Am I missing something?
Leavnig that aside, sometimes people move or switch focus or have to take jobs at crappy "body shop" companies to make ends meet during a bust, etc. Hence the quality of the network isn't necessarily good enough to have the kind of "I need a job, whatcha got" connections you mention.
But then, I spent 8 years at one job and in grad school. Anyone I knew before that would be really hard to find even if they could be a useful network.
And I was really bad at connecting with my committee--I graduated, but without a good network there.
Then I moved across the country.
I've never had any problem finding work, if I shop my resume around to local contractors and "body shops". In fact, I've made a pretty good career out of that. But "exciting" work? Not so much.
At this point, I'm considering getting out of the field. And I love what I do. I just hate what I'm doing, if you can see the difference.
The entire reason LinkedIn exists is because most people, even many very highly skilled people in professional career roles, find it difficult to make effective use of such networks, for example. And if you're an engineer who has experienced a rough patch of employment or worked at a company or in a role or under a boss they hated or experienced a period of burnout or underperformed somewhere due to any of those circumstances the whole thing gets that much more difficult.
I don't have a network. I have friends and I have colleagues, but I don't really have anyone that could get me job leads (maybe a couple of my friends)
Keep in mind that most companies offer referral bonuses and programmers like to work with people they know and trust. I used to avoid doing this like the plague because I thought I was being a burden to people I consider friends. In reality, asking for a referral is mutually beneficial for both parties.
Every single one of my former coworkers, managers, and other people I dealt with on a regular basis is still at my former employer or retired. How do those contacts help me?
If it turns out none of them can help you, you're out an hour or two and the cost of coffee.
A longer term alternative is to make cool things and tell people about them. Write some open source or a side project and post it to HN. Lather, rinse, repeat until you get people emailing you asking you if you have time to talk.
Whatever strategy you use, the goal is to make a personal connection with a hiring manager directly.
Something you notice immediately is that they never feel like they're being used when someone wants to "meet for coffee" as transparent cover for getting something out of them.
They realize that someday they'll need their back scratched, and there's always the possibility that they'll get something (a tip, a lead, etc.) out of an unexpected meeting.
There you go. I spent (really too many) years at one small company after moving from a top-5 city to a top-20 city. And some of my contacts have left town.
Also, even if I've got people who can vouch for me, how do I tell them I'm looking for work? (This might sound trivial but I haven't figured it out.)
Given the alternative is being stuck in a boring job, or low pay, or unemployment, what is so difficult in shooting an email asking if they know anyone hiring? What would your reaction be if you got such an email from an ex-colleague?
For two companies.
I think I'm probably the last generation that looks at long-term employment as a good thing, and the older I get the less risk I want to take in being "the new kid" who would be the first to go if anything went wrong with the company.
I also don't talk to former co-workers much because I've moved on to different problems.
So, yeah, I'm bad at networking.