One of the topics that came up and then became a theme at the Women in Technology Luncheon at TechEd was networking. One thing I said was such a surprise to me when I first learned it that I want to repeat it here. When you're looking for something, you need to keep in mind that someone out there wants, no NEEDS, to give it to you. I'm serious. If you're looking for a job, the person who is going to hire you isn't going to do so to be nice, they NEED another programmer or a project manager or an architect or whatever it is you are. If you want to write an article, there are editors who are looking for authors, who come to conferences for no reason other than to find authors. If you wrote a cool piece of code that you plan to sell for money, there are people who NEED that piece of code and just have to have the functionality it provides. You're not asking for favours. You're meeting their needs. They're meeting your needs too. That's what makes the world go round. Hook into that, and you'll get a lot of what you want.
Along with that comes the responsibility of knowing what you want. Very few people (if any) go to a conference needing to advance someone else's career. So if you are wandering around with the vague goal "I would like to advance my career" then you aren't going to find someone with the matching need. And really, why should someone else do the work of deciding what will advance your career? You're the one who knows what you're willing to do and what you really want. So stop for a minute and think about it. Then walk around knowing "I want to write an article" or "I want a new job" or whatever. And know the parameters of it, too. You want to write an article. Only for money? Or would a no-fee web site have a chance at publishing your words? You want a new job. Are you willing to move? How much do you want to earn? The time for deciding that is not while the no-fee web site editor's offer is hanging in the air between you, or right after the Microsoft recruiter has asked if you want to come out for an interview.
Know what you want. Know with as much precision as possible. Ask for it every chance you get. Don't waste people's time asking for things you can't actually accept, and keep in mind that when you ask you also offer. Know what you are offering.