Amaris Gerson left Elmira to pursue a recreation-and-leisure degree at Brock University. The technology-lover then landed in Guelph, where she worked on a geography degree. Although she liked focusing on the Geographic Information System (GIS), Gerson missed interacting with people because she was sitting at a computer all day.

Suddenly, she didn’t know what she wanted to do after finishing university.

Gerson decided to complete her degree part-time and try out different jobs in the tech field, her chosen industry. She worked at a few local companies, including BlackBerry and Sandvine.

“I tried to find an angle,” Gerson said. “I needed to figure what I wanted to do with my random education and experience.”

It was only when she stumbled on a HackerNest event in November 2013 that the pieces started to fit together.

HackerNest is a volunteer-based organization that began in Toronto in 2011. It runs tech socials in 21 communities around the world to help build healthy tech ecosystems. The agenda-free socials are a chance for the local tech community to come together, hang out and have a drink in a new environment every month.

Tech organizations take turns sponsoring the social.

Gerson, who had been planning events since middle school, loved the laid-back atmosphere and the no-networking focus. She felt that the HackerNest philosophy – ‘networking doesn’t work, building relationships does,’ – resonated with her search for the right job.

She began to volunteer with the Kitchener-Waterloo HackerNest group and quickly become the lead organizer.

In the summer of 2014, she quit her day job to focus on HackerNest full-time

“I realized that this is what I like doing,” she said.

The blend of working with the tech community, running events and helping people find new connections stimulated her far more than any of her previous jobs.

It just didn’t pay the bills.

It was during a HackerNest job fair in the fall of 2014 that her passion and patience paid off. Magnet Forensics, a Waterloo-based company whose Internet Evidence Finder helps recover online evidence for law enforcement, government and corporations, was impressed with Gerson’s community-building skills and technical background. They offered her a new role at Magnet.

Today, Gerson is Magnet Forensics’ Community Relations Co-ordinator. She spends her days helping to represent Magnet Forensics at hackathons, community events and job fairs. She also supports the company’s internal communications and facilities operations.

Gerson sees HackerNest as a key element to her finding a great-fitting job at a company she’s passionate about.

“For most people, a job is about more than money,” she said. “You have to fit the culture. If you don’t, it doesn’t matter how much you’re being paid, you’ll hate it.”

The HackerNest community gets that.

“We encourage people to learn about each other, and not just gather business cards,” Gerson said. “It’s not, ‘Hey I want a job,’ but rather it’s, ‘Hey let’s be friends.’”

Today, Gerson juggles running HackerNest with her day job at Magnet Forensics. Magnet Forensics encourages her to continue with HackerNest. In fact, the company is sponsoring the May 11 event at its offices at 156 Columbia S. W. Waterloo. About 150 people attend each event.

‘It’s OK not to know anyone,” Gerson said. “This is your chance to meet other people like you doing the same thing. Everything else comes from that.”

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Don’t wait till the next HackerNest to get out and meet people. I see and hear that… This Thursday is Brainstation Waterloo’s Open House. Register for the free event starting at 6 p.m. in the Atlas/ Matrix room at the Communitech Hub, 151 Charles St. W.,Kitchener. You’ll meet the Brainstation team, enjoy free food and beer and learn about its learn-to-code programs . . . This Saturday, April 18, Ladies Learning Code is teaching CSS for Beginners at the Accelerator Centre, 295 Hagey Blvd., Waterloo. For $50, you’ll learn how to style your website using on CSS. The class runs 10 a.m.-4 p.m. And yes, men and women are invited to attend and learn a new skill . . . Head down to the Boathouse, 57 Jubilee Drive, Kitchener (in Victoria Park), next Monday, April 20 for the Kitchener-Waterloo Software Quality Association’s Testing Games. Starting at 7 p.m., join other testers in the community for a fun night that will see you form groups and test applications, meet new people and enjoy the food and tunes at the Boathouse.