Starting a user group is probably the biggest challenge I’ve taken upon myself in a long time. Getting sponsorship and paying for it, finding a place to have it and an amazing speaker – that’s been the easy part. The hard part is creating that community. Getting people to understand that a few hours after work each month are worth it. I understand people have families and other important things to take care of after work. What I don’t understand is when the priorities of all of those other things come before bettering yourself, furthering your career, and networking with like-minded people every.single.time. Do you think you’re the smartest person at work? LEAVE THAT COMPANY. If you don’t think there’s anything to learn… hell I don’t know what to tell you. I feel sorry for you, actually. There’s ALWAYS something to learn and ways to grow personally and professionally.
Michael Dell: Never Be The Smartest Person In The Room
Try never to be the smartest person in the room. And if you are, I suggest you invite smarter people … or find a different room. In professional circles it’s called networking. In organizations it’s called team building. And in life it’s called family, friends, and community. We are all gifts to each other, and my own growth as a leader has shown me again and again that the most rewarding experiences come from my relationships. ~University of Texas, 2003
I’m not a model citizen when it comes to user groups and networking meetups – I don’t make the meetings every month without fail. Other things happen – I totally understand. But I keep up with folks on Twitter in between, and go every few months to .NET user groups (like MIGANG) and networking meeups (like IT in the D). And I’m starting a tester user group to get that part of my passion and career rounded out (Motor City Software Testers). There’s also online networking groups, like Software Testing Club, to keep me up to date and networky.
Why are user groups important?
So many reasons! You’re keeping up your knowledge about your industry. You’re meeting new people/catching up with old friends – all that you can share ideas with, or just bitch. You get free food and swag (usually). Maybe you’re getting some public speaking experience, and sharing your passion. You can’t go wrong! Maybe the speaker’s topic doesn’t apply to you – big deal! You still learn, you still broaden your horizons, you still meet new people or just socialize – you still get amazing opportunities to grow in your chosen field.
Also, going to the bar after with the group is the best. Socializing, sharing ideas over a drink, NETWORKING!
Why are networking groups important?
As the IT in the D guys say, if you start networking when you’re desperate for a job, it’s too late. You need to start building those relationships early, and keep them up. I got my first job in the software industry by going to a Women in Tech networking lunch. At that first lunch, just chatting with one of the ladies, she says “you’d be a great QA, just by your personality. We have an opening at my company…”. It doesn’t happen this way for everyone – I was very lucky to have found the career I love by going to one networking lunch. BUT! The important thing is that I didn’t stop going to those groups. I keep up with networking, I keep up with folks on twitter. That’s why I routinely get messages from respected people in the industry offering me a job – not just recruiters that found me on LinkedIn.
I don’t worry about losing my job (even though it’s very secure, there’s always the possibility) – I feel like I would be able to get into a new job very easily. Because of networking. Because of user groups. Because I’ve kept up those relationships.
Just go already!
THAT is why user groups and networking are important. It’s a small price to pay to spend time away from family and other things. But if your career is a priority – if being financially secure is a priority – it’s totally worth it.