Back in 2000 I began writing for swynk.com in hopes of learning more about SQL Server and beginning to make a name for myself in the SQL Server community. That was a little over seven years ago. As SQLServerCentral.com came online, I transitioned to it, writing articles and contributing heavily in the forums. Opportunities abounded from this effort, with the chance to write an eBook, the chance to become a regular columnist for SQL Server Standard Magazine, and later a chance to become a co-author of an in-print book, How to Cheat at Securing SQL Server 2005. In this past year, along with the help of some awesome folks, I've worked to start a Professional Association of SQL Server official chapter here in Columbia, SC. Certainly some of my goals in leaping in to swynk.com way back when have been accomplished: I've learned a lot more about SQL Server and I've gotten my name out a bit in the SQL Server community.
But I don't believe those reasons are the most important ones for participating in a community. Over these last seven years here is what I've concluded upon as the most important reasons to participate in a community:
Because of my participation in the community, I've gotten to meet some awesome folks in person that are as passionate about SQL Server as I am. I've also developed friendships across the wire with other awesome folks who, if it were not for the community, I would never have crossed paths with. These folks are geographically dispersed around the globe. And from them I gain differing perspectives not only on SQL Server, but about the world in general.
As I have started to learn more about MySQL, I have found an awesome community there, too. In this community I'm still very much a newbie. I'm not at a point where I can contribute much like I can on the SQL Server side, but through reading articles, forum posts, blogs, and the like, I'm building up my MySQL knowledge. In addition, I've had the opportunity to trade posts and emails with a few folks and that's usually the start of relationships which lead to lasting friendships.
There is a selfish side to helping others, and that's the feeling we get when we know our efforts have benefitted another. It's a great feeling. Anyone and everyone can contribute to a community and help others. One doesn't have to be an expert or "guru" in the technology to get someone going in the right direction. Most of us with thousands of posts in a particular community started out new and green and we learned more as we attacked the problems others were having. That enabled us to be able to more quickly help others with similar issues as well as giving us insight as to where to start for a newer problem. And as we help others, our own skills just happen to improve as well. That's probably why SQL Server expert, MVP, and Microsoft Regional Director Kimberly Tripp titles her blog, Improving *my* SQL skills through your questions!
When you're stuck in a ditch, the documentation doesn't help, and you don't know where else to turn with a problem, there's always the community. Likely someone in the community has seen the issue you're experiencing and either has come across a solution or can explain why there isn't one. Quite often this can save you and your organization money as it precludes the need to have to contact support. Or it confirms such a decision to make that support call. I cannot count the times when I've come across an issue and either posted in the forums or contacted someone in the SQL Server community I thought my have the answer and then received the details I have needed.
Through the SQL Server community I've also found support on a personal level unrelated to the technology. It wasn't too long ago when my baby daughter wasn't growing and the doctors were trying to figure out why. Steve Jones (recently awarded a SQL Server MVP) offered me an opportunity to do some writing to make some additional money to offset expenses. This is just one of several times someone in the community has stepped in and made a difference in my life.
Just Do It:
Back when I was going through Air Force Field Training, Nike had a slogan, "Just Do It!" Needless to say, that became the slogan at my field training (1993, Sheppard I). When it comes to getting involved in a community, that's the attitude to take. Lack of experience is never a reason not to participate. The rewards, in my own experience, have greatly outweighed the effort I've put in to a community and I've found similar sentiment with those who I've talked to about it. Communities can easily become greater than the sum of their parts. There's never a bad time to get started in a community. The sooner, the better!