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Angus' Blog › What does the term User Group mean to you?

June 9th, 2014

An awesome thing happened this week, and I am sure you all heard about it since I, um not exactly subtly, SHOUTED it from the roof tops. Steve Pitcher mentioned iThusiasm in his blog! He contacted me the week before and asked permission which I appreciated and happily gave and leads me to my point.

For the record, I am doing this because of the appreciation and respect I have for this community. So if you are interested in using my “brand” or quoting me, or mentioning iThusiasm I am going to trust you to do so responsibly. Let me know so I can promote it, brag, put it in a scrapbook – but if you can’t get pre-approval from me that is okay. Yes, I’ve been on enough boards to know all too well, some people aren’t kind. And IF something is negative or used inappropriately I’ll address it then. Until someone proves me wrong, if you want to talk up iThusiasm then run with it. Except if there is potential monetization, if there is any chance of that remember, I have twins to put through college in 10 years :)

So onto the post I have been trying to complete for over a week -

As I move forward with my iThusiasm endeavor it makes sense to tell you why I am doing this.

Like others who write/present/volunteer, etc. in this community I started on the AS/400 early in my career. Loved the paycheck and respected the system then came to value the user community for support and education. While I have moved into QA (testing) and am no longer working on the IBM i exclusively I still find tremendous value from the energy and intelligence of people like you. Interestingly my husband is also a long time IBM midrange guy and he is far more a traditional (albeit progressive) Lead Programmer Analyst. While I follow many of the same people he does I am getting insight into technology, leadership, trends and their testing ramifications. He actually understands what is being discussed and implements the suggestions and techniques into his work. He also attended his first COMMON Conference in 1980 or 81- several more since then, and has been around OMNI a fair amount (Chicago’s Local User Group).

I find myself in a position of seeing both sides of things. The daily point of view I live with is that of an experienced, established programmer 30-something years into his career with all the frustrations that it can entail. Someone who needs the content produced in a very relevant way. Someone who has seen all the worst the ups and downs have wrecked on professions (and the confidence of the professionals in them). This has resulted in an attitude approximating “Dilbert.”

Then there is my opinion, someone who has decided being involved with these groups and writing about things is my idea of fun. And sincerely believes in the power of this community.

One question that has come up often this month, and not infrequently this year, is “what is…this thing you are doing? COMMON? OMNI? Is that like a group or a job?” This gets asked of us by friends and family since about four or five times a year I drop out of family life and my Facebook feed turns into all #COMMONug/Omni/#IBMi/ techie geek babble. Fortunately our friends don’t require comprehension to translate it into, “Von has fallen off the planet again -invite Drew and the kids for a play date/hang out with adults evening.”

Soon after we returned from Orlando we were at a gathering with family and “What is COMMON?” was asked. Just as I started to reply I was called away due to a juice box malfunction and handed off answering to Drew. He eloquently answered, “A User’s Group.”

Gee, thanks. That was useful.

In this case the solution was easy, I let the curmudgeon deal with child hydration and resumed the conversation. However, I started thinking about how many people would have a hard time answering that question. Especially when asked by a boss (why should you go?), co-worker who might attend an event (why should I go?), new hire who needs some education, spouse? (Really Honey, I know it looks like I am going to DisneyLand for a week without you and the kids but I promise not to have fun there…)

What is COMMON? A group of professionals who work on the IBM i or p operating systems on the Power Systems platform, which hosts multiple education events per year. The Annual Meeting and Expo in the Spring and Fall Conference are in person events delivering education, community building, and vendor exposure.

Anyone who gets that explanation already knows what COMMON is, right?

So here are my definitions. User’s Groups are a way for professionals in a given specialty to work together and get education on topics relevant to business. By forming a community and communicating with each other we leverage each other’s experience and knowledge to enhance our own efforts and deliverables. What does that mean? If I get stuck writing a new type of interface I know what blog to read, or send a note to someone I am connected to on LinkedIn, or ask a buddy to lunch and I get over the hurdle. Likewise, when I have found a great article on something our company has embraced as an initiative I pin it to the wall of my cube so my team members see it.

Conferences or Days of Education and the like are times to get more comprehensive education and exposure. There are times the attraction is getting full days worth of information on topics like PHP, Modern RPG, SQL, new IBM releases from the best minds delivering that content. Other times attending is beneficial to new employees, people changing departments or becoming crossed trained. They come with their colleagues to an event and get exposed to all the technology that feels foreign. It is a great introduction/foundation and allows the team to bond during down time and social events.

In the case of the conversation I stared referencing a cool thing happened. I described our platform as “used to be the iSeries or AS/400.” Prompting our friend to exclaim, “AS/400! I used to work on one of those, saw them all over the place.” We told him it is still around and he went on to say he hadn’t seen a Green Screen in ages. Which of course led to talking about nothing needs to be Green Screen anymore (except for that one person in one department that won’t believe it is correct unless it looks exactly the same…) The neat thing about this was it gave Drew a chance to talk about what he actually does as a programmer, something the people who like him are interested in. And it is cool how powerful a robust BUSINESS MACHINE coupled with strong programming skills is, there is a lot there to talk about.

My question to you is – what does the user community mean to you? What would you like to see from User Groups? Are you involved in your Local User Group, do you have one? What sparks your iThusiasm…?

DISCLAIMER: all thoughts and opinions are solely that of Yvonne (Von) Enselman. There is no approval from any group I may serve or my employer. (Specifically COMMON a User Group, OMNI User Group, and Kronos)

 


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