The Power of Finding Your Community

I remember attending the VMUG UserCon in Dallas / Fort Worth for the first time back in 2013 and hearing Damian Karlson speak about vBrownBag.  At the time I had never heard of vBrownBag, but one thing that really hit me was his mention of community.  When he said “the community” he meant the virtualization community.  He encouraged folks to get on Twitter to participate.  To me, that was completely preposterous because Spiceworks was “the community.”  That might sound a little closed minded considering I was at a VMUG event, so let’s start with my community background up to this point.

It Started with One Installation

For me, Spiceworks was where it all began and will always feel like home.  I joined the Spiceworks community in December 2010, which is when I first installed the application and began using it for ticketing.  A friend from church (now my current boss) told me about it.  I mostly used the app and didn’t pay much attention to the community, not really knowing much about it or how to use it.

But because I had installed the app and registered a community account (where the NetworkNerd name was born), I got notified about a local group of IT Professionals called SpiceCorps.  It was free to attend, so I decided to go.  At this first meeting in particular, I got to meet David Babbitt, one of the developers who worked at Spiceworks.  He was in the area to get feedback on some new product features and to take any questions attendees had.  I remember picking his brain about using Spiceworks for our Maintenance department in addition to just for IT.  I thought it was so exciting to get to meet someone who worked at Spiceworks.

The Community Becomes Real

In early 2011 I heard about a conference called Spiceworld where you could learn more about how to use Spiceworks and about other technologies too.  And since I had been to a SpiceCorps meeting already, I was sold on attending.   My boss at the time was able to get it approved, so I was officially on my way to my first tech conference.  I had no clue what to expect other than the fact that I’d be learning new things and meeting other people with similar interests.

A few days before the conference, I was contacted by Jen Slaski (then Marketing Director at Spiceworks) about being on a panel at Spiceworld.  I was a little nervous about it, but I agreed to go ahead and do it.

It was at Spiceworld 2011 that the community became real to me.  This online forum thing wasn’t just something to ignore.  It was a group of people who were passionate about the IT discipline, and it was full of people who wanted to help others.  That’s when I realized being an active part of the Spiceworks community (online and at SpiceCorps) was a way to get help when you need it, a way to use your experience to help others, a way to keep up with technology trends, and a way to differentiate yourself from the average IT professional.  I wanted to encourage other IT professionals to be a part of something like this too.

The Changing Atmosphere

Up until 2013, Spiceworks was all I knew.  It was the one stop shop for everything an IT pro like me might need.  There were so many big projects people in the Spiceworks community had helped me with even by this time it was probably too many to count.  I haven’t stopped posting in the Spiceworks community, but at some point things changed.  Even after I became the co-leader of the SpiceCorps of Dallas / Fort Worth in early 2014, I felt there was still something missing.

As a VMware administrator, I also got involved in attending the VMUG events.  These were new and different from SpiceCorps, and the discussions seemed to be geared toward companies that invested a great deal in VMware licensing or had very large environments.  As a member of a small IT department, I didn’t know what it was like to have a dedicated VMware administrator separate from the storage administrator or the backup administrator.  But it was still interesting to talk to those people about how their environments were different than mine and how they had made it to that point in their career.

I started participating in new communities like MangoLassi in 2014.  I posted a little in the VMTN forums but could not seem to keep up with it well.  My wife encouraged me to join Twitter in 2015(@NetworkNerd_) even though I was very much against it at the time and couldn’t really see the value.

I started Tweeting slowly.  A couple of times I was able to get a support ticket for work escalated because of my participation on Twitter.  I started following vendors that interested me such as VMware, Veeam, Mimecast, Epicor, and StorageCraft.  I would login from time to time and read up on the current news from these companies to stay abreast of the changing technology landscape.

Earlier this year I started listening to podcasts like The Geek Whisperers and Datanauts as well as vBrownBag.  The people on these podcasts were happy to hand out their Twitter handle as a means to interact with listeners.  I started reaching out to people who had been on the various podcasts through Twitter to ask questions, and in every case the person I contacted was happy to help, knowing only that I was interested in what they had to say and in learning from their experiences.

I was encouraged to apply to be part of the vExpert community, and in the second half of 2017, I was accepted into that community as a result of the content I had created through blogs, videos, and online community participation.  That provided a new way to interact with many of the people I knew who were blogging and podcasting about VMware and other technologies in the virtualization space.

So What Is Community?

By definition, community has to do with groups of people sharing something in common.  Maybe it’s where they live, what they believe, or what they do for a living.  When you’re part of a community, you feel it is somewhere you belong.  You can identify with other members of the community because you share the same challenges and goals.

It Doesn’t Have to Be Just One

If you’re not a member of at least one professional community, I would highly encourage you to join.  Every IT community I have mentioned in this post (Spiceworks, MangoLassi, VMUG, VMTN, vExpert) can be joined for free.  The vExpert community requires you to apply and go through the approval process, but all others can be entered in mere minutes.  And if you’re not someone in IT, there are professional communities out there for you (, LinkedIn, etc.).

It took a while, but I finally realized what Damian Karlson meant about “the community.”  And I’ll add my two cents to what he said.  This isn’t Highlander.  It doesn’t have to be just one community.  But you have to get involved to reap the benefits.

Get out there.  Get involved.  Post questions.  Answer questions.  Go to in-person meetings.  Meet people you would not have otherwise met.  Make new friends.  Learn.  Grow.  Help others.  Strive to be better tomorrow than you are today.  Leverage your community to make you better than you could ever be on your own.

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