How often do you wish that you had someone to help troubleshoot an issue, brainstorm on a design, warn you about a bug or performance hit, or just talk shop? If you’re part of a development team, then you may be able to count on your colleagues for these types of interactions. But, if you’re the point person, a consultant, or moving into new territories, it can sometimes feel as though you have no one to turn to as you encounter unexpected challenges. There has GOT to be an easier way — and thankfully there is. If you are a member of a user group, you have instant access to a wealth of relevant expertise and experience. And that is just one of the immediate benefits of belonging to a user group.
If you’ve attended a use group meeting, you already know that they provide far more than a friendly atmosphere dedicated to a main presentation and a Q&A session. Those two sections pretty much speak for themselves, but in case you haven’t been to a UG meeting, you might envision the Q&A session as an open forum for seeking solutions to a current challenge. Members describe (or demo) the issue and get suggestions and hear how others have dealt with similar scenarios. Agendas will vary, but meetings typically also include time for discussions focused on helping participants keep up with the changes in technology, such as new products, tools and features — whether they are directly related to the UG, are of general interest, or can provide a valuable benefit to developers in general. The bottom line is that user group meetings are an excellent forum to network, to connect with people working on comparable projects or who have solved similar challenges; and to find out about related areas that could lead to a new ventures.
Speaking of new products, companies (sponsors) recognize the value of having their products used and reviewed by user groups. So, in return for an objective review, members often have opportunities to get free, fully-licensed versions of software and other products. As you can imagine, this can be a significant professional benefit (and savings) to the reviewer/winner. And of course, fellow members benefit from hearing how the product performed; especially if it is complemented with a demo. This leads to even more benefits to the presenter. By giving a presentation, however short, to the group, they are bolstering their professional image, polishing their presentation skills, strengthening their networking ties within the group, and will likely hear a few suggestions on additional ways to leverage the new product.
So what are you waiting for? If you’re a member, send your president a note and volunteer to do a presentation, help at a meeting or suggest a topic. If you aren’t currently active in a user group, find one — whether it is local or online. But why limit yourself to one? You are welcome to join multiple groups; take it from me, I’m the president of two user group. Take a colleague and commit to visiting a few sessions (keep in mind that topics and presentations are given by fellow developers not professional speakers). Get involved; the more you give, the more you will get. Participating in user group meetings may be the most cost effective investment that you can make for your technical and professional development.
At the meetings, you’ll find yourself surrounded by people who are passionate about the product and eager to help others. For me, my user group members are an invaluable support network, personally, professionally and technically. I have turned to them with urgent needs and perplexing challenges, and they have always helped me to succeed. I’ve developed deep friendships that reach across hundreds, even thousands of miles. It is a privilege and an honor to be chosen to lead the groups, and to be an INETA National Community Champion. It doesn’t matter how many demands are made on my time, I always leave the UG meetings energized and with a renewed commitment to do more. Give it a try!