IT groups a way to network

If birds of a feather are keen on sticking together, then it only makes sense that IT professionals are eager to do the same.

Coast to coast, the Canadian landscape is littered with various organizations dedicated to the IT professional. And while the job market has narrowed, the memberships of these organizations have grown.

According to Kelly Slauenwhite, a quality assurance analyst at xwave in Halifax and a member of Digital Eve Canada – an organization geared toward women in IT- this membership increase is partly due to the fact that so many IT professionals are unemployed and looking to network.

“The IT industry is going through a lot of bumps and bruises right now and one of the things that’s so nice about being a member of Digital Eve is that it can serve as a support group for people who have been subjected to downsizing or who have moved to town and want an introduction to the industry for this area,” she said.

While this kind of support can be beneficial, Gregory Michetti, president of Michetti Information Solutions Inc. in Edmonton and member of CIPS (Canadian Information Processing Society) is dubious about the benefits of networking, wondering if it ever really leads to employment.

“When you’ve got a group of people there looking for work, it’s like trying to sell to sales people – there aren’t a lot of buyers right now. It’s okay to be with a group of similar people and talk and bitch about the industry, but I’m not sure in terms of advancement how much it gives you,” he said.

Michetti went on to say that simply being a member of any organization isn’t enough. In order to benefit from any group you need to actively participate to see any return on investment.

“If you go to get involved, go to meetings and join subcommittees, it pays you back – it’s only as good as how much you put into it, and if you don’t want to do those things, you might as well spend your $150 [membership fee] in the bar,” he said.

Allison Kessler, creative director of 2Design Web in Ottawa, joined Wired Women after starting her own company, and is reaping the benefits of becoming an involved member. At her first meeting, Kessler volunteered to become the organization’s Web site coordinator.

“I’ve met several people who are in the industry, but in different areas, like a writer that I could possibly use in contract work for my own business,” she said. “It’s a great way to meet people.”

Susan Chepelsky, the Vancouver-based president of Sue Studios Holistic Web Design and Development, joined both Wired Women and Digital Eve as a way to meet and network with other women interested in technology.

“The IT industry is infiltrated with a lot of men, and women need some way to help support themselves and empower themselves to stay competitive. This is a great way to do that,” she said.

Chepelsky uses the groups as a way to keep up on what’s happening in the industry and to socialize. When you operate your own business, it can be very isolating, she said. She uses Wired Women in particular as a forum to bounce ideas off of others in IT and as a place to seek advice.

Slauenwhite has found Digital Eve to be a good resource for keeping her IT skills sharp. With a background in programming but a career in quality assurance, Slauenwhite doesn’t spend a lot of her time coding, but doesn’t want to lose those skills, so she volunteers her time and know-how with Digital Eve. The group develops Web sites for non-profit organizations, using the skills of its members on a volunteer basis.

“It’s also a great way for people wanting to get more experience in different areas,” Slauenwhite said. “It’s all about getting involved and helping out.”

Michetti said that getting involved in any aspect of an organization can have its rewards.

“You’ll put in a lot of hours with no real reward doing things like manning bar or handing out drink tickets or being an usher, but it all has a way of paying off,” he said. “Remember that Woody Allen line? Eighty per cent of success is showing up.”

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