Three Reasons Why I Share My Knowledge

April 20th 2016

A few weeks ago, I was asked why I share my knowledge so freely at user groups and other events. What do I get out of it, given the amount of effort I put into it?

1: There's Always Someone Who Doesn't Know

I know I'm not the best in the industry. Heck, I'm not even the best in my local area. I'm not even close. There is no shortage of people who know more than me. Many of those people even present on the same topics as I do and their presentations are better than mine. Indeed, much of their knowledge (and past presentations) are available free on the web.

So why bother? Why put in all the effort to share what I know, when there are plenty of alternative, better ways for people to acquire the information?

One big reason for me is that, just because the information is out there, doesn't mean people know to look for it. Perhaps they've never heard of the technology, or perhaps they have, but hadn't realised how easy it is to learn, or what value they'd get out of learning it. The why is important: so often the reason someone hasn't adopted a new technology or technique isn't because they don't know where to get the information from, but because they don't know why they should.

I'm no TED speaker. My talks aren't going to go viral. But if someone can learn why it's worth learning more about something, I've done my job.

2: I Learn As Much As I Teach

To teach on a topic requires that I know far more than the minimum needed to get a task done at work. If I commit to a presentation, one of the first things I do is start studying it more in depth. I attend other people's presentations to see what they emphasis and what they teach. I read support websites to find out what common things people are trying to accomplish, and what trips them up the most. I make sure I know the topic far better than I otherwise would. I learn a ton that I would never have learnt so quickly otherwise.

Does this mean that to present, I have to be an expert? Not at all. If someone asks me a question, I often don't know the answer. And if that's the case, I'm not afraid to say "I honestly don't know, but I bet you can google that". Because that's the point of my presentation: not for me to give everyone every answer, but to encourage & inspire people to look up the answers for themselves.

At the end of the day, if I didn't present, I would know far less. I'm not an expert who decided to present. I'm an expert because I present.

Knowledge is power. However, hoarding knowledge doesn't make me more powerful - sharing it does.

3: My Career Has Improved Exponentially

I give this reason last, because it truly is the least important reason. I don't present because I have any expectation of getting something in return. However, my last 2 jobs have both been because of my presence at user groups. In one case, I wouldn't have known about the opening if I hadn't have been there. In the other, I was approached directly after I presented. Further, by being someone who presented, the person who knew about the job in each case was more confident about recommending me for the position.

The cool part is: you don't even need to present to benefit your career. Just by going to other people's presentations, and participating in discussions and sharing your experiences, you can learn all about best practices, new technologies, or new ways to do things. Plus you grow your visibility in the community. You meet local people who you can reach out to for help should you ever need it. Your career becomes less dependent on your manager and more in your control. Who wouldn't want that?

Getting Started

If I've inspired you, the first place to begin is your local user group. In the SQL Server industry, you can go to the SQL PASS website and browse for a local chapter. If none are near you, the virtual chapters are also fantastic (and sessions are recorded so you can watch at any time). However, don't underestimate the value of a local, in-person user group if one is available.

While you're on the PASS website, check out the list of SQL Saturday's too. These are free conferences put on entirely by volunteers. The organizers are not getting paid. The speakers are not getting paid. Consider the lunch fee a donation to the costs of running the event (although in practice, the costs of catering a lunch plus morning and afternoon beverages quickly adds up to more than the lunch fee - especially if any beverages or snacks are made available to all attendees).

For Power BI, there is also a list of user groups that are on the Power BI community website. Not all Power BI user groups are PASS user groups so it's worth checking out separately. Some of the user groups also host webinars, so you don't need to be local to benefit.

Outside SQL Server, try By default, it only searches within 5 miles of your city. Don't be afraid to search further afield. This is for your career, after all.

Finally, it would be unfair if I didn't mention two user groups that are near & dear to me:

MADPASS: Madison Professional Association for SQL Server

Madison Power BI User Group

Attend. Volunteer. Present.

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