Flying the Friendly Skies

As I write this I am aboard a WestJet 737-700 plane bound for Halifax, my third (of five) TechDays Canada city.  Halifax will almost be a forced two-day vacation for me (excepting my TechDays duties) because I (very uncharacteristically) forgot my cell phone at home.  I will still be on-line via e-mail and such, but until Thursday afternoon anyone who calls me will get my voice mail.

It has been a long time since I have written about the importance of community, especially within the context of the IT Professionals community.  Although I live that life so regularly, the last three days have given me a lot of opportunity to think about that community feeling, why I first got so heavily involved, and why six years later despite such drastic changes in my life that community remains so important to me.

In November, 2004 I met two people whom I am proud to still call friends.  Actually that is not entirely true, because I had met both Harp Girn and Rick Claus at previous events, but it was that fateful day in November when I first sat and spoke to both of them, following a usergroup meeting of the Groupe d’Usagers Montreal .NET (GUMSNET).  (I trust my friends from that organization will forgive me if I got that name wrong.)  At that fateful meeting at the Montreal office of Microsoft two life-changing things happened… for me, anyways.

The first of those things is that Rick presented a new Microsoft product called Virtual PC 2004.  It was my first exposure to virtualization (outside of the Novell world, and forgive me Willem, you probably explained it well enough but I never understood what you were showing me).  It would be over a year before I would give my first ever full-fledged usergroup presentation of my own on (you guessed it!) virtualization, this time using Virtual Server 2005R2.  Today my title at Microsoft is Virtual Partner Technical Advisor, specializing in virtualization.  Imagine that, from one captivating usergroup meeting – one single community event – my transition from Technician to Senior IT Pro Consultant and Courseware Specialist (and yes, v-PTA at Microsoft Canada!) began.  Without community I wonder how far removed I would be from The Tech Doctor.

The second fateful occurrence that evening was when Harp asked for volunteers to help start a new IT Pro usergroup in Montreal.  Six or seven of us raised our hands – including one one-time Microsoft MVP and two pishers who didn’t know any better – I am not sure I had even heard of the MVP Program before that night – named Mitch Garvis and Daniel Nerenberg.  I don’t think that any of the others are still involved, but Dan and I are both MVPs (and MCTs) today, not to mention very close friends.  The group that was supposed to be named the Montreal IT User Group (MITUG) and which (not soon enough for my money) became the Montreal IT Professionals Community (MITPro) was conceived, and would be born at a meeting of the seven of us in January, 2005.  This week-end I had opportunity to speak to the long-time Vice President of that organization, my friend Majida Rhazi.  She and I would never have met let alone become such good friends without the IT Pro community.  She has recently formed a partnership with two other members of MITPro consulting in and around Montreal… would she and her partners have ever met without the group?  Maybe yes and maybe no, but I remember those three meeting at our events, and have watched their careers evolve thanks to – right again! – the IT Pro community.

TechDays is a great opportunity to meet with peers in your city, and for those of us lucky enough to be members of the touring cast across the country.  It is important to note that none of us (TechDays Speakers) are compensated for the creation, preparation, and delivery of our sessions.  As for travel there might be partial reimbursement for some cities, and not for others.  I mention this because several people have asked me why I do it… in my case for 2010 I have blocked off five weeks that I could otherwise have worked.  The truth is that not only do I love the concept of TechDays – giving back to the community at a paid conference – but I love the people that I meet; truthfully I do occasionally meet someone who would engage my services at these events, but that is secondary, as is helping Microsoft Canada.  While I understand many of the people who would not agree to speak at these events – either in their own city for a few hours or in other cities for a few days – I am glad that my job role allows me to do both. 

And what about the people you meet?  Friday afternoon I sat at a Coffee & Code event at Timothy’s in Toronto with several Microsofties but also with a group of developers – two of whom were troubleshooting their new game for the soon to be released Windows Phone 7.  Their Sudoku3D looked amazing, and they were putting the finishing touches on it right there in front of me.  I was probably one of the first people in the world to be stymied by this incredible puzze!

This morning as I passed through the security checkpoint at Terminal 3 the CATSA (Canadian Air Transport Security Agency) agent said ‘congratulations!’.  I thanked him but asked for what.  I was (am) wearing a Microsoft MVP shirt, and he recognized it and the contributions required to earn the award.  How far we have come from the days where I didn’t even know about the program!

I got an e-mail this morning from Dave Fulton, the president of the Calgary IT Community.  This past June I presented my third presentation to that group since 2007, so when Microsoft Canada asked me to start planning a usergroup tour for Q! of 2011 he was one of the people I reached out to.  It turns out that he is going to be in Mississauga this week for training at Microsoft Canada – how closely that opportunity is linked to his community involvement is not mine to say – and we are going to have lunch.  I tried later to count the friends I have made at usergroup presentations across the country – having presented at groups in Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Sarnia, Waterloo, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Halifax, and probably several others that I cannot remember right now – but even without any others that makes seven out of ten Canadian provinces (I am not counting my international presentations… those are too many to list) and myriad friends along the way.  I can’t wait to sit down with Dave later this week and catch up.

So what is the IT Pro community?  I can say what it is to me, and what it was a few years ago, but that is not really important.  What is it to you?  How has it benefitted you – personally and professionally – over the years?  Have you made friends, met new colleagues?  Have you learned about new technologies, or new aspects of old ones?  Whether it is the free pizza at some of the events, or the nuggets of knowledge you get from your peers and such, the IT Pro community is important, and a resource that every IT Pro should tap.

As I look at my calendar of projects for the next year I have to thank an old sponsor in Microsoft Canada and a new one in Hewlett Packard for facilitating all of my usergroup events, but I also have to thank you – all of the community members who come out and remind me at every event – whether it is paid or free – of how much my presentations help.  When they help one person I am pleased; when they help an entire community to learn, I am thrilled.  When I inspire others to follow in my footsteps and start giving back to the community – either by presenting at, sponsoring, or organizing a usergroup and usergroup events – I know that Harp and Rick were right on that fateful evening six years ago: the community is important, it can be vibrant, and it needs people like you to grow and to thrive.

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