# Thursday, October 20, 2011

I've been a technical consultant for a long time. I've been actively involved in the Development Community for almost as long.

For those who aren't familiar with the phrase, the "Developer Community" refers to a loose-coupled network of software developers who communicate at user groups, technical conferences, and via various social media channels. Some people are only involved enough to show up and listen to presentations or to take part in the conversations initiated by others. Other people are actively leading these conversations: They are blogging; speaking at conferences and user groups; taking leadership roles in community organizations; and organizing educational events, such as code camps and give camps.

I fall into the latter category.  I run a user group, maintain an active blog, speak wherever I'm welcome and often initiate conversations with strangers at conferences. I've been on the planning committee of a bunch of events and I led the planning of the recent GANG10 conference.

All these activities take a lot of time - time that could be spent billing customers or other tasks directly related to my day job.

So why bother? Why spend all this time and effort? Does my consulting career suffer because of my community involvement?

I have a lot of reasons for participating in the Development Community, but I won’t hide the fact that my own enjoyment is one of them. I'm involved in the community because I enjoy it. It's a lot of work, but I get gratification from helping others to learn and from showing off what I've learned. I also have made a number of friends in this community of bright people and I love the social interactions it brings me.

But is enjoyment or helping others enough of a reason? Is altruism sufficient motivation for community involvement? Can a consultant actually boost his career by spending time in the community?

I have found several tangible benefits of community involvement. Here are a rewards I reap from my community involvement.

It helps one’s reputation. If people see me active in the community or hear me speak, they are more likely to remember my name. If I’m doing a good job in public, that provides credibility. I've been on a number of projects where the customer knew about me in advance because of a talk I gave or a blog post I had written or because of my involvement with user groups.

Education. I can only learn so much on my own. Interacting with smart people is a great way to transfer knowledge. Not only can others teach me the nuts and bolts of a technology they've spent time with; but they can show me how they have applied that in a real-world situation. There is simply not enough time to gain real-world knowledge in every technology. Learning from the trials and errors of others is a way around that limit.

Knowing who the experts are. Every day, I encounter new challenges. Sometimes I can conquer these challenges on my own; but sometimes I need help from someone who has been there before. Recently, I needed help on a security issue. I reached out through Twitter and a developer in Columbus, OH volunteered to help me out for a few hours. I was in my car the next morning happy to make the 3-hour drive in exchange for his help. If I have a network of experts in a variety of topics, this exponentially expands the amount of knowledge that I have available for my customer.

Exposure to new technologies. New software is released every day and this can be overwhelming. Having a chance to hear what tools others outside your organization are using is invaluable in managing this flood of information. Interacting with people outside your job exposes you to those working on other projects, products, industries, and technologies.

Finding new work. As you interact with the community, you hear about companies looking for work and about consultants looking for help. Each of these is an opportunity for more billable work. I’m seldom actively selling, but I always have my ears open for opportunities.

Recruiting. It's much easier to recruit consultants if they know you and your organization. Community involvement is a great way to get that exposure. The flip side is that you meet many quality people who are looking for work through networking at user groups and conferences. These events give you a chance to get to know them in an informal setting and form an opinion about their intelligence, skill set and personality. I’ve found this better than a formal interview process. Involvement in the community typically means a passion and dedication, which are qualities you probably seek in your employees.

For me, participation in the community and my consulting career go hand-in-hand. One helps and complements the other. In the foreseeable future, I will continue to devote time and energy toward both.


Note: I am grateful to the following people, who contributed ideas to this article. I know most of them through the developer community.

  • Matt Ruma
  • Brent Stineman
  • Keith Elder
  • Elizabeth Naramore
  • Susan Anspaugh-Yount
  • Seth Petry-Johnson
  • Samidip Basu
  • Rick Schummer
Thursday, October 20, 2011 12:33:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, October 17, 2011
Monday, October 17, 2011 10:50:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, October 10, 2011
Monday, October 10, 2011 11:12:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Sunday, October 9, 2011

I have a busy month coming up. Here are my confirmed speaking dates the next 5 weeks.

On Oct 12, I will be the host of a panel discussing "The Impact of Windows 8" at the Ann Arbor .NET Developers Group  in ann arbor, MI. Link

On Oct 29, I will present "Real World Lessons with Windows Workflow Foundation" at the Ann Arbor Day of .NET in ann arbor, MI. Link

On Nov 5, I will present "Data Visualization: The Ideas of Edward Tufte" at 1DevDay Detroit in Detroit, MI. Link

On Nov 17, I will present "Data Visualization: The Ideas of Edward Tufte" at the Detroit Area FoxPro Users Group  in Southfield, MI. Link

Sunday, October 9, 2011 5:05:30 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Last weekend, the Great Lakes Area .NET User Group (GANG) celebrated its 10th birthday with an all-day technical event in Southfield, MI. In addition to great speakers, great presentations, and great food, I created three videos to commemorate the last ten years. These videos are below. Enjoy.

