Networking. It's the big trend on the web at the moment. Everyone from my 13 year old sister to my old history teacher is on Facebook, and everyone and their dog is on some kind of forum. It's no longer the realm of the computer nerd. So what bearing does this have on the modern coffee professional? Why should they network, aside from being trendy?
The coffee buisness, especially with the 'Third Wave' of coffee professionals, is one of the friendliest buisnesses around. Sure, it has it's problems, and people have their rivalries, but people are willing to share things with each other, and help each other out in the search for quality coffee and the all important 'God shot'. This is where networking comes in.
Networking allows people from all over the world to talk with one another, helping us all to become better baristas, better roasters, better cuppers, etc. It allows home baristas to talk frankly with world barista champions and pick their brains on subjects dear to them. It helps foster buisness relationships in a more casual manner than simply the handing over of buisness cards.
In my own experience networking has helped me as a barista. Only two weeks in to serious blogging and networking and already my Facebook friends list has grown exponentially. I now have Jim Hoffman and Stephen Morrissey added, as well as Chris Weaver and Glenn Watson. All four individually are a vast well of experience and talent that I look forward to learning from, be it from watching a video on Chris's blog to or sending Stephen a message asking him about competitions. To be the best you can be you need to take advantage of every chance and every opportunity, and the internet is one of the best oppotunities to meet people around.
So join coffee forums, make sure you stay in contact with people you've met, make sure you become a part of the fantastic coffee community that exists worldwide. Share what you've learned with people less experienced than you and in turn learn from those with more experience.