I always like to get other people's opinions and what better way that having my own guest bloggers...
Jean-Luc David, President of the Toronto Windows Server User Grooup (www.twsug.com) has put down his thoughts on the current state of IT Communities. Now to give this a little perspective, Jean-Luc is an accomplished author, runs one of the (if not the) largest IT Pro User group in the country and is on the Culminis council amongst other things...
The Current State of IT CommunitiesIT communities have become forces to be reckoned with - even in the business world. Let me back up this statement with a few examples: Microsoft employees (over 2007+ at last count in the U.S.) are speaking out and reaching to customers through blogs. A few years ago, that would be unheard of! Every major technology company has a blog - IBM, Sun, Red Hat...you name it. Technical user groups are flourishing all over the world through organizations such as INETA & Culminis. Product betas and technology previews (once the domain of the privileged few) are now accessible to larger audiences. Companies are very eager to connect with communities and spend millions to foster these relationships. How can we explain this phenomenon?
Well, connectivity is one of the catalysts for this change. More than ever, we communicate by email, blogs, chats, websites, RSS feeds and newsgroups. Our need for social contact has extended beyond distances and borders into the virtual realm. As a result, the media is now looking at the online communities to be on the pulse of the latest news and events. From a technical standpoint, IT professional and developers are looking to learn, to get the answers the need, to network with peers - and most importantly, to voice their opinions. Influencers on the web (like Robert Scoble and a host of others) are making an impact on public opinion. This impact can affect how well a product will sell, what movie will do well at the box office...it now affects our daily lives.
When you have hundreds of thousands (even millions) of people developing and supporting a piece of software, a passionate community will emerge. I personally work on a daily basis with Microsoft technologies. As a result, I'm deeply rooted with the communities around Microsoft products. It's a natural fit.
Another amazing phenomenon that is happening right now is a community "domain role reversal" of sorts - communities that have been established on the Web are now appearing in the "real world". Notable examples include LinkedUp, MeetUp and even commercial services such as Monster.com. Online I've experienced this role reversal firsthand with my IT Pro user group.
In July 2004, I sat down with a good friend at a Microsoft TechNet event. During the course of our chat, we both came to realize that there was no solid established community for IT Professionals in Toronto. As a result of that talk, I assembled a small group of community leaders and formed the Toronto Windows Server User Group (http://www.twsug.com). The challenge from the start was establishing a solid foundation for the group. Our solution was to build a website; a vehicle to allow members to join the TWSUG and to promote ourselves. The effort has been highly successful - we have grown to over 740+ members since last September. We have taken polls to find out if our attendees prefer meeting in person or in chat rooms. The overwhelming majority of our members have said that they prefer meeting in person. That is very telling.
Why bother participating in a technical community? For many compelling reasons: your career is built upon the contacts you know, your credentials you gain, the exposure you get as an expert presenter or as a leader. Most user groups don't charge a membership fee. They are vehicles to drive your career, but also to help you help others. A win/win situation. Considering how small the world is...it's definitely a good investment.
I'm the president of the Orlando ITPRO (http://www.orlandoitpro.com) group and we've had a similar experience. However, we ran a number of surveys of people that picked up our flyers at local tech schools, colleges, and word-of-mouth at local Fortune 500 companies and found out that nearly all IT people do some level of consulting on the side, outside of their main area of expertise.
The Orlando ITPRO group was founded to give us a voice in the global IT sphere so that technical people would never again sit through a death-by-powerpoint sales pitch. We can invite big companies, vendors, participate in launches (we're actually participating in the SQL Server 2005 launch next month) and get a big benefit not just from networking but from presenting an organized audience to the publisher, an audience that is willing to listen and learn. It usually requires leaving the "sales pitch" guy at home and delivering the actual technical content with a real Q&A.
Wonderful, thanks Vlad! you have said what we have been fighting with and for over the years! Why should we put with listenening to presenters when we should have Technical people who can answer technical questions about real world challenges. Why do we go to these meetings, well IMHO there are 3 main reasons:
1: We have a challenge we need to deal with today.
2: We want to learn and further our own interests and careers.
3: We want to meet people of like minds to share knowledge, ideas and passion.
The flip side of this is that unless you get involved and let us all know your thoughts and aspirations, you may be stuck with just sales meetings.