Programmers are often unfairly stereotyped as solitary, anti-social nerds who'd prefer to spend time alone staring at a computer display and cranking out code to interacting with colleagues, peers, and co-workers. But however much the requirements of coding may force solitary behavior on practitioners, such stereotypes can't capture the range and variety of people and personalities involved in the programming business. And, as with many professional practitioners, there are benefits to be gained from interacting with one's peers that range from ordinary people networking to the more esoteric exchanges of knowledge and experience that only coding aficionados can enjoy.
That's why it's worth investigating such MSDN and INETA user groups as may be active in your immediate vicinity. For those not already in the known, MSDN is the Microsoft Developer's Network, and INETA is the International .NET Association. Microsoft's User Groups search page provides a perfect tool for locating what's going on near or far, and also gives you the chance to hone in on specific topics, tools, platforms, and technical areas of activity or focus. Just for grins, I did a search in my local area (Austin, TX) and selected the following items by category:
* Audience: Developer
* Focus: none
* Languages: Basic/Visual Basic, C/C++, HTML, XML, and C#.
* Platforms: Windows Professional, Windows Server
* Products: Visual C++, Visual Basic, Visual Studio.NET, and .NET Framework
Believing those to be typical of many VS.NET developers, I was curious to see what would turn up.
After waiting nearly a minute for the search to crunch through, I was rewarded with the names of four user groups, all in pretty close proximity. One had a focus on FoxPro, and was therefore outside my criteria, but all the others looking pretty interesting, especially the Media Center Edition User's Group (which scratches my itch for multimedia, as well as programming topics).
MSDN and INETA user groups are staffed by volunteers and run independently of Microsoft, though the company does given them a small presence through its Web site (primarily in the form of links to and brief descriptions of such groups). Various useful resources are available (starter kits, content repositories, user forums, links to userful resources, and special member discounts) to those interesting in starting up or participating in such user groups.
What you'll find is a sense of shared interest and community, access to regular discussions and occasional education, and the opportunity to "talk shop" with a group of people you can count on to be ready to listen and talk about matters technical and programming related. It's definitely worth looking into, and can lead to all kinds of interesting experiences and learning, and might even possibly lead to your next job!
Ed Tittel is a full-time writer and trainer whose interests include XML and development topics, along with IT Certification and information security topics. E-mail Ed at firstname.lastname@example.org with comments, questions, or suggested topics or tools to review.