Sizing Up the IT Pro Community

The happier you are on the job, the more active you're likely to be in the Windows IT community

Sure, you're a seasoned IT professional.You work long hours on the job, and you try your best to keep on top of the various technologies that comprise your workplace.When a new product is introduced into your environment, perhaps you read a book about it or take a tutorial.When a problem crops up on your network, you head straight to Windows IT Pro or Google and see if you can find some kind of solution.

Or perhaps you do that and more. Perhaps you're a more involved IT pro. You like to get out to local user groups and attend conferences. You enjoy spending your rare free time trolling forums and blogs to find solutions to complex problems, and you enjoy helping your IT peers when you can. Your interaction with the IT community is dynamic.

Which kind of IT pro are you? Microsoft hopes you're among the latter, and frankly, we at Windows IT Pro hope you're that kind, too—because, as you'll see, we've found that your commitment to community goes hand in hand with your happiness as an IT pro. And we love happy IT pros.

What does community mean to you? That's partly what we hoped to find out in our 2006 industry survey. To answer that question here, I'll explore key survey results and get some IT pros' views about their community activity. But let's start with a little context—straight from Redmond.

The Microsoft Community Push

In 2002, Microsoft had something of an epiphany. As Karen Forster wrote in " Corporate Insecurity, the Magic Mirror, and the Emperor's New Clothes," March 2006, InstantDoc ID 49334, Microsoft recognized that "customer satisfaction among IT professionals was shockingly low." Open-source alternatives to its products were growing in popularity, and the company was dealing with an arrogant, control-freak reputation. Since then, Microsoft decided to start paying more attention to its customers and try to develop a community around its technologies and products.

Of course, community is the hallmark of open-source solutions, exemplified primarily by the sprawling Linux community, full of energy and creativity. Microsoft, yearning for exactly that kind of dynamic interaction, has since exploded with employee blogs, company-sponsored user groups, and feedback mechanisms. You might not think that community is something you can engineer by sheer force of will, but this is Microsoft we're talking about.

Time will tell how committed Microsoft is to its latest obsession, but for now, the community renaissance in Redmond is working. One of the more interesting aspects of this situation is the unspoken parallel between "satisfaction" and "community"—a parallel that begs some investigation.

Your Community Outlets

IT pros can interact with their community in a variety of ways. You can attend local user groups, participate in newsgroups and forums, attend technical conferences and seminars, sign up for Web seminars, frequent tech blogs, and visit the multitude of IT-related Web sites across the Internet. We sought to determine your favorites.

According to the survey results, 53 percent of you belong to a local user group, and 57 percent of you belong to a Windows newsgroup or forum. The next most popular method of community interaction—at 35 percent—is to attend a conference or seminar. For a full listing of your favorite community outlets, see Figure 1. But in this year's survey, we wanted to get more specific. What really are your favorites? As for newsgroups and forums, some favorites include ActiveDir.Org, Ars Technica,, CodeProject,, ITtoolbox, MR&D (Mark Minasi's reader forum), Microsoft's forums and newsgroups, MSD2D, Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN),,, Tek-Tips Forums, the Australian Whirlpool technology forums, and our own Windows IT Pro forums and article-comments areas.

What about blogs? Although one respondent exclaimed, "I hate that word!" and many of you simply marked "None" for this category, you can't deny the importance of the blog in the IT community. According to our survey, IT pro interest in blogs has jumped in the past year: In 2005, only 9 percent of respondents said they read, wrote, or responded to blogs. This year, 30 percent participate. You'll find some of the more popular at Engadget, InfoWorld, Mark Russinovich's and other blogs on TechNet, and a plethora of Microsoft team blogs—particularly the Scobleizer blog and You Had Me At EHLO, the Microsoft Exchange Team blog—giving further credence to the effectiveness of Microsoft's community-building efforts. As for other online communities, popular sites are Digg, Experts Exchange, Slashdot, and TechRepublic.

Attending tech conferences and seminars is obviously a better way to get some face-to-face contact with your peers. As a group, you've attended—or plan to attend—all sorts of professional events, conferences, and trade shows, and the most popular are regional Microsoft events, followed by third-party product conferences and seminars, local user group events, and Microsoft TechEd. For a full picture of the conferences that you value, see Figure 2.

What Community Means to You

After getting a sense of your favorite methods of interacting with your community, I wanted to delve into how you really benefit from all this interaction. To get their thoughts on the subject, I talked to a number of Windows IT Pro readers who hang out at Mark Minasi's MR&D forum.

