Guest Author: Sam Dolan
Before I started working for myself the thought of doing out of hours work, attending meetings or even a conference was something that would make me gasp � �what?! continue working after the hours of 5pm, I think not�. Now I do work for myself and my attitude has taken a complete turnaround and as a by product has made me a better person and I will tell you why I think that.
I had a look at what the word �community� meant -
com�mu�ni�ty – a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists (usually prec. by the): the business community; the community of scholars.
One particular bit stood out to me � �group sharing a common interest� � in this case the particular interest is Microsoft SharePoint. I have been attending these user groups for 2 years now all over the UK in Manchester, Wolverhampton, Leicester, Nottingham to name but a few and I can safely say that when I return home from a meeting I have either made a new contact, discussed something new with someone and most important then, I have learnt something new and/or shared something learnt. The last part of sentence is what sums these groups up � learning something new and/or shared something learnt.
So what is a user group?
This is a question that I do get asked a lot, when I talk about the SUGUK and when I get asked I see it as an opportunity to tell the person how great and invaluable these sessions are. In a nutshell the SharePoint User Group is a meeting that is held after hours that gives the opportunity to people to talk about all aspects of SharePoint with like minded people.
A meeting would last around 2 and a half hours with the common set up usually having two speakers with 1 hour slots talking about a particular area of SharePoint that could range from administrator to development all the way over to configuration & design. Half way through there is a break where food and drinks are put on for free usually by the company that is kindly donating the meeting room or area that the session are presented in � yes for free, you read correctly. Once the sessions are wrapped up the common custom is to head to the nearest public house for a SharePint � the term coined by Daniel McPherson and evolved by Andrew Connell for sharing a alcoholic beverage with the SharePoint twist. Even then it doesn�t stop there because sometimes there is even a ShareCurry � I think that one is self explanatory.
So why should you attend?
Ever been stuck with something? ever opened up that browser typed in the search engine URL and entered in your SharePoint related problem, query or error message � the results you will be presented with were probably written by a SharePoint expert of some sort who, chances are, is a community member. The idea is putting back in to the community what you take out. Putting back in could be anything, it could be blog posts that is highlighted on the SUGUK website, it could be a 1hour session or could be just attending to keep the sessions worthy of a repeat � everything helps continue the community and the development of the product.
What you also get from these meetings is exposure to all walks of SharePoint life from server configuration all the way to design and branding then taking a left turn at development life cycles and security. Delivered through the variety of session (prepared in the presenters spare time) that are on offer you can get as much or as little as you wish from them, some sessions are very specific and deep dive into a particular area then others are very overview and skimming the surface. You get the chance to talk to people that specialise in there chosen field whether it be through open question and answer session, a chat over some pizza at break or at the SharePint that follows it�s a chance to ask your burning question to people that know what they are talking about such as Microsoft Valued Professionals (MVP) � we even have some guest speakers from over seas!
Who helps run there user groups?
First of all the session are chosen from the community � sessions, ideas and suggestions are put out there for people to comment on what they to see. The sessions can be presented by anyone who feels they want to share something with the community. if could be for an hour, it could be for 15 minutes � what ever you are comfortable with. There is however one rule � no business endorsement, selling or sponsorship � it it purely community helping itself, so you wont get business trying to shove their new products down your throat. The sessions are regular with up to 2 to 3 sessions a week sometimes, held all over the UK and are managed by regional leaders. But the most important people there are the people attending to listen, because the more people turn up the more sessions can be held and it makes the nights worthwhile. Also did I mention that the sessions are free to attend � yes you read correctly again they are free!
What will I get out of it?
Help, knowledge, best practice, guidance, tips, tricks, how-tos, other peoples experiences, new tools, new features and what is coming up in the world of SharePoint are just a few of the potential things you can take away from the user groups. It is a great opportunity to network, speak to people potentially doing or have done what you are trying to achieve in your business and even if it is none of the previous its a chance to have a nice pint at the end of it � can�t go wrong really.
How do I sign up and get involed?
If you want to attend then head over to the SUGUK website to find out more information in the forums about what sessions are coming up and all you simple do is sign up by posting saying exactly that. If you would like to speak at a session whether it be something to do with a project you�ve delivered or maybe a tale from the trenches on something that was a nightmare and how you go through it � the community is keen to hear. All you need to do is speak to the regional leaders and they will be happy to discuss further.
The sessions are there to help people that are interested in SharePoint. The sessions are presented by experts from people who love the product all the way to SharePoint MVP�s down to the people who are just getting to grips with SharePoint. The session are prepared and presented in peoples spare time and in return they ask for people to continue to attend and help build up this already strong community. There is no pressure to get involved if you feel happy sitting a listening then fine, if you want to present and do a session or look to become a regional leader then even better � the choice is yours.
Now the reason I think it has made me a better person is simple � being passionate about something and wanting that something to continue to keep that passion � David Brent once said � �There should be no ego when pulling together to do something good� but then again he said �I�ve created an atmosphere where I�m a friend first, boss second. Probably entertainer third.� � so I wouldn�t take the quotes I have used to seriously but hopefully you will get the idea!!
Thanks for reading.
Guest Author: Sam Dolan
Sam Dolan is a SharePoint Design & Brand Specialist and is the Director of PinkPetrol Ltd. Sam has been producing website designs, brands, UI’s and website overhauls for over 10 years now, 3 of those in the world of SharePoint. With a background of web design and user experience Sam focuses on the design, branding and UI side of SharePoint, taking the product with the target to make SharePoint look & feel beautiful. Some of his clients consist of the NHS, 21APPS & BBC as well as the SharePint , SharePoint Retreat, SharePoint Overflow logos under his belt.