Community – Every Opportunity an Opportunity

You never know who you are going to meet at a user group meeting.

Last Tuesday evening the IT Professionals Community of Greater Toronto hosted its monthly event at the University of Toronto.  It was great to see so many new faces at the meeting, and I was happy to meet most of them.  I count as friends quite a few people I met at such events in Montreal, and now in Toronto.

On Wednesday or Thursday I received an e-mail from one of the new members inviting me for a cup of coffee.  We met this afternoon, and spent nearly two hours chatting about a myriad of topics, from community to business, to industry trends and family and much more.  He was surprised that I was willing to meet so readily, and to spend so much time.  The truth is you never know who you are going to meet, and frankly isn’t that what community is about?

I have become over the past few years a bit of a magnet; people seem to want to meet me, and it is usually my pleasure to meet them.  I never know if that person will become a friend, partner, client, or associate… but we live in the same space – we are both IT Professionals, and both live in the Greater Toronto Area.  There was a time when this was not my attitude – it was first important to know what someone could do for me before I would spend time with them.  I cannot begin to imagine what opportunities I missed out on because of this, and I am glad that I have evolved since then.

The point is you never know who you are meeting, and taking the time to find out can often pay dividends.  In the case of the gentleman I met with following last week’s meeting, I was able to offer him a few words of advice for his practice, and might even be able to send some business his way.  He told me he was interested in certification exams, so I was able to get him a couple of books from the prize closet that will help him on his way.  He in turn bought me a cup of coffee… and reminded me why I love being involved in the community – it’s not about me… it’s about us.

Of course, there is a time and a place to put community aside… we all have to make a living after all.  A fellow Microsoft Certified Trainer was complaining to me that a colleague had accepted a teaching gig for less than he had, and that undercutting each other would only devalue the program.  While that may to a certain extent be true, we have to remember – especially independent contractors – that we are in a business, and have to make a living… fifteen percent less is better than zero after all.  Unless we were to band together – ALL of us – and for a Parity Committee then we have to be competitive. 

It took a long time for me to reconcile that a user group – or more precisely community of IT Professionals – is a group of people who are by definition in direct competition with each other.  However just because we compete does not mean that we do not have something to offer one another.  I have had community members without a great deal of technical support call me in to help him with a deep technical issue… I have called on colleagues with different areas of expertise for help (I certainly don’t do dev work, or much in SQL for example).  Often it would just be an issue that a project or job was too large in scope for a single person, and a few of us would collaborate on the same project.

I do not know many IT Pros who are lone wolves; it is not that they do not exist – they exist in droves – but those lone wolves do not come out to the events, do not mingle with their peers.  I wish them all well, but who do they call when they need a hand?  I have heard of many consultants who never go on vacation because they cannot leave their clients unsupported; community members can ‘watch each others’ backs’ – so for example my clients would be supported without the threat of losing them.

I have learned over time that as good as I may be, WE is always better… although it is important to know who we are partnering with.  User groups are great places to meet a lot of people, and some of them are going to be good fits but some of them might not be.  We have to know who we are dealing with because in some cases those people will be representing us – you should take your time getting to know someone before trusting them with your clients – you have to trust not only that they will not steal them, but that they would represent you professionally.

I look forward to watching the GTA community grow and thrive not because of the Board of Directors, but because of you.  Tell us your stories about how community works for you!

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