"I think dedicated techs get involved," offered Aidan Finn. "Most systems administrators I meet are 10-to-4 guys who have no interest in their jobs or improving their skills. They think you're weird if you keep up with blogs, conferences, or forums. Then I see the state of their networks and their horrific daily experiences, and I'm the one laughing. Having access to a worldwide gathering of serious brains backed by experience brings together lots of skills and perspectives." With regular forum participation, Aidan said, "I'm learning every day about things I wouldn't otherwise know about. I make my job easier by being better at it."

A common theme among IT pros is that you strive to achieve a sense of camaraderie in your community. Jeremy Ferguson said, "I never thought that anything good could come from a forum or a blog." But his favorite forum "has changed the way I think about IT and what I think of other IT folks. Within a day or two, I could sense a feeling of brotherhood. I started posting a lot sooner than I expected and even found myself able to help a few people out."

I asked Mark M. Webster about what he values about his activities at the forum. "Books, magazines, blogs, events, and newsgroups can all be excellent sources of information," he said, "but when your network and career are on the line, what you really want are good friends who have been there before and have the skills to guide you through the worst that can happen—unpretentious experts anxious to see you succeed."

Curt Spanburgh provided a baseball analogy: "Finding a solution to an obscure or difficult system problem is akin to getting a clutch hit in the bottom of the ninth inning. When you get back to the dugout"—your favorite forum—"you receive the high-fives of your peers and get to provide a solution for someone else. Coming up with a solution like that makes the job worth doing."

Roger Osborne spoke of the magic of finding just the right forum: "The difference between a good forum and a technical event is the friendships you develop. I believe that my time spent within the forum has been more beneficial—to me and my employer—than the hours I've spent at technical conferences and lectures."

It's clear that establishing peer relationships with fellow IT pros is important to many of you. After digging deeper into your sense of community, I started to get an idea that strong community involvement might have a meaningful correlation with your satisfaction on the job.

The Satisfaction Parallel

Our 2006 industry survey asked you specifically whether you're satisfied with your job. Just for the record, 21 percent of you are totally satisfied, 56 percent are somewhat satisfied, 10 percent are ambivalent, and the remaining small percentages are dissatisfied to one degree or another. You can see the full percentages in Figure 3.

Compared with last year's results, this year's survey shows a definite rise in job satisfaction. The most striking change is a significant percentage uptick from "Somewhat dissatisfied" to "Somewhat satisfied." Perhaps the reasons for the lifting of spirits include new job opportunities, fewer layoffs and thus less fear of losing jobs, less restructuring, and rising salaries. Or maybe it has something to do with an expanding and energized IT community.

Rather than remain satisfied with the survey's point-blank question and percentage results, however, I decided to look for a possible correlation between your job satisfaction and the number of activities you participate in. I dived into the survey numbers and found some interesting results. Although I didn't find a strong correlation between satisfaction and the number of activities you're involved in, I did discover that IT pros who are satisfied with their jobs are definitely active in the community—especially in user groups (51 percent belong to at least one), technical conferences (70 percent have attended or plan to attend at least one this year), and Web seminars (30 percent have attended at least one).

In the end, as much as I wanted to simply conclude, "The more IT pros are involved in their community, the happier they are with their jobs!" I can't assume such cause and effect. But I can say that people who are satisfied with their job are likely to be involved in community activities—particularly activities that provide that sense of camaraderie among IT peers and the sharing of job-related knowledge.

I asked reader Nathan Winters about his take on the relationship between community involvement and job satisfaction. "I feel that community plays a critical part in a good IT person's life and career. No way would I have the same sense of job satisfaction without hanging out \[with my peers\]. For me, it's absolutely about community. Without a place to share common frustrations, to get and give support, my job wouldn't be nearly as satisfying."

Added Jeremy Ferguson, "My job satisfaction is higher, but more important, personal satisfaction is higher. It's great to receive help and solve a tough problem at work; it's an even better feeling to know you helped somebody else through a tough problem."

So I guess it comes down to how you want to look at it.

Get Involved!

It's true, I can't quite announce to the skies that IT pros who interact with their peers are just plain happier at their job. But I can tell you—and Microsoft agrees—that community involvement has a direct relationship with job satisfaction (not to mention Microsoft's customer satisfaction, which has been rising in the past couple of years). At Windows IT Pro, we're committed to getting you the information you need to do your job, but it's up to you to build on that knowledge and go to the next level. Find a great forum (we've got one!), make some friends, and share your expertise.

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