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Data center user groups influence career development

Our Data Center Advisory Board discusses how to get ahead in the IT job market and how user groups have influenced their careers.

This month we explored the topic of data center user groups and their impact on professional development. We asked our Data Center Advisory Board to weigh in on which user groups or committees have been the most helpful to them in their career and professional development.

Our board members' responses below illustrate the multiple benefits of association with a data center user group, including: finding mentors and contacts in the job market, corralling vendors to press them on important product issues, and getting practice managing events and people for your group -- all of which will prepare you for a leadership role in IT down the line.


Three cheers for AFCOM
All of the trade shows, conferences and vendor events that I've attended have proved to be beneficial in some way. But the one that has consistently stood out for me has been AFCOM's Data Center World. Of all the data center infrastructure conferences/trade shows I have attended, AFCOM continues to have the best trade show floor for my purposes. The quantity and diverse scope of vendors on the floor is impressive. It is on the floor where my most pressing questions are answered. It is possible to gather groups of these vendors together in the same physical space and professionally debate products, approaches and philosophies.

The conference sessions are equally effective. Focused on a specific topic, they are good forums to get up to speed on issues that are new or perhaps not well understood. The first conferences I attended were overwhelming. There was so much to learn and it was all there to absorb. Over time, my professional expertise has grown and, though less overwhelming, each year there is plenty of new material to command my attention.

Today, I attend with one or two specific issues or topics I want to understand better. I select sessions and target expo floor vendors that I think will cover those areas. Going session to session and back and forth from vendor to vendor, I learn a lot. As I learn more, I discover new questions and approach them all again in an iterative process. By the end of the conference, I usually have it all well in hand, and realize I learned a whole lot more than I had intended!

AFCOM conferences are held twice a year. In an attempt to locally replicate this learning atmosphere, I solicited AFCOM to charter a Miami chapter, which was created in March 2007. Every few months we draw our local membership together for lunch, networking and presentations. As president of the local AFCOM Miami Chapter, I do attend and participate in the annual AFCOM Chapter President meeting. During this meeting, the chapters share best practices in the management of their local chapters.

-- Ben Stewart, Terremark


All this, thanks to what's-his-name
Actually, the biggest influence on my career and professional development was a guy I worked with 25 years ago whose name I can't remember. I was barely two years out of college and more than a little green when we hired a systems programmer who was probably about 10 years my senior. He was sharp, one of those guys who instinctively knew how to get the best out of a system after just playing with it for a couple of days. From looking over his shoulder I learned these things:

  • Never define something more than once
  • Be ready to sacrifice a little performance for flexibility
  • Let the computer do the work
  • At every opportunity, replace clunky and error-prone manual procedures with automation

He didn't stay with us long because the early '80s Houston job market was very hot, but the lessons lingered. It's led me to explore new system features and learn different programming languages. I've always tried to design flexible (sometimes to the point of wackiness) systems and procedures. Most of all, when I have time, I like to shake the system just to see what falls out.

--Robert Crawford, lead systems programmer, mainframe columnist


RIP Apple Network Manager's Association
In the 1990s I was managing a LAN for a very large in-house advertising department in the largest department store chain in the Pacific Northwest (The Bon Marché, now part of Macy's). It was an exciting time, as a fully analog process was transforming itself to a fully digital one. I was the guy leading that transformation for my company. The users all had Apple Macintosh computers on their desks and the whole back-office system ran on Sun SPARCstations. I joined a national user group called Apple Network Manager's Association (ANMA), which at the time had chapters all around the country. I was introduced to an amazing collection of people, many of whom were the smartest, most interesting people I have ever met. While the user group itself fizzled out as Apple's fortunes faded in the late '90s, I still remain in contact with many of those people, and still meet annually with many of them for a casual dinner in San Francisco during the week of Macworld Expo.

-- Chuck Goolsbee, data center executive, Digital Forest


Linux user groups keep users on the cutting edge
I am greatly indebted to my local Linux users' group, the North Bay Linux Users' Group (NBLUG) for many of the opportunities I've had over the years.

On one hand, it's enough to just be around a group of like-minded Linux enthusiasts, but many members of the group also use Linux professionally. This has meant that I always have a group of professionals to bounce ideas off of and keep on the cutting edge of my profession.

