User Groups Are Dead

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There I said it.

USER GROUPS ARE DEAD!

You probably think I am crazy.  You are probably thinking about the 30+ IT pro user groups in Canada with 10,000+ members with monthly attendance at meetings surpassing 2500 nationally.  You might then remember me being at some of these meetings as an attendee or a speaker and ask "what the heck is Rodney talking about?"  I know Wendy Rogers (the Developer Marketing Manager) thinks I am nuts after she went on the record with the Globe and Mail the other day saying the opposite!

Now don't get me wrong, I think the IT pro (and dev) community is Canada is thriving with more and more groups starting up, expanding by adding special interest groups, and growing the number of attendees at monthly meetings.  Things are looking up for the community, there is no doubt in my mind about that.

Have I confused you even more now?  First I say that user groups are dead, then I say they are thriving.  Now before you haul me off to the asylum and throw me in a room with padded walls let me explain.  My belief is that the term user group does not adequately describe the IT pro or dev communities in Canada.  The first user group meetings I went to years ago was through the Winnipeg PC Users Group.  It was a bunch of PC users gathering to talk about any and everything related to personal computing.  Makes sense to call that a user group.

I was reading this article in the Sydney Morning Herald that someone forwarded to me.  It states

"Computer club officials say their members are getting greyer and fewer in number as home computers become steadily more common and treated more like the telephone: always there, always on."

The IT pro "user groups" in Canada are really (in my opinion) associations of IT professionals who gather together on a monthly basis to learn about new technologies, share ideas and experiences, and network.  If you look at the title "user group" literally the term IT Pro User Group would fit better with the clients and end users you support who are "using" IT professionals.

Now it may just be semantics, but if we are proud to be IT professionals, we look forward to gathering monthly and "associating" with other IT professionals, does the term user group really fit?  Does it convey the right image for the groups mission or its members?

So am I nuts?  Do you agree or disagree?  Do you run an IT pro "user group"?  If so I challenge you to think about this and ask yourself, your executive and your membership if "user group" is the proper term or if IT Professionals Community/Association/Group fits better.

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  • Rodney, Rodney, Rodney

    I respect what you are trying to say here, but we have a "professional" organization in Canada in CIPS and it has become a "managers" club in a lot of ways.  What separates the User Groups from other computer groups or professional organizations is that we are the people in the trenches, dealing with issues and advancing the use of technology in our work places. Some of the developers look at themselves as plumbers, I see us as road construction crews....building the infrastructure.

    We include the Pro in most of our user group names as we are the professionals within IT. The ultimate power users in any work place, we do more than just monitor and maintain. We have to be proficient in the use of almost all applications...you never know when you are walking by a desk and will get a question about pivot tables.

    I think IT Pro User Group defines us to a tee. Break it down:

    IT - that is what we do

    Pro - We are professionals!

    User Group - We a group of professional level users gathering to share our experiences

    For me, this is us and I am sure the DEV people in any number of .net User Groups would feel the same.

    Will Craddock

    President

    Regina IT Pro User Group

  • Hi Will,

    I understand your point but what makes your group different from CIPS?  OK, they charge money, have more formal meetings and I understand that CIPS has more of a managerial aspect to it but does that matter?  I'd be willing to bet you have a few CIPS members in your group and I know for a fact that the others do.

    I am going to challenge you and everyone on this with these questions.....

    Have you ever seen an engineering professionals "user group"?

    Have you ever seen an accounting professionals "user group"?

    Have you ever seen a law professionals "user group"?

    You said "we are the people in the trenches, dealing with issues and advancing the use of technology in our work places".  Does this make you any less professional?

    I am not a big fan of the analogy of plumbers and road construction.  I think a part of the problem with the IT industry is a lack of pride and respect due to these types of what are percieved to be negative images.

    Don't get me wrong, my father was in construction and I worked in it too for a few years.  It is an industry of smart, talented, hard working professionals but the IT industry is having troubles replacing the workers that are retiring.  I think a lot of this is due to the image of IT being a "blue collar" job.  In society this is typically a negative stereotype.  I think this is one reason why enrollment in computer related courses in college and university is on the decline.

    Are you not advancing that stereotype with the title of user group?

    I'll ask again, does the term user group really convey the correct image, or does a term like community or association better describe it?

    Rodney Buike

    IT Pro Advisor

  • I believe that the term "User Group" is not accurate, as the name implies the end user with little or no experience with resolving issues.

    I believe that this term "user group" is what making the IT professional less of a perfessional and more of a break fix solution provider. We do a lot more than just break fix, and the professional in business environment do not seem to realize this, and still look at IT as an expense rather then an opportunity to helping them achieve their goals.

  • The term user group goes back to the garage days of computing, it was the start of what I call today "Technology Community", a phrase I borrowed from attending Microsoft Events.

    Too boot, the day of the BBS is now podcasts/screencasts and a good example is channel9.msdn.com.  I think the next step is virtual communities where I would like to attend a "Technology Community" anywhere in the world.  For example, Second Life, but I expect more life-life characters instead of cartoons.  

  • Some very thought provoking stuff here! I would like to thank Rodney for raising this. He has certainly made me think hard and I am not sure that I would have otherwise. I have gone on record a number of times regarding the importance of changing the public status of our profession and I would like to make my input in that context.

    A possible definition of an "Association" is "An organized body of people who have an interest, activity, or purpose in common; a society". It would be hard to argue that this isn't applicable here. A definition of a "User Group" might be "A group of individuals with common interests in some aspect of computers". There really isn't a lot to choose between them other than the specific reference to computers for a "User Group". So what about a possible definition of a "Community" - "A group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society". "Community" doesn't quite work because of the association with "living" togethor in some way unless you want to stretch the meaning a little. I feel that it doesn't quite have the "impact" of "Association".

    At the end of the day I don't think this is about semantics at all. It is all about "image". I read Wendy Rogers's article in the Globe and Mail and I didn't interpret it as being contrary to any arguement that "UG's are dead". It seems to me that it did a good job of desribing the importance and value of such organizations regardless of what you choose to call them. Having said that, what you choose to call them can matter when discussed in public. Still, all publicity is good publicity.

    If we were to suddenly change Vancouver Technology User Group (VANTUG) to Vancouver Technology Association (VANTA) for all practical purposes nothing has immediately changed. We have the same Board, members, mode of operation, etc.. This may seem like a small change but such changes can be used to signal the beginning of a move towards bigger more important changes.

    Having given it a lot of thought I do like the word "Association" because there are "Professional Associations". Where things can get complicated is on the legal front. We already have CIPS which is doing an outstanding job on the world stage to advance our profession and we must be careful not to muddy the waters.

    This discussion has certainly given me the incentive to at least think more seriously about the "image" associated with "User Group" versus "Association" for example. I urge other UG/Association leaders to do the same. We shouldn't be quick to change for the sake of it but if you don't think "out of the box" you are confined to the "box" you are in now. It has always been "adapt or die" and we should be constantly thinking about where we should be going. If we think of ourselves as a bunch of "techies" eating pizza then that is a self-fulfilling prophecy. We laugh about the words "nerds" and "geeks" and, though that might be stereotyping, that is often how we are perceived. The average person doesn't really understand what we do or the importance to their daily existence. That is our fault, not theirs.

    Cheers

    Graham Jones

    President, VANTUG

  • One step ahead of you, we renamed ourselves "Developer Association" a couple years back.

    Best thing we ever did, a lot more people take us seriously.