I’ve been an active part of the networking community on social media for only a few years. Before that I was a passive consumer of tweets, blogs, and videos. A previous manager inspired me to be more active, and very quickly after engaging directly with bloggers, podcasters, and engineers, the value of being an active participant became very clear to me.
What I’ve learned is that there’s incredible value in actually engaging with whatever community is relevant to you. Yes, there’s value in passively consuming content, but actually participating in the community has impacted my life and career much more than any sort of passive interaction.
I use the term “community” loosely, perhaps more loosely than other bloggers. I see the community as fluid and dynamic – always changing and adjusting. Remember that the community of network engineers is actually a vaguely connected group of actual people which means there are introverts, extroverts, people my age, people much older and younger, some total jerks, and some amazing souls I wish I could be neighbors with.
In other words, it’s complex just like any group of people.
For several months you may find several voices more dominant than others, and after a while they may fade into the background as others engage more and produce more content. There are small circles, large circles, technology-specific groups, and plenty of overlap.
The community is not a fixed entity but is a dynamic ebb and flow of people.
I believe it’s very important to participate regularly at least in small ways. Maybe that means tweeting about networking from time to time, or perhaps that means finally buckling down and getting that blog post out there. Regardless of how you participate, I believe the value is tremendously greater to be an active part of the community rather than a passive one.
For me, this translates to getting a blog out once in a while and tweeting about networking a couple times a day. Because of the trials and tribulations of life, the level of my participation ebbs and flows as well, but I look at this as part of my career which likely has several decades left. In that sense, I can tolerate an ebb and flow so long as over the long term I participate from time to time to provide something meaningful to others.
I don’t believe there are any rules, either. If you’re reluctant to write, tweet, record videos, or speak, remember that many of the influencers creating all our favorite blogs and videos are out there cranking out network projects just like any other engineer. Your experiences are likely similar in many ways, and your contribution to the community is therefore just as valuable. In fact, I know many influencers who are influencers only because their jobs are so slow they have the time to write and create content.
If you’ve never participated, your voice still counts, and I want to hear it.
Too many times I’ve googled something for a project only to find an incredibly helpful blog post from someone I’ve never heard of and who rarely posts articles. Even if you’re not operating daily at a senior level, I promise you have something meaningful that we can all learn from. And after you take those first few steps of participating in the community, in your own way, in your own time, you’ll also find that in addition to helping others, you’ll actually learn so much as well.
Just after the new year in 2018, I struggled with a Cisco ISE project to the extent that I stayed up hours and hours reading blogs and watching YouTube videos to figure out how to get through my technical roadblocks. The next day I remembered my friend, Mike Zsiga (more commonly known as Zig), was extremely proficient with setting up ISE in even very complex environments.
I met Zig through online communities, and we stayed in touch despite the ebb and flow of both our lives. I sent him a note asking for help to which he responded almost immediately. Zig got on a Webex with me while he was in a hotel somewhere and walked through the configuration with me for hours – I think until after midnight if I remember correctly.
This is an example of how participating in the community has helped me directly in a very tangible way. Sure, I can learn a bunch reading blog posts and watching videos, but because of Zig’s and my participation in the networking community, we were able to develop enough of a nerdy relationship that my project was successful.
I’ve also met some folks that I’d never be friends with. This is the reality of any community that’s made up of actual human beings. Yes, there are some jerks, but they are very few and easy to spot and strategically ignore.
The great majority of people I’ve interacted with are fantastic and willing to help at the drop of a hat. But remember that the community isn’t all about you. Just as much as there are people willing to help you in your networking journey, you can be a help to others as well. Even one blog post about some entry-level technology will find it’s way to someone’s desktop, somewhere in the world, in the middle of a cutover.
Engage on twitter. Start a blog and try to stay somewhat consistent. Don’t worry about following any rules about how to engage, and remember that even if you’re a level 1 helpdesk technician, you almost certainly have something valuable we can all learn from.
And in the end, after we’ve completed our projects under budget, after all the right prefixes are being learned by the right routers, and after all end-users can authenticate to their shiny new wireless network through ISE, you also gain a bunch of new friends.
And coming from someone who works alone from home most of the time, that may be one of the best benefits of all.