In addition to the standard networking you would assume comes from a group like that, I have to credit NBLUG with my writing career as well. It was a member of NBLUG who originally made me aware of some writing opportunities that eventually led to publishing my first book. Much of my success and advancement through my career can be traced back to that first opportunity -- one I would have never had if I hadn't gotten involved in the group.

These days I am the president of the group and continue to see the many benefits it has given not just to me, but also other members of the group.

Whether it involves introducing employers with prospective employees or acting as a forum where everyone can get and give advice on system administration, being involved in the local Linux users' group connects me with local Linux administrations and keeps me up to speed with both technical and local business developments.

-- Kyle Rankin, senior systems architect at Quinstreet and Linux author


Twitter, social media have become the top conduit for community interaction
In my developer past, the open source community -- particularly around the Apache Foundation and Eclipse -- has been very beneficial to my professional development. Those communities not only generated much of the code I relied on to deliver software, but also the documentation, best practices and help that I needed to go about my job.

Increasingly, more than official organizations, ad hoc groups that form around email lists, blogs, podcasts and now Twitter create much of the support and information flow that helps me out day to day. I use my public presence in blogs, podcasts, Twitter and other so-called social media to meet interesting and helpful people and maintain those relationships. Over the past year, Twitter has become one of the top conduits through which I interact with these ad hoc groups. The combination of people I follow there, those who follow me and those I chat with through Twitter make an extremely valuable group. The blogging world used to serve this purpose, but Twitter is sort of like that with more gas thrown on the fire.

-- Michael Coté, analyst, RedMonk


Credits every promotion to the IBM mainframe user group Share
My experiences in user groups have had profound effects on my career. Some of the experiences were purely technical (I learned many things at DECUS you couldn't learn anywhere else -- not to mention it got me my first trip to San Francisco). But it was Share that provided the training and experience that drove my career to where it is today. And while many of my experiences at Share were technical, it was the soft skills and the contacts I developed at Share that provided the impetus to my promotions over the years.

I have said I can credit every significant promotion I have ever received to things I've learned or contacts I made at Share. While there are many examples, let me give you one that is completely out of left field. Remember when IBM was in the copier business? We had one and it was terrible, always breaking down. One day the director came to me and said, "You're always going to the IBM user group Share and saying how valuable it is. What can you do to get this copier working right?" I called the IBM representative to Share and explained my challenge. While well outside of the Share interest areas, the next thing I knew we had the VP of IBM copiers on the phone and then a senior repair technician who essentially rebuilt the machine -- from then on it worked perfectly. All of a sudden, I was more than a simple techie, I was someone who could get problems solved, even when outside my realm of expertise or responsibility -- the job description of a senior manager. It was then recognized that I belonged on that track.

I believe that participating in user groups is one of the best things you can do for your career and your professional development. I know a lot of people from Share who not only hold that belief but have had similar experiences. As that old commercial says, "Try it, you'll like it."

-- Robert Rosen, CIO and past president of the mainframe user group Share


Sun and Solaris email lists improve career
I don't know if I can name any single user group or organization that's helped more than the rest. What has helped me in the past 14 years is participating in online discussions with like-minded, experienced people, particularly on mailing lists and Usenet news groups. My first real sys admin job was through an offer I got from someone I knew on Internet Relay Chat, and my career got progressively better after that. Two of the most interesting and fun things I've done have been serving as one of the administrators of the Sun Managers mailing list for the past eight years and participating in Sun's OpenSolaris Pilot Program before its initial public release. I've also made a ton of friends and professional connections through the SunHELP mailing lists that I've run since 1997.

-- Bill Bradford, senior systems administrator, SunHELP.org


User group projects give you the experience, confidence to tackle leadership roles
My formative user group experiences would have to be the International Electronics Packaging Society (IEPS) and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) in the '90s. Both organizations allowed me to take leadership roles in putting together conferences and gave me the confidence to take on more influential roles in the industry moving forward. The thing that I found with both of these organizations is that I had a real champion to help my career growth and development. In IEPS it was Bruce Haltmark from IBM and in ASME it was Don Price and Dereje Aganofer. These guys were great examples of mentors and what we should all be like to help the next generation.

-- Christian Belady, P.E., principal power and cooling architect, Microsoft

Be sure to check out our other data center advisory board panel discussions:

How will data centers weather the economic downturn?

Data center panel weighs cloud computing risks, rewards

What did you think of this feature? Do you have a question for our data center advisory board? Write to SearchDataCenter.com's Matt Stansberry about your data center concerns at mstansberry@techtarget.com.

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