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Like many of you, I wear several hats. One of the roles I play is co-founder and president of the Greater Lansing (Michigan) area .NET Users Group, GLUGnet (I know; it sounds like some kind of a beer-drinking group). My job in a nutshell is finding money, speakers, and swag, and promoting the group in particular and the users group experience in general. My most important duty is soliciting modest (but greatly appreciated) amounts of money from business people so that the group can provide continuing education. Basically, it's a lot like panhandling.
So why do I participate in users groups—both presenting at other groups and working with my local one? And what might you be able to get out of the users group experience? Ultimately, I think it leads to greater job satisfaction, money, and prestige. Read on and see if you agree.
Many professions, such as teaching, nursing, law, and medicine, require continuing education. At present, programming does not have a mandatory continuing education requirement. It will one day. However, to keep up and do new, cool things, one simply must continue to learn about changes in technology.
At one time, you may have been able to learn a single skill and do that one thing for your entire career, but those days—if they ever existed—are probably long gone. Technology changes fast, languages evolve and grow, and computers become increasingly complex. Users groups can help you keep pace by providing continuing education for a modest investment of time.
Networking with Like-Minded People
Computer smarts are a very particular and in some ways peculiar kind of intelligence—think about the legendary stories of Bill Gates and Paul Allen working for days without a hygiene break. We know things that only a very small percentage of people know—like what hexadecimal is. Users groups give you a chance to meet with like-minded people who have a greater likelihood of getting you than the average person in a social setting.
Sharing ideas with other smart people and learning new things are rewarding. You can be the smartest guy on the planet, but if your ideas remain between your ears, who benefits?
Now, I am not saying that being a geek makes anyone better or worse than non-geeks. I am saying it requires a brand of intelligence that is great to share with other people with similar interests.
Increasing Problem-Solving Resources
Having a large and diverse set of problem-solving resources makes one valuable to employers and customers. I seldom advertise that I am a Visual Developer MVP (Most Valuable Professional), but MVPs have access to a lot of additional resources (for example, other MVPs, private newsgroups, Microsoft even assigns Microsoft employees to MVP groups, and so forth). These resources help me do my job better.
For all practical purposes, users groups are problem-solving resources. We seek out industry leaders to speak at meetings, and these industry leaders almost always are happy to network with attendees at users groups. Sure, sometimes they have books to hawk, but they don't force anyone to buy their books or products. They generally just find satisfaction in helping other people.
GLUGnet is a member of INETA, an international speakers bureau that is sponsored by Microsoft. INETA provides world-class speakers and presenters to users groups at no charge. For example, just a couple of months ago we welcomed Mike Amundsen, a well-known author, speaker, and trainer who you've probably seen at one of Microsoft's mega-conferences. If you attend a users group, you might not have to wait until the next mega-conference to see great speakers like Mike.
Many local MVPs, Microsoft luminaries, and just plain smart people are probably hanging out at your local users group.
Receiving the Recognition You Deserve
Users groups can help you receive the recognition you deserve. At GLUGnet, we encourage members and their co-workers to present. We also find ways to recognize people in our group and help bring them to the attention of Microsoft. For example, users group leaders now can nominate Microsoft MVPs. (Obviously, the nominee will still have to earn the designation, but users groups can help.)
Once in a while, users group board members get invited to fun events, to which they occasionally get to bring guests. For instance, after the Vista launch in February 2007, GLUGnet member Joe Kunk and I went to dinner with some great Microsoft folks. Joe works hard for GLUGnet, and we wanted him to get the recognition he deserves.
Basically, users groups have a common philosophy: You're smart. We know it, and we want to get smarter by getting to know you.
I try not to stereotype because it isn't politically correct, but I think I am safe in saying that many computer people are more comfortable with computers than people. For me, computers are easier to navigate than people. Thus, I spend more time with computers and less with people. But every once in a while, it is a good idea to get out from behind the keyboard and socialize. Users groups are a great way to network with colleagues and make new friends. When life throws you a curve, you might need more than your computer to get through it.
Ultimately, it is people who will hire and promote you, and it is people who will buy your software. Even the best software has no value unless people know about it. Users groups are a great way to find new opportunity by meeting new people. I have made some very good friends at our users group meetings.
What's in It for You?
People who participate in users groups generally are at the top of their game. Although they probably are tired from working full time and then oftentimes putting in extra hours, they still attend. I'd like to believe the reason people show up at GLUGnet is because they get something out of it. Many users group leaders and members have expressed similar sentiments to me.
Attending your local users group is an opportunity to network, socialize, continue your education at usually no cost, and possibly receive the recognition you deserve. For me, I have staked my claim on my reward—a better Michigan. It's not completely altruistic; I also don't want my kids to have to move to New York, LA, Chicago, or Redmond just to get a decent job.
Attend your local users group and find out what you can get out of it.
About the Author
Paul Kimmel is the VB Today columnist for www.codeguru.com and has written several books on object-oriented programming and .NET. Check out his new book UML DeMystified from McGraw-Hill/Osborne. Paul is a software architect for Tri-State Hospital Supply Corporation. You may contact him for technology questions at email@example.com.
If you are interested in joining or sponsoring a .NET Users Group, check out http://portal.artemis-solutions.com/GLUGnet/.
Copyright © 2007 by Paul Kimmel. All Rights Reserved.