Revive your User Group

For those of us who earn a living helping others make better use of their technology, there are a few indispensable resources that, frankly speaking, without would make our jobs much more difficult. Google, online forums and newsgroups, and even blogs readily come to mind. These tools are always just a few mouse clicks away and can help us put out the fire du jour. Anyone that’s ever been asked to solve a problem that they haven’t seen before knows what I’m talking about.

Important but not Urgent

But there is another useful tool available to us if we only care to recognize it as such – our local user group meetings. “What?”, you say, “You mean that meeting I went to where everyone awkwardly stood around staring at his own shoes.” Yep, that’s the one. Let me explain a bit.

Although user group meetings typically won’t help you resolve that urgent issue that just came up, they can be even more valuable and more important to your career in IT in the long run than their online counterparts.

A Smorgasbord of Knowledge

Most of us probably think of user group meetings with a consumer mentality. We go in to them with the idea that it’s a place where we can to learn about topics that we deem relevant to our professional work lives. We can learn how to increase transactional throughput, decrease resource consumption, or maintain data integrity. In short, we can learn more about something we already know a little about. If a topic isn’t of interest to us, we can leave early or perhaps even not go at all.

But I’d suggest that the consumer mentality is short sighted. Sure all of us are pressed for time. Taking time out of our busy days to do something that we don’t recognize as immediately important is not easy. But nothing that is ever worth while is easy.

Technology changes rapidly, our job responsibilities shift sometimes unexpectedly, and what was of little interest to us yesterday may be crucial to our employment tomorrow. 

So go and learn all that you can. If you are an OLTP guy, learn something about BI. If you work for a small company with small databases, learn about managing VLDBs. Whatever the topic, add to your resouvior of knowledge.

Hi, my name is Joe

Besides being a great place to pick up some newfound knowledge, user group meetings are a great place to meet colleagues and expand your network of friends. Now, I’m not suggesting that you try to pick up a date; that’s probably not going to happen although I’m sure stranger things have happened. (If you’ve met your spouse at a user group meeting, I’d love to hear the story!)

For those of us who tend to be a little on the introverted side, user group meetings offer a built in ice breaker. Everyone there is, by definition and design, interested in the group’s technology focus. So striking up a conversation with someone you don’t know already is not that hard. Go up to them and ask if they have any experience with the topic being discussed at that meeting. And there you have it, an instant conversation with someone you didn’t know a few minutes ago. Tip: If there is food being served, stand near the buffet line, that’ll make it easy to be in close proximity to others. 

Having a good network of friends and colleagues is always good, but it’s even more important in today’s ailing economy.

Give a Little, Gain a Lot

User group meetings also afford us an opportunity to grow in ways that online communities simply cannot. To be truly successful in your career field, you must be able to communicate well with others. Sure there are exceptions. We all have known that guy who had the interpersonal skills of a porcupine but who knew the system better than anyone. He was cranky and foul, yet heavily relied upon by the organization.

Those guys will probably always exist. But in reality, they are tolerated despite their attitude, not valued because of it.

To excel and to take your career to the next level (whatever that is for you), you need to be able to effectively communicate with others. And that’s where user groups can help. Besides just going and mingling with others, volunteer to do a short presentation at a meeting in two or three months. That’ll give you time to prepare. You don’t have to be an expert in something to speak. Just share something you’ve done recently and draw from your own experiences.

A side benefit of making a presentation is that you’ll learn the topic that you volunteer to present even more thoroughly. The best way to learn something is to prepare to teach it. That forces you to think about it in ways you may not have considered before.

So what’s next?

Next time, I’ll share with you some ways you can help to make the user group experience better for everyone.

Until then, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you attend user group meetings? Have you found them useful?



9 Responses to Revive your User Group

  1. Jason Haley says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I think user groups are completely under utilized.

    This month we just had the 4th meeting of the Seattle.Net user group (designed for people who work downtown Seattle) and we finally reached a core group of repetitive attendees (people who have been to previous meetings) of around 8 people. The first 3 meetings is was almost all new faces … now it is slowly becoming a community that can help each other.

    One of the challenges of user group leaders (or even just members who are engaged in the group) is getting the word out about the group to the right people at the right time … so they make the effort to attend that first meeting. Sort of like finding a new church after you moved 🙂

  2. Pam Shaw says:

    I went to my first meeting 6 year ago. I had been presented with an issue at the office and needed a solution – but did not have a clue. I was alerted that there was a UG meeting that week and the topic addressed my issue. I went with a co-worker and got a solution that blew the issue out of the water. I was hooked.

    I am now the chapter leader of that UG and hope that others find the group as resourceful as I did all those years ago. Our meeting after the meeting is where the strong networking occurs. We adjourn to the local watering hole and sit, talk, play pool and drink the poison of our choice as we exchange war stories and solutions with each other.

    It seems the more I put into the group – the more I get back. I highly encourage everyone to get involved.

  3. I have been attending and running user groups for the last 16 years. Currently I am leader of the Silicon Valley and San Francisco SQL Server User Groups (local chapters of PASS). The experiences I have had and observed have been beneficial for leaders, speakers, and attendees alike.

    You asked “If you’ve met your spouse at a user group meeting, I’d love to hear the story.” Well, I can’t resist responding.

    I didn’t meet my wife at a user group meeting. However, I did introduced a couple back when I led the SF Visual FoxPro User Group, and they are still together today.

    They often call me on Valentine’s Day, and I’m always glad to hear from them. He was the speaker, and she was the one in the back asking the tough questions. He asked me about her afterward, and I put them in touch. The rest is history.

  4. Pingback: Revive your User Group, part II « WebbTech Solutions

  5. pinaldave says:

    Very nice and I agree with all the points!

    Pinal Dave

  6. Pingback: Revive your User Group, part III « WebbTech Solutions

  7. Pingback: Revive your User Group, part IV « WebbTech Solutions

  8. Pingback: Revive your User Group, part II | ButtonForums

  9. Pingback: Revive your User Group, part IV | ButtonForums

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