A while back I while I was working in the SharePoint space, I decided it was time to expand my general knowledge and understanding of SharePoint, and truly join a community of likeminded SharePoint geeks. I had already been going online to help find relevant assistance, training, and guidance from community leaders around the world, but this was a one-way flow of information; people blogged their experiences, I used their solutions and recommendations.
It was time to participate more directly in the community, meet people, and share. At that time, meetup.com was not yet what it is today so I searched for local community user groups in my region. I am from Sacramento, California, which is a good-sized city, but I am also about an hour and a half from San Francisco, a much larger technology hub. By searching for Sacramento SharePoint User Group, San Francisco SharePoint User Group, and even expanding to California SharePoint User Group, I was able to get a good grip on what communities already existed near me.
If I were new to the community today, my first steps would be to go to meetup.com and let them help me find a community that already exists. Chances are you will find that someone has already started a group of people with similar interests. At this point, if it is not on Meetup, a routine gathering of people with a specific interest in a region doesn’t exist, or that is at least my experience. There are of course exceptions to this rule, as well as other community groups, but to get started today, I would start with meetup.com.
Once I was able to get a toehold in the community, I was able to use this to learn of other community gatherings, in my space, such as SharePoint Saturdays. Further, a few local community leaders were able to connect me with community experts outside of our region, which of course then snowballed into a larger and larger community of friends and colleagues.
More than just Meetups
Meetups and user groups are certainly a great place to meet others within your local community, but I found I wanted to proactively meet others that are not just a short drive away. Success was found by engaging with others via blogs and Twitter.
When I got stuck on a SharePoint problem, like most others, I got online, typed in my question, and found answers. Most answers at the time came from peoples’ blogs. I would follow those that I found useful and began interacting with these community experts via the blog comment sections as well as via Twitter.
Ah, Twitter. Twitter is a valuable tool for finding and building connections with industry experts. I personally started following community leaders and members that I found most insightful and in line with my interests. By watching my feed, in particular likes and retweets, I slowly built up my network of experts. I got the most value by interacting with those that I followed. Replying, liking, and communicating with others, slowly building connections.
Now for me, the true value came when I began attending industry events such as SharePoint Conference, or Microsoft Ignite. Since I had already built an online network of likeminded people, I was not alone. The experience of meeting the experts, authors, and pros was fascinating for sure, but the kicker was that many of them already knew who I was as I had pre-built connections via blogs, comments, community projects, Twitter, and more.
If you are looking to join a community of developers and IT Pros, get started now. Join a meetup, use that Twitter account you have lying around and start to follow a few people you might have seen mentioned. Check out who they are following and slowly build your network. When you have a problem, look it up and notice who is providing you the best answer. Follow their blog, follow them on Twitter. Join the conversation. I can guarantee you will get out at least, if not much more, than you put in.