's always worth a shot. You just have to get out there and try it.

I know robgough already mentioned it (hi Rob!) but go to http://geekup.org/ - the next one in Manchester is on the 12th. It's was designed exactly for folks like you (well, not exactly, but you're not expected to have lots of geek cred or anything!) and there's also an online mailing list so you can get to know some names first. There are meetups all across the North.

Also, check out #nwrug on irc.freenode.net (oh and #geekup actually - but I don't go in there much). I hang out in there and it's mostly people from around Manchester or Leeds. It's ostensibly a Ruby channel but, to be honest, it's rarely discussed. It's great having new people come in and get to know us - happens all the time. If you end up in there, I'm 'petercooper' there too.

Regarding the idea of going to Hackspaces i'd say that the idea is nice and that you should just go and see if you like it (lucky to have one nearby). If you are referring to this: http://hacman.org.uk , they seems to have an irc channel, chat a bit with them about what they do and i guess that you'll feel way less frightened.

Afraid of not being "good" enough? Not a problem, more things to learn for you and i don't see why "less experienced" people should not be welcomed.

You didn't say in your post if you are interested in a particular technology, in addition to hackspace i'd search for local usergroups (ruby,python,etc...) and check if they meet in RL sometimes.

Shyness in some cases can just be a question of habit and perspective, both things can be changed/altered.

Hi! If there are hackspaces where you live, that sounds like an awesome place to find like-minded friends! Try not to worry about being shy or frightened - a hackspace is likely a place where many people have felt that way, and that's ok.

Also, have you reached out to your friend-of-a-friend web developer? Sounds like someone you could be making your friend. If s/he's also in/around Irlam, I guess s/he also could need a like-minded friend. Either ask your mutual friend to bring you both out and socialize, or be brave and reach out directly. Tell him or her how you feel about not having someone to discuss these matters with, and ask to meet up!

Being shy and lonely sucks, but can chose to rise above it. My approach is to pretend (to myself only) to be an interviewer. Go up to people at gatherings and ask questions and be interested in the answers. You'll be surprised how quickly people open up and you will learn heaps of interesting stuff. BTW there's more to life than technology. I have been introduced to some amazing technical people through non-tech social contacts. When asked about what you do, you could briefly describe it and follow-on with a comment about not knowing many others in high-tech. You'll be surprised what the connections being offered.

Just go, seriously go and walk up to whoever is in charge of whatever event you're at and say that you have a huge interest in the field and you'd love to learn more, people that host those type of events usually really love enthusiastic people.

As a side note, don't mention just wanting a friend, people don't respond well to desperation, so don't act that way and you'll have an easier time making new friends.

Checkout meetup.com and find local tech meetups, there's also the Manchester Linux User Group. A lot of these events are either pure socializing or talks followed by pubbage, so there's not really much to worry about when it comes to being "good" enough to go.

Twitter is also a good place to meet people.

Same problem, but I live in hellhole, in Manchester you should be able to find many contacts...

If you're ever in London, feel free to drop by Picklive in White Bear Yard for a hack and a coffee :)

I used to be very introverted and would always keep to myself. Then one day, while playing a game of pick-up basketball, a guy started asking me about the idea of being a CS major in college. I then went on to discuss the pros and cons of being a CS major, how easy it was to start a business in technology vs other industries, and how it appealed to my need for creating and achievement. By the end, he thanked me for helping him make a very important decision in his life. Afterwards, I realized how being shy was holding me back from positively influencing other people in the world.

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