The Ebb & Flow of Community Participation

It’s an interesting moment when you discover the SQL community (or any other I suppose). It’s the moment of finding the door in a dark room that leads to the next level of the career game. Easy to find once you know it’s there, but until you find it not obvious at all.

Joining is easy, there is no fee, no requirements, and little to no stigma attached to being new to the community or even new to the technology. There are lots of ways to participate depending on focus and level of intro/extrovertedness and budget. Good stuff.

Once in there is often a point when you realize you can move from more active consumer of ideas to one of those that takes the time to share ideas back through one or more channels. It’s exciting to take that step. It often seems like everyone does it, but as a percentage it’s a small group. You start to work on new skills – writing better (or just writing publicly), writing the best answer, building a network, finding followers, building better abstracts, and so on. It can also take the form of leading, perhaps a local SQL group or a SQLSaturday.

Sometimes it leads to fame and fortune. I imagine few would turn that down (or should), but most find that it’s a way to add a dimension to their game and most find it to be fun to participate and give back. That’s not to say that having a well written blog or a list of presentations given doesn’t have value – it does – but it’s usually more value add/tie-breaker than it is a decision point.

That’s the flow, the uphill journey, one absolutely worth doing.

But what about the ebb?

We don’t talk or think about that as much. Having started blogging or speaking (or both) or answering forum questions we usually hit the first ebb when life intervenes – birth of a child, new job, big project, illness, something. It can be frustrating. One path is to try to keep doing it all, not step off of that one great blog post a week or speaking every quarter goal. More often those efforts just stop, because whatever has caused the interruption is both more important and takes up all that excess creative energy.

For many the first ebb is the last ebb. Sometimes it’s because of feeling of failed, of not maintaining that level of participation. Perhaps more often it’s because after taking a break from that headlong rush up the hill they stop to think about the ROI. Some make it past that first ebb and learn to adjust to the cycles of life and career and balance their participation accordingly.

Time goes by and things change again. New job, new job focus, perhaps moving into management,  starting a business, or retiring. Sometimes that inflection point means more time in a new community, sometimes it means using that time and energy for other things.

None of that is wrong, or bad. It’s not wrong to want to run with the big dogs. It’s not wrong to prioritize work or family over community participation. It’s definitely not wrong to weigh the ROI of the effort vs using that effort in a different way. I think the first one is obvious, though still hard the first time it happens. The second should be obvious, but often isn’t because we start down the path without a goal other than to try it and see what happens. Note that I’m not discouraging that, just describing it.

Should we tell all of that to those starting the journey? I don’t think so. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m inclined to say that a big chunk of the value in the journey is that it’s open ended. No, the audience for this post is that those have participated – usually a lot – and are having to do less, for whatever reason. Ultimately it goes back to managing your career in terms of time, budget, and goals. Can’t do it all.

I should add its harder if you’re leading. It’s tough to be the one to have to drop out of leading a group or an event, especially if there is no one there to pick it up. Ideally we all have someone ready to jump in and do a seamless handoff, but that’s not always the case.  Then what? Do the right thing for career and go anyway? Or keep trudging forward, even though energy and enthusiasm is gone? For how long? I have no great answers.

My view is that if you contributed anything you’ve helped. You don’t have to do it all. There is no SQL Hall of Fame for community participation! Do the things you want to do, do the things that leverage your skills and experience and interests the most, encourage others to walk the path, and don’t be afraid to look at all of it in the context of ROI, however you choose to measure it.











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