User Groups Matter
How many times this week have you googled a technical question and found a blog, an article, a forum post or slides from a presentation? I do this multiple times per day! And while my undergraduate degree taught me a lot, especially how to approach problems, I learned most of what I know about business intelligence from learning from others. It’s because of this that I’ve always felt the need to give back and help others who are trying to learn. We are all able to grow when we can learn from each other. User groups are a great way to give back.
Cliffnotes version of this blog:
Benefits of being involved in user groups:
1) It’s a way to give back
5) Be smarter at work
4) Choose the content you want to hear at events
3) Show off your leadership skills
2) Grow your network
6) Possibly get a job
The video below was recorded in 2014 (ignore the bangs, I swear they were cool back then). My points in this video are still true today on why I love user groups!
Hear about the benefits to Oracle customers when they join a user group, with Michelle Kolbe, Utah Oracle User Groups.medianetwork.oracle.com
I’ve been on the Independent Oracle Users Group (IOUG) board for two years now and have served on the Utah Oracle Users Group (UTOUG) board as President for four years and as a Board member for seven years. Serving on the board of these groups has not only given me the opportunity to shape the future of these groups but also to help in the events that each group plans. Don’t like the selection of presentations at an upcoming user group event? Volunteer to help with content for the next event!
I attended my first user group event in 2004 when my coworkers suggested that I try it out because of the vast amounts of knowledge that is shared at the event. Looking at the agenda there were so many sessions that I wanted to attend! At the event the speakers were all so smart about the technology. They were throwing out terms and acronyms that I had never heard before. I wrote them down and looked them up later. I was exposed to new tools and ideas and immediately came back to work excited to try out some of these new concepts and tools I had learned about. After attending these events for a few years, I’ve learned to balance my schedule with topics that I need a deeper understanding of and also topics or tools that I’ve never heard of before. These sessions all help me be a more rounded engineer and able to have intelligent conversations with other tech workers at my company and ultimately have a place at the table in making important architecture decisions that not only would affect my team but other teams within the company.
Picking the Content you Hear at Events
Shortly after joining UTOUG I started helping out on their Training Days Conference Committee. It was an awesome experience because I got the opportunity to pick the content that I wanted to hear at the event! If you don’t know how to start getting involved with a user group, I’d suggest starting here. Everyone has opinions about the sessions they want to hear but only those on the committee get to make the call of what makes it on the schedule.
Becoming a Leader
Let’s just say one thing led to another after conference committee. The next year I was voted onto the board and the year after that I was named President. I had a lot of ideas for UTOUG, some better than others. I appreciated my board members for keeping me ground yet letting me push the bar on where we could go. Aside from the stellar awesomeness that happened to UTOUG during my presidency, what I enjoyed most was the opportunity to develop my leadership skills. If I messed up, I couldn’t be fired since I was a volunteer. 🙂 In my real job I wasn’t getting the opportunities I wanted to develop my leadership skills and serving on the UTOUG board gave me the chance to learn and to show my boss what I was capable of.
Side note: another favorite of being president was taking the 11 person board out to dinner and shocking the waiter when the one female in the group takes charge and pays the check. 🙂
After I finished my masters degree, I made a pledge to myself that I wasn’t going to get lazy so I started submitting abstracts to speak at these events. I was so nervous at first because I felt like I didn’t know enough to be up there talking! I quickly realized that it’s not as scary as it seems and yes you might get questions you do not know the answer to but there’s no harm in telling the audience that you’ll research that answer. I found it super rewarding to hear from attendees after my session that they enjoyed it or got something good out of my session. This is what’s fueled me to speak more. I’ve spoken about tools that 6 months prior I only knew of it’s name. It’s forced me to roll up my sleeves, dig in and figure things out. I love those challenges.
I should state here that speaking is not the only way to give back (as I hope you got from other points in this article). If the thought of speaking freaks you out, there are plenty of other areas that you can volunteer in user groups such as writing an article for a newsletter or publication, conference committee, serving on a board, marketing events, helping with a website, finding speakers, etc.
Building my Network
Attending user group events and speaking at them has built up my network in ways I never imagined were possible. The people I now call my friends are FREAKIN’ AMAZING! They are so smart! Through user groups I’ve realized that first all, they are human like me and talking to them isn’t scary and that they just want to help! I look forward to attending user group events to see these friends again. If I have questions or come across something funky, I can reach out to someone in my network and most likely I’ll get a response in hours with some clever idea to try.
Getting a Job
This is my most recent success that I can attribute to user groups. A few years ago, I met Stewart Bryson at Collaborate. We became friends and I kept seeing him at other events. When I knew that I wanted to switch jobs last fall, I thought about who I know who’s doing some cool things that would be awesome to work with. Stewart and Red Pill immediately came to mind. Without user groups, I would not have had this connection and possibly not even have known about Red Pill yet.
How to Get Involved in User Groups
First, find a group that ignites your passion for a tool, a methodology, or even just a good group of people. A google search can help you find user groups in your area. Meetup also has a bunch of technical groups and it’ll suggest groups based on your interests. I’ve recently attended Java and Agile meetups and met some cool technical and non-technical people. For finding Oracle user groups, you can search here: http://www.oracle.com/us/corporate/customers/user-groups/index.html.
Each group is different in how they are run. Some will charge a membership fee, some might charge for each event, and some might have sponsors for each event and thus not charge a dime to attend!
There may be multiple groups that you could consider joining. For instance, I find value in being part of IOUG at a national level and also my regional group, UTOUG.
Go try out a user group meeting for a tool you do not know anything about to get new ideas or learn new things! Then get involved in any group that you like being a part of!