What the Village People can teach IT

Had a busy time at techstringy towers over the last couple of months, so sorry about the lack of BLOG content – but I’m back and a few posts in the pipeline for the next couple of weeks..

I’ve had this post kind floating around in my head for a while now and it’s on a slightly different topic than normal, but hopefully something that you’ll enjoy…

Blogging – Why bother?

Now there’s a question, what on earth got me into this blogging lark? About 3 years ago, I was looking the challenge many in the fast-moving world of IT have, how do we keep up? Not everyone necessarily wants to do that, but the fact that you are taking time to read this, probably puts you in the category of “I’m interested in knowing more about the tech world” and I was in the same boat.

The first discovery on my journey to understand more, was the world of tech podcasts, a great way to keep up to date while out and about on my travels, I’ve got a bunch of faves and add the occasional new gem to the collection when I come across them. It was one podcast in particular that changed the way I viewed what I was doing and ultimately to this blogging lark. That podcast was “The Geek Whisperers” if you’re not familiar with the work of John Mark Troyer, Matt Brender and Amy Lewis, and you are looking to develop your IT career, I’d strongly suggest you check them out. The whisperers don’t focus on technology, but more on tech careers. One thing that came out very strongly from many of the discussions was how the power of the tech community was one of the best tools in your IT career armoury.

The idea that working with the larger tech community is a career benefit, really appealed to me. What was equally important though, was not too look at community just to further you career, but to engage in it for the right reasons, get to know your peers, so you could share ideas and advice, you could learn from others and maybe teach others too.

I had got myself involved in community before, doing presentations as part of my role for both my company and others, however, thanks to a bit of whisperer inspiration, I thought there are ways I could get involved more and there are lots of ways, social media, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, blogs are all great tools and of course nothing beats the power of meeting in person.

Like many of us in tech, we are enthusiastic about technology and like to share it and it was that, that gave birth to this blog, gave me a place to share tech experiences with anyone who was interested and I’m pleased I did it.

Stepping up and wanting to share a bit of enthusiasm for my career subjects, be that storage, infrastructure, cloud, security or just general tech strategy, has proved a great investment and led to many interesting opportunities.

That’s all great for me I hear you say, so am I just bragging? well hopefully not, because this all leads to the real point of this post.

What on earth can the Village People teach IT?

That is title of this post after all and maybe the thing that drew you in, one of my first posts on this blog was “what the spice girls can teach IT” it seemed to go well.. the post focussed on how the spice girls knew how to ask for what they wanted “what they really really wanted”… so what about the Village people, what can they teach us and what does that have to do with tech community? stick with me.

I’m pretty sure you are asking, “are there practical benefits of this community thing though, it’s alright that you get to have a nice time, but what’s really in it for everyone?”

The Village people are of course best known for the disco classic that is YMCA (you know you’ve all done it) one of the lines in that song is “young man, there’s a place you can go…” and there is my tenuous link back to communities.models ymca.jpg

Over the last few weeks I’ve seen a some brilliant practical examples of the power of communities, the idea of giving our tech community a “place they can go” to share, learn and build relationships is really quite powerful.

Let me share a couple of those examples with you;

Solving problems thanks to community help

A few weeks back one of our customers was having a bit of an odd challenge with their storage connections, they had, as they should, logged a support call with the vendor. The challenge with vendor support can often be,  when issues are oddities rather than obvious break fix things, these support calls can move slower than expected, this coupled with some holidays for the internal tech team, was leading to a bit of a black hole in solving the problem and some customer frustration.

How did community help? Often with these things, it’s knowing how to escalate a problem that falls outside normal procedures, this fell into that category. Because of some of the community contacts I’ve made I was able to pop them a quick message to find out, one, could they give me a useful escalation point in the support team who could help? and two, who did they know outside of that who could help?

This quickly got me answers and had me speaking directly with the senior support engineer on this job and secondly got me in contact with the product development teams, now that was impressive and not something you’d get through normal channels.

This little bit of escalation and community help meant we found our problem pretty quickly (some legacy storage connections that where causing timeouts) got a quick resolution and showed the value to our customer of the investment we make as a company in building our community relationships. It wasn’t a matter of saying “look who I know” but it was a genuine example of a community wanting to help one of its members.

Result!

Senior IT need a place they can go!

This year I’ve sat in a lot of meetings with pretty senior IT folk of some very large organisations and at a recent meeting held at the home of a big bank, one senior IT guy addressed the meeting, which included CIO’s of some pretty big organisations and discussed one of the challenges he faces, the challenge of who does he talk to when he needs advice, as he said, he can’t talk to his team as they won’t be able to help, and going to his management was sometimes met with “well don’t we pay you to know the answer to this stuff” OK, that’s an unhelpful attitude from higher up the management chain, but it is indeed an issue and one his fellow CIO’s agreed with.

What they decided was that a place they could go with regular meetups to discuss ideas, issues, and gain insight into how their peers addressed challenges would be very valuable, a CIO YMCA if you will! This is a group now taking on a life of its own. It also shows the value of community is not just for the devops guys, it goes right up the IT chain, at all levels people see value in meeting with their peers, sharing ideas and challenges and genuinely helping each other out.

It is probably that last phrase that for me is the secret of success with all of this, if you go into community with the wrong attitude and that’s easy to do, maybe you see It as a sneaky way to sell to people, or you think it’s a good way to find a new job, community isn’t going to work. If you go in with the attitude that you want to give a little of yourself, of your time and experience to genuinely help others, then you’re onto a winner, community involvement is very rewarding, you get to learn an awful lot and you also get to meet really great people with common interests and goals, all looking to do their roles better.

Without making the whole thing sound to grandiose, in my opinion, a tech community genuinely exists to look at how to make technology better, provide better technology solutions, and develop our skills, so that we raise the levels of competency giving us a better overall industry.

Hopefully what has some across in this BLOG is my enthusiasm for this community engagement, seriously give it a try, I think you will gain a lot from it, I know I have and continue to do so.

Go on, young IT person, now you know there’s a place you can go, you can stay there and have a good time!

Thanks Village people for the advice!

As ever – if you want to share your thoughts, drop a comment on the blog, contact me on twitter @techstringy or find me on LinkedIn

A little more info

So a friend of mine of that I’ve fortunately got to know as part of this community engagement is doing a survey on the influence of technology communities, those who listen to the VMware virtually speaking podcast will know Pete Fletcha, but those who don’t check out the podcast here virtually speaking podcast and please go check out his survey communities survey.

Podcast List

If you’re new to podcasts and looking for ideas, give some of these a spin, part of my favourite podcast play list;

The Geek Whisperers

virtually speaking podcast

NetApp Tech ONTAP Podcast

In Tech We Trust

Speaking In Tech