Tuesday, February 19, 2008

How Dinosaur Web Developers Can Regain Their Shine: Step 2

Get Involved.

That's it. Step two is just to get involved.

Ok, there's a little more to it than that, it takes a commitment to stay involved. But luckily, just being involved helps you to stay involved, more on that in a second.

In-Person Events

User groups (UG), special interest groups (SIG) and conferences large and small are wonderful ways to learn new information than you would normally get through your normal 8-5 job. The Cleveland area has a bunch of disconnected user groups that cover many areas of web (and other) technologies. The Greater Cleveland PC User Group (GCPCUG) is an umbrella organization of which many smaller, more focused groups are members. It is a good starting place to find what you are looking for. Not all groups are part of it though which can make finding them difficult at times.

A few groups to note are:

There are also events thrown by some of the large companies like Microsoft. Being a MS focused developer myself the events I'm most familiar with are events like Arcready, DevCares and MSDN Events but there are bound to be others for other technologies / companies. Some larger organizations also have their own internal groups that do the same things. I helped start an ASP.NET user group at the Cleveland Clinic and I know that Progressive has one as well, National City was starting an architect's book club when I was there last.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention a Google group set up to help find events: NEODevEvents

Online Tools

As much as social networking is a Web 2.0 buzzword (or should that be buzzphrase) it is truly a good way to meet and communicate with people of similar interests. Just like with Web Standards I can't say that I am great at this, or know everywhere to 'hang out' but I can say that just from the last couple of months I've already begun to know a wide range of developers, architects, managers and others in the field that have similar thoughts and ideas to my own. These people are at companies large and small are young and old, are experienced and beginners. What they all share though is a passion for what they do. And it's contagious. This is the part that helps keep you involved, everyone inspires/motivates each other. And you do it without trying.

My favorite at the moment is twitter. Everyone in the tech field it seems uses twitter, from all fields really but I only care about tech. When you first hear twitter described your (at least my) first thought is "what's the big deal?" and for the first week or two you still fail to see the allure. But then once you've found a group that's like yourself, then it all changes. Then when twitter is down (which unfortunately happens frequently) you will seem lost. One odd thing about twitter is that opposed to IM and similar things twitter does not seem to negatively affect productivity. It could be due to the asynchronous nature of it you don't need to reply right away, or even read things right away. Not only is the non-time sensitive nature of twitter capable it seems to be just the way things are done, it's very common to replay or receive a reply hours or even days after your message. One last thing about twitter that makes it unique is that you don't actually have to know someone to interact with them. You can follow nearly anyone you want to and see their messages. They don't see yours in normal conversation unless they are following you too but if you reply to them, they will see your post anyway. This lets unknown developers in Ohio respond and interact with 'big' names from around the world.

A few other relevant networking sites:

Collaboration & Networking

What I've talked about are of course not the only ways to get involved, it's just a starting point. Another good thing to do is to participate in an open source project at sourceforge or codeplex. There are also professional organizations like ACM or IEEE among others. If you have another way you like to be involved pass it along, I'd love to hear about it.

The best things about being involved locally and online are that you are constantly exposed to new technologies and people that are passionate about using them. Typically the more active members of these groups spend time experimenting and learning new technologies long before they are widely used and as such are great contacts for when you too are trying to learn those same things. Getting involved with other people passionate about technology is by far the best way to keep yourself motivated. Just be careful not to spend so much time that the WAF (or HAF I suppose) dips too low.

Disclaimer: Due to severe neck pain I'm currently taking a few meds that have um, dulled my senses so if this is less than legible that's why :)

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