5 Reasons You Should Join a User Group
One thing I have learned from being in this business for more than twelve years is that everything is constantly evolving. You can’t learn how to complete a task and expect that to be the best method in the future. Staying up to date and current enables you to be effective and efficient, traits that are a must for business survival in this era. A user group will allow you to witness other users demonstrating workflow and practices that you haven’t seen up close. Students should jump at the opportunity to watch a professional explain a project. Even if you may know some of what they are discussing, there is always some gem you can take away from what was presented, however small. We can never let ourselves become complacent and haughty enough to think we have gotten good enough to stop learning.
If you have ever been to a trade conference you know the energy that is generated by just being in the same room with people who deal with the same day to day challenges that you do. Seeing creative work and hearing the creators talk about how they accomplished it inspires the artist inside us. The doldrums of the workweek can suck the life out of creative and it can be a breath of fresh air to get some new ideas.
Today’s job market is tough and in most areas, getting a job is a difficult and competitive undertaking. We need to be maximizing our talent and skills but also working to develop a professional network of peers and potential employers. Whether you are a seasoned freelancer, long term company man, or student breaking into the business, you will be better positioned for the next job by meeting more people. A stellar demo reel will only get you as far as the eyeballs that see it. Meeting someone in person goes a long way toward them giving you a call back when they need to get a job done. So get off the Aeron chair and shake some hands, exchange business cards, and get to know some folks around you. Don’t be shy, this isn’t the 8th grade dance, it’s your livelihood at stake.
One common complaint in smaller markets is that the work always goes out of town. The larger markets have more competition and more people, thus they turn out better work in many cases. Showing off work locally is a great way to push each other to create better content. If a market can successfully generate this kind of constructive competition the quality of work in a locale will rise. The client will ultimately benefit, and if they are better served then the result will bring stability and growth to the market. Everyone will be better served if a group pushes itself to a higher level and ultimately helps bring more work into the market which can create more jobs. If the artists are able to create a positive buzz around town, the clients will be more likely to have the confidence to stick around.
Despite the previous reasons, it’s good clean fun to go hang out and talk shop with other people who do what you do. Your spouse, friends, parents, and kids can only tolerate your in depth discussion of rotoscoping, typography or 32-bit linear float pipelines for so long. But the folks at your local user group would be delighted to talk for hours about it. Many groups offer raffles and give out valuable prizes too. It’s good for us to loosen up a bit, after all, most of us just sit around behind a computer all day.
My challenge to you is to make the time to get out and get involved. But don’t just be a consumer, be a contributor. In every organization there are more people who come to be served while a much smaller group does all the work. What the consumers don’t realize is that, you get out of it what you put into it. So, the more effort you put forth to help put meetings on, volunteer to speak, or assist in leadership, the more valuable the return is from the group. Look for a group in your area, and if there isn’t one, start one. Attend the meetings, ask questions, and shake some hands afterwards. We all will be in a better spot because of it.