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Have you ever thought of joining an IT user group, in which communities of like-minded IT fans come together to discuss challenges and best practices for certain technologies. You can find IT user groups for every information technology topic imaginable, from ethical hacking to specific software products to programming languages. The groups generally meet monthly for a few hours after work, and the dues are low or nonexistent since sponsors often kick in the funds needed.
Maria Zeglinski, a TEKsystems recruiter for Microsoft Support Services, sees her IT consulting clients getting a lot out of user groups—which is why she sponsors them. “It’s a way to build a name for yourself within your local community and tap into some technologies you haven’t had exposure to. I can’t tell you how many times I've seen different people meet for first time who work on the same technologies, see the same challenges in their respective roles, and find other similarities that help them build a networking partnership.”
If you’re on the fence about joining an IT user group, this list of benefits may give you that final push.
1. User groups are the most fun you’ll ever have networking.
You know—know!—networking is important for your career. But forcing yourself to network might feel unnatural to you, at least in certain situations. Moreover, building a relationship with a professional connection usually takes more than one meeting. Joining and actively participating in IT user groups is a natural form of community-building that doesn't require forced interactions.
Instead, while getting to know new people and sharing ideas and help, you’re still networking—perhaps without even being aware of it. You’ll get a sense of the folks in the group who really understand technology, not to mention who would be enjoyable to work with, and those people will learn the same about you. And observing someone in a natural setting tells people much more than they would learn in an interview, the main reason networking plays such a big role in hiring. For a great example of how someone found a job by engaging with a user group, read this blog post.
2. You’ll get to learn from the best—or teach tomorrow’s leaders.
If you’re a parent of a child in a mixed-age daycare, you've probably noticed an interesting dynamic. Toddlers learn from and imitate the big kids, and the older children have a chance to teach and lead the younger ones—a benefit for both groups. Similarly, the best user groups also include people of different levels of experience, from newcomers to experienced gurus. This gives the less experienced in the group a chance to benefit from the wisdom and practical experience of the more experienced, while the group elders benefit from fresh perspectives and the chance to mentor and lead newer folks (which is not bad training for leadership). And like the bigger kids performing tricks for awestruck little ones, the experienced get to show off their wisdom and skill to an admiring audience.
3. You’ll make friends and blow off steam.
Many IT fields are challenging, uniquely fulfilling and also flat-out annoying in ways your partners and friends probably don’t understand. User groups provide an outlet for bonding with people who can relate to the joys and tribulations of your job. The most engaged IT user groups meet at least monthly and often have parties and other social gatherings. They celebrate each other’s achievements and support each other through tough times.
4. Your skills and knowledge will stay up to date.
You can never know everything about technology because it’s always evolving. User groups provide a valuable way to get exposed to new technology and learn about how others work through problems you might face. User groups also frequently gain access to products that haven’t hit the market, giving you a chance to learn about them before your peers.
Interested in moving into an IT management role? Try leading a user group; the logistical and communications challenges provide good training for being the boss!
5. You might even get to influence a product.
IT user groups provide valuable feedback to technology makers. You might get the opportunity to influence problem resolution or the next round of products.
How do you find a user group?
There are several avenues for finding the right IT user group in your area. You can also use these resources to start your own user group.
TEKsystems sponsors user groups all over the country, so you should ask your recruiter if he or she knows about user groups in your area. For instance, our Philadelphia office sponsors a SQL server user group and a Philly.NET group. Both of these groups have monthly meetings and semiannual events (SQL Saturday and code camp) that allow for larger groups to network and train together. TEKsystems contributes food and drink for sponsored user groups and events, and sometimes space and other necessities.
Don’t think you have time to participate in person? You can get some of the same benefits by connecting with peers online. The TEKsystems Official Network on LinkedIn has over 12,000 active members in the IT community. Try joining the conversation—or starting your own—at our TEKsystems Official Network.