Web of Knowledge: User Groups and Forums
It goes without saying that the World Wide Web is the definitive knowledge resource. You can go to it with almost any question about almost any subject and usually get an answer. For example, if I want to know who played in the World Series a century ago, I can just go to Google (or any other major search engine) and type in “1906 World Series.” I then see a link to a Web page (several of them, actually) and click it. Within minutes, I know that the Chicago White Sox of the American League and the Chicago Cubs in the National League played in that one (the original Crosstown Classic), and that the Sox won 4 games to the Cubs’ two, in spite of the fact that the latter was heavily favored and is considered one of the greatest baseball teams of all time to this day.
I can then hit the Back button a couple of times to return to the search engine and find out, say, who the top babe is on Maxim Magazine’s annual Hot 100 list this year. Turns out that it’s the muy caliente actress Eva Longoria. I can then spend the next few hours scoping out Ms. Longoria and her, um, competition in the field. I tell ya, the Web is a wonderful thing.
Of course, the Internet would still be great if it were nothing more than a source of frivolous news about pop culture, sports and other trivia. But it’s much more than that. It’s a mine of information that can help you guide your career in the right direction, from job boards to e-learning classes to salary calculators. In using the Web, though, it’s important to know where to look and who to trust.
For instance, when you’re scouting for a good training or certification program, a good place to start is online forums and user groups on non-vendor sites that cover the field you’re either currently in or considering breaking into. (You’ll want to go to a place where you can get an objective opinion.) These shouldn’t be too terribly hard to find. Some of your favorite sites for IT news and information will have discussion boards where you can converse with colleagues. Also, you can just search for these on sites such as Google, MSN, Yahoo! and others using terms like “(insert your preferred technology, product or certification here) forum (or user group).”
When you solicit advice from your peers on training and credentials, make sure they actually have some experience with whatever you’re asking about. Don’t pay a great deal of attention to recommendations from someone who knows someone who knows someone who took this or that certification. Also, you shouldn’t dismiss them outright, but you should be wary of those who are either way too positive or negative about a particular training or credentialing offering. It could be a vendor trying to push some viral marketing or anti-marketing out there.
Once you’ve determined the training or certifications you’d like to pursue, find people on forums and user groups who can help you develop your comprehension of the topics that they cover. (Note: Don’t ask them for answers to exam questions. Most of them will probably be offended.) Whether they’re run by a vendor or not matters less at this point—in fact, it might be better if they are, as you’ll be seeking technical knowledge and skills, not shopping for certifications and training. The people who populate these sites are going to know their stuff because they use and support the products or technologies that your program addresses. And fortunately for you, most of them will provide loads of quality pointers and suggestions gratis.
So take advantage of these abundant, free opportunities. And when you’re done, feel free to stick around the Web and stare at pictures of Eva Longoria.