Infrastructure

IT Consulting: Advice for aspiring monitoring folks, Giving back to the technical community (#SCOM, #SYSCTR, #ITConsulting)

I recently received a very nice email for a Systems Engineer who specializes in Operations Manager who asked me for advice on becoming well known in the monitoring field. I thought that this was an interesting question on multiple levels but the big concept behind this question is really about how giving back to the technical community.

As an example, we’ll start with my history in Information Technology (IT) and the community.

Starting out in IT: When I started in IT 20 years ago the Internet and search engines were still in their infancy.

Looking back in history, Google didn’t start until 1998: “The domain name for Google was registered on September 15, 1997,[38] and the company was incorporated on September 4, 1998.” per the wiki in Google (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google).

Bing didn’t start until 2009: “Bing was unveiled by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer on May 28, 2009 at the All Things Digital conference in San Diego. It went fully online on June 3, 2009,[3] with a preview version released on June 1, 2009.” per the wiki on Bing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bing).

Consulting was a very different game in the days before the Internet and search engines came in and really changed the industry (believe it or not, there was life before the Internet!).  In my youth I actually helped to run a bulletin board system, and spent time working with 1200 baud modems and 10 megabyte hard drives that cost $700. <Ok, I’ll stop reminiscing now.>

Learning via search engine: With the addition of the Internet and search engines, the game changed in terms of knowledge sharing and search engines changed the landscape. Now that the Internet was available and mainstream, knowledge sharing evolved. I spent years of my technical career using the Internet to find answers to tough technical questions – either through vendor websites, forums, or newsgroups. It didn’t strike me until I had been in the industry for more than a decade how many client situations I had run into that I had fixed as a result of other folks who came before me and shared what they learned the hard way.

Skilling up on a technology: It takes time to really dig deeply into a technology and spend a lot of time with it. I recommend getting involved in the community through resources on OpsMgr available at: http://social.technet.microsoft.com/wiki/contents/articles/11504.how-to-participate-in-the-system-center-community-en-us.aspx and learning the product through resources discussed here. To those in the community finding answers and reading through what is going on – that’s great and it is important. Get to know a topic well first before stepping in and starting to answer questions – but if you know the answer share it!

Giving back to the technical community: About eight years ago I came to the realization that I needed to give something back to the technical community for all of the answers that I had used over the years in IT. I started my own blog and started posting on technical stuff I was running into. To be transparent, I will admit part of my goal was that people would actually read something from my blog and maybe someday somebody would actually let me know that my blog had been useful in some way.  In my first blog posts I did some statistical work where I determined performance for various configurations (I remember developing performance statistics for IDE versus SCSI drives in Microsoft Virtual Server was among my first topics). I tried to blog on topics that people had not already written on and something that I had knowledge of.

As an interesting note, I just looked and found my first blog which was decommissioned and is somehow still online and available at: http://cameronfuller.blog.wugame.com/. It’s got entries back as far as May 2007 and even has links back to the original site location which is no longer there at http://cameronfuller.spaces.live.com.  I eventually decommissioned my spaces site and moved to my my current blogs.

I also stared doing public speaking on in 2005 at TechEd and in 2008 at MMS (a previous blog post on this topic is available at: http://blogs.catapultsystems.com/cfuller/archive/2012/03/22/it-consulting-public-speaking-and-the-equation-of-fear.aspx).  I also worked with Kerrie Meyler on our first book (Microsoft Operations Manager 2005 Unleashed (MOM): With A Preview of Operations Manager 2007) which was on Amazon in 2006.

My focus now is to attempt to give back to the community in the following ways:

The key for all of this is to focus on giving back to the community – to become more of a community contributor. There are a whole lot of people who work in IT but there are a very limited few that actively spend their time to give back to the technical community.

Becoming a community contributor: There are lots of ways to give back to the community depending on how you are interested in giving back. Options to consider include:

  • Blogging
  • User Groups
  • Forums
  • Public Speaking
  • Writing
  • Creating technical YouTube videos
  • Podcasts
  • Or come up with something brand new!

The Benefits: So what are the benefits of giving back to the community?

  • At first the big one is being able to find what you knew the answer to once upon a time but have forgotten. Some of the best community contributors that I know started blogging and sharing because they couldn’t remember things! On a regular basis I end up on my search engine of choice and reference articles or blog posts that I wrote to answer questions that I’m faced with.
  • I know one guy who started as completely unknown in the community and through the quality of his blogs is now the #1 (or #2) blogger on his specific technology. How did he do it? By consistently working hard on his blog and sharing his best thoughts with the community.
  • Personally being admitted into the Microsoft MVP community has been one of the best things that has ever happened for my career. I consider many of the MVP’s in this group (both current and past) to be good friends.  The MVP community is dedicated to recognizing those people who regularly give back to the technical community.
  • Hearing from someone that something that you did was useful to them is the biggest benefit – it makes the time spent worth while.

Summary/Boiling all of this down: If you want to become more well known in a technical community how do you go about it?

  • The community needs more people who give back and make all of our lives just a little bit easier. Giving back actually results in becoming more well known in the community.
  • Join a community (such as SystemCenterCentral or MyItForum), or a user group!
  • Spend time in the communities and learn about the technology. Work with the technology and be willing to share what you learn with other people.
  • Don’t blog it if it’s already been done: It’s ok to occasionally point out other people’s blog posts (and I certainly do so) but developing your own unique blog content really adds more value.
  • Share your best! There is often pushback to hold the best concepts especially when working as a consultant. Sharing your best only demonstrates your capabilities.

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