Looking for professional development? Look at CIPS

It seems Stephen King loses again.

I’m on a plane, heading back from the CIPS-sponsored Informatics 1999 IT conference in Edmonton, and I’m using the time to read King’s It. Or at least, that was the plan. A friend lent it to me 18 months ago and I have yet to finish it. Something always interrupts my reading.

And that has happened again. Instead of turning pages, business is interfering with pleasure and I’m spending time thinking about the conference I’ve just left, and what the people there told me about CIPS.

As a tech journalist, I attend a lot of user conferences, trade shows and product launches, and while they are all interesting, after a while they take on a certain sameness of tone and flavour. Been there, done that, got the free T-shirt. So why are recent events drawing me away from enjoying the exploits of King’s homicidal clown?

I guess it’s the people. At Informatics, I hung out a lot, more than I usually do at industry shows. There were more conversations about IT issues, more debates about professionalism, more questions asked and answers proffered.

In short, Informatics was about individuals more than it was about technology and business value. Never once did I hear anyone say “The Internet changes everything,” and that alone was worth the price of admission.

That’s not to say the conference was completely different. Like IT shows the world over, Informatics was stuffed with keynotes, presentations and panel discussions – the standard fare. But during the in-between bits – in the halls between seminars, during lunches and in bars in the evenings – the show’s unique quality became apparent: this group likes to talk.

And that is really the core of the CIPS value proposition. Ask a group of members why they cough-up the society fee year after year and somewhere in the answer will be the word “networking.” Members I spoke to were quite vocal about the insulating qualities of their profession; the pace, the stress level, and the esoteric jargon combine to give them a form of tunnel vision.

Sharon Thomson, quoted on page 4 of this issue, summed it up: “Too many people get focused in on what they’re doing; I find CIPS meetings give me a broad perspective on the computer industry. [The meetings] have taken me away from a view that ‘I know these programs and I’m going to do this’ to making sure I have a good balance of skills.”

CIPS sponsors at least one meeting a month, at which IT types get out of their offices, eat some chicken, and talk about the ups and downs of IT jobs with people who have had the same experiences. Frustrated by a senior manager who feels IT budgets are inflated? Tired of users who believe they can tweak the Windows Registry? Annoyed by mid-level managers who think knowing what RAM stands for qualifies them to critique network performance?

CIPS gives you the chance to vent those feelings and get a “Yeah, me too” in return.

CIPS offers more than a shoulder to gripe on, but even just that is worth the price of membership. Decide for yourself: check out www.cips.ca, or drop in on a meeting. You’ll probably find it worthwhile.