Community involvement is one of the most, if not the most important thing you can do to increase your marketability. In yesterday’s post I stressed the importance of public speaking. Whether we realize it or not, we are constantly speaking in public, even if the public is a small crowd. A meeting with your boss, the project team, staff meetings, even simple group lunches are all places where we speak before small crowds. User groups, code camps, and conferences are places where you can practice the kind of public, technical speaking that will make you valuable. Nervous? Do it as a group. Partner up with one or two friends so none of you has to speak more than fifteen or twenty minutes. Or participate in something like the recent IPSA Idea Spark, where each presentation is limited to no more than five minutes. Don’t worry about whether a user group will want you. As a leader in several user groups I can assure you we are constantly in need of speakers, and will gladly welcome first timers to our meetings.
But community extends beyond the borders of a user group. Blogging can be a very effective way of communicating your ideas and participating in the community. Even better you can do so freely or inexpensively via sites like WordPress.com, who offer free hosting to blogs. You can also participate in forums. In addition to those on MSDN and TechNet, sites like SQL Server Central offer forums focused on a particular discipline.
You can also participate with your coding skills. Sites like MSDN Code Gallery allow you to post samples for your particular expertise. I have two sites there myself. Or you can participate in one of the many open source projects on such sites as Code Plex or Source Forge.
Finally, consider joining an on-line community at someplace like Twitter. I have met many, many good people through Twitter, and using it can communicate with them on a regular basis.
The critical point here is that community builds relationships, and these relationships are vital to your career. Sometimes these will help you find good people to work with. Sometimes they can help you find answers to difficult questions. Sometimes it’s just about good friendships. And yes, sometimes they can even help you find that next job. It is these relationships that will form the cornerstone to your success.