Why We Support Communities

I wrote this article a few days ago, and decided that before I posted it here I would offer it to the CanITPro Team – IT Pro Connection.  They published it on January 31st as a guest blog post. 

I am now republishing it here, so that it can get the most exposure.  I have spoken to so many people across Canada and around the world who ask me why I spend so much time helping the IT Pro Community, and what value I see the MVP Program as having to me personally.  Sometimes it is not supposed to be about what it can do for me, but what I can do for others.  I can think of no better example of that than this article, an interview with a man who saw me speak at a user group that I founded five years ago, and whose life changed because of it.

If you are an IT Pro then you should be involved in your community.  Most of us start by attending meetings, absorbing information, and learning.  Later on you might join a committee, help run a study group or events, or join the board.  At a certain point you may realize you know something as well as or better than others, and you can put together a presentation – whether that be for an entire session or for a fifteen minute session, such as Sean Kearney’s IT Pro Toronto ‘PowerShell Snacks’.  But remember… like any other community you are responsible for giving back what you put in so that those who follow you will be able to benefit from your knowledge and experience, just as you benefited from the knowledge and experiences of others.

Last week I met a man at the Microsoft Virtualization Boot Camp who nearly made me cry.  His name is Andrew Thomas, and he is the reason I have spent the last eight years building, running, and supporting IT Pro user groups.  I asked him if he would be willing to answer a few questions for me by e-mail and he did.  For those of us who have worked for years to build the user group community in Canada, there is no more gratifying and inspiring story, because this is why we do what we do.  User groups do not build and run themselves… they require a lot of hard work and dedication from all sorts of people who seldom get any recognition for it.  That is why when I ran user groups I made a point of thanking the people who helped me, and when I speak to user groups today I try to always thanks and recognize not only the UG Leader, but those who help him along the way.

This is Andrew’s story:

Five years ago I was working as a Bench Technician with one of the large retail chains.  I had managed to work my way up to Tech Manager but was not very happy in my job.

I don’t know when I went to my first ITProToronto meeting or even how I heard of it, but I was on a number of mailing lists and would go to events when I was invited.  The first meeting I attended was held in Mississauga (which puts the timeline around early 2008).  I live in Scarborough but was working in Mississauga at the time.  I was hooked after my first user group meeting and was happy when the events were moved to Toronto because of the commute.

I went to the first few meetings thinking that I would meet people whom I could network with to try and find another job but I lost my nerve when I realized the depth of knowledge of the members.  I felt a bit out of my depth, but I kept going to the meetings because I kept learning from the presentations as well as from the other members.

The turning point for me came when we had a meeting about the then NEW HP Media Smart Home Server.  I had purchased one a month earlier and had been playing with it.  Suddenly I was having conversations with members about how the Server worked, what it did and how, and since nobody else had played with one yet I quickly realized that now *I* was one of the experts in the room!

It dawned on me that I was smarter than I thought… I had already earned a couple of certifications (including MCP and A+), and had implemented so much of the advanced technology in my basement (including Windows Server, DNS, DHCP, Exchange Server, Linux, and IIS) but it never occurred to me that I was good enough to work for a company as a systems administrator or domain admin.  I was really good as a bench technician, but did not have the confidence to turn my hobby into a career.

After that Home Server meeting I dusted off my résumé and hit the pavement looking for work.  My certifications were a little weak, but I had experience in all sorts of different technologies.  I took a job with a small financial company in Scarborough that was looking for an assistant for their system administrator.  I took the job only to find out that the sysadmin was mostly a trainer with no experience in networking, hardware or domain administration; they were having everything done by contractors and he was doing his day-to-day stuff by using search engines and the literally administering by the seat of his pants.  However he was a smart guy and did manage to keep their systems running for 2 years.

As luck would have it he got another job so I inherited the Network.  It was an opportunity for me to show what I could do on my own.  Unfortunately the company went bankrupt three months later, and I was looking again.

I decided to take a year off to travel, and was surprised when I returned to the workforce to find out that I no longer had the qualifications I needed to get the jobs that I wanted.  My Windows 2000 certifications were just not good enough, as Windows Server 2003 was the standard and Windows Server 2008 was about to be released.  I decided to invest the time to spend a year at school, where I studied all of the newest technologies, and became certified in Windows Server 2008, Exchange Server 2007, as well as Linux.

Now that I have all of the right credentials I have set a lower limit for any job I would ever accept, and that lower limit is more than twice what I was earning as a bench technician.  I am working on projects that include all of those technologies and more, including Server Virtualization (which I am now comfortable with thanks to the Microsoft Canada IT Pro Virtualization Boot Camp!), and more.  I support users and environments, and the list goes on and on.

It may look like you just go to a meeting but the user group (for me anyway) is a lot more than that.  I learned things – both about technology and about myself.  I never would have had the courage to make such drastic career changes if it was not for the user group meetings.  Now I can go out and put all my skills that I have learned over the years to work for me and I thank the group for that.

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