Photos
 
Happy Birthday GANG!
 
GANG Presentation highlights
Wednesday, October 5, 2011 7:18:08 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Tuesday, October 4, 2011

G. Andrew Duthie and Dane Morgridge were kind enough to have me on their Community Megaphone podcast this month. I spent most of the show talking about the Great Lakes Area .NET User Group and promoting our 10-year celebration – GANG10.

You can hear the show at http://communitymegaphonepodcast.com/Show/31/David-Giard.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011 3:09:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Monday, October 3, 2011
Monday, October 3, 2011 5:06:48 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Wednesday, September 28, 2011

It was the fall of 2001 in the home of Richard Irwin. Richard, John Hopkins, Josh Holmes, Darrell Hawley and Martin Shoemaker gathered in Richard's kitchen to discuss their plans for a new user group. This group would be focused on the new .NET technology. That night they drew up the group's by-laws and came up with a name: The Great Lakes Area .NET User Group (GANG for short). A couple months later, the group began holding regular meetings at the Microsoft Southfield office.

That group still meets today - 10 years later. The format of the meetings and the mission of the group has remained largely unchanged. But the group has grown from a couple dozen attendees to over 80 per month.

Today, I am the president of GANG and my fellow officers and I wanted to do something special to commemorate this milestone. We decided to host a special meeting. Instead of a Wednesday evening meeting with a single main speaker, we will hold our October meeting on a Saturday and offer presentations throughout the day.

The presentations will be topics that we would consider for a regular monthly meeting, but most of the presenters are the people who helped found and build GANG. Many of these people have gone on to become thought leaders in the tech world: People like Bill Wagner, Josh Holmes, Richard Hale Shaw, Darrell Hawley, and Godfrey Nolan.

We felt it would be good to bring in a keynote speaker who was not a .NET developer and would give a non-technical talk that techies could relate to. So, we invited Leon Gersing to give a keynote address on "You", focusing on self-actualization. Many of us heard this talk at the recent Lansing Day of .NET and were impressed with Leon and how well his presentation resonated with the audience.

Staying inside at a conference all day can drain the energy,  so we will provide plenty of nutrition, including a continental breakfast; a barbecue lunch Lockhart's BBQ of Royal Oak, MI; and some treats from the Franklin Cider Mill  in the afternoon.

In addition, we will be having some fun, showing photos and videos of GANG and its members over the years.

This conference promises to be educational and entertaining and it will only occur once - on Saturday October 1.

You can get more information at http://migang.org/tenyear/ and you can register at http://gangten.eventbrite.com/. The cost is $20 for the general public and $10 for supporting members of GANG.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011 4:01:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Tuesday, September 27, 2011 3:33:52 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
# Saturday, September 24, 2011

Although I cannot prove it or even measure it, I believe that Richard Campbell is the most famous speaker we have ever had at the Great Lakes Area .NET User Group (aka GANG).

This is quite a claim, as GANG has been around for ten years and numerous excellent speakers have presented here.

Richard spends a large percentage of time traveling the world and speaking at major technical conferences; he has written books and magazine articles; and he is the co-founder of an Internet company. But he is most famous as a podcaster. Richard is the co-host of .NET Rocks, RunAs Radio, and Mondays; and a regular guest on Hanselminutes.

The reason I pursued Mr. Campbell for our user group is because he is an excellent storyteller and because he can speak on a wide range of topics: from software to hardware to networking infrastructure to fine scotch whiskey to barbecue to the history of Nepal. Share a glass of scotch with Mr. Campbell one evening and you are bound to learn something.

In September, Richard traveled to Michigan to speak at three user groups in the area: Tuesday at the Northwest Ohio .NET User Group in Toledo, OH; Wednesday at the Great Lakes Area .NET User Group (GANG) in Southfield, MI; and Thursday at the Greater Lansing .NET User Group (GLUGNET) in Okemos, MI. The GLUGNET group moved to Okemos from its usual home in East Lansing in order to accommodate the larger crowd that Richard drew.

I attended all three presentations - each a variation on his "Scaling ASP.NET Applications" talk. At each venue, the audience was impressed and engaged. The questions were many and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

Following the Wednesday and Thursday evening meetings, we headed to a local pub, followed by many admirers who wanted to ask more questions of Richard. I lost some sleep this week but gained some knowledge about web site scaling and an appreciation for how much a good speaker can do for a development community.

All in all, this was one of the most successful user group tours we have ever had around here.

Saturday, September 24, 2011 11:08:00 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)