Community contributions: give and take!

Lately, I get more and more questions about why I’m contributing to the community via articles, blogs and presentations. I decided to write about it, as it seems for many not obvious that some people spend their personal time on community work.

When did it all start?

Back in December 2009, I wrote my first article: sharing experiences on the HL7 accelerator, in the legendary BizTalk Hotrod magazine. In August 2011, my first blog post was published, many have followed ever since. My first public speaking experience took place in October 2013, I enjoyed every single minute of it!

How did it evolve?

Community participation requires a lot of personal time, passion and motivation. Every community contribution is performed outside of normal working hours, unpaid of course. My level of community participation has been fluctuating quite a lot , as some periods in life are better suited than others to take up such additional work. The past year has been quite exceptionally, as I’ve been extremely busy. I guess there are three main reasons for this:

  • Private life: the construction of my house, of which I did as much as possible myself, was finalized last year. This gave me suddenly a lot of additional spare time. The birth of our first son immediately had an adverse influence on my contributions 🙂
  • Commuting: the past year, I needed to commute often to work in Brussels. The best option is to take the train, on which I spend at least 3 hours on a working day. I don’t really like it, but it’s part of a consultant life! As a positive side effect, it ensures I have time enough for community work during those travels.
  • Technology: the Microsoft integration platform is growing enormously and new technologies / opportunities reveal rapidly. I want to remain on the edge of technology and try to get up-to-date as much as possible. This is a challenge many of us are facing.

Why am I contributing?

These are the primary reasons why I am contributing to the community:

  • Understand what’s under the hood! Since the beginning of my career, I wanted to know the nitty details of the technology I worked with. I can’t really accept that something “just works”. That’s why I do quite a lot of research on the technology I’m using during my day-to-day duties. This helps me to better understand what’s under the hood, which enables me to make better design decisions.
  • Discover new technologies! New technologies or features in my area of interest – which is integration in the broad sense – can’t remain unexplored for a long time. In this perspective, it are really exciting times, as technology is evolving faster than ever before. Reading and writing blogs is my primary way to try to remain up-to-speed, while getting my hands dirty with some prototyping.
  • Go that extra mile! When exploring these technologies, I force myself to have a real in-depth look at it, because I know I’ll share my experiences with the community afterwards. Having this in mind, it heavily motivates me to come up with high quality content, interesting scenarios and useful take-aways, whilst trying to go beyond the already available content. It really forces me to do that little extra effort!
  • Get a public CV! The articles you write, the blogs you post and the presentations you share: everything remains publicly available for a long period. I consider this is an extremely important part of my CV. If potential customers Bing or Google my name, I hope they realize at least that they’re dealing with someone who’s passionate about his work. This can serve as a jump-start to get exciting and challenging opportunities assigned.
  • Help and get helped! A lot of my knowledge originates from the great community content out there! Sharing my experiences in blogs or during sessions, feels like giving something back in return. I love it when someone tells me that my blog was very helpful in his/her situation. I have also the impression that community members and product teams are more responsive, as they value your contributions to the community.  It’s fantastic that product groups reach out to ask feedback on a specific subject, as a result of a certain presentation or blog!

What triggers me to contribute?

There are many occasions that trigger me to write a blog post. Here are the most relevant ones listed:

  • Questions!: As a consultant, you get constantly questions. They are posed by colleagues, by people that reach out to you on social media, by members of the Azure Advisor groups and most importantly by customers during workshops and analysis. Sometimes, a question requires some investigation before it can be answered accurately. With some additional effort, I can address the answer to the whole community, instead of a single person. Win-win situation, isn’t it!?
  • Exceptions! During development, you often bump into unexpected exceptions. How many times resolves a quick search on the internet the problem? Countless times! This saves you a lot of time and headaches! If I can’t seem to find the solution on the internet, or if I’m not happy with the suggested solutions, I’ll typically write a blog about it. Hoping that it will serve as a time-saver for many others!
  • Best practices! I really like patterns and practices, as they give you a solid foundation for a solution design. When a gap in our available best practices is identified, I tend to start some investigation in that area. The outcome of such investigations must be documented anyway, so why not sharing it with the community? In such scenarios, I get often feedback from community members, which leads again to new insights! Always interesting!
  • New releases! When new features are added to the products in my day-to-day toolbox, I’m always excited to discover what opportunities they bring and which additional scenarios they solve. I start “playing around” with the new feature set and analyze the pro’s and con’s with a critical mindset. This often results in a new blog post that shares my personal view on it and provides some feedback to the appropriate product team (via UserVoice pages).
  • Customer case! When I’ve found a nice solution for a particular customer case, it can be really satisfying. It’s a superb “I love it when a plan comes together”-feeling! In those situations, I love to share that with my colleagues and the community. For the latter, permission from the customer is always requested and all data / code is anonymized.

This was a rather different post than I’m used to write, but I hope you’ve enjoyed it! Maybe it can inspire you to start blogging or to continue your existing efforts for the community. In the end, the motivation and the passion must come from yourself, nobody can force you into that direction!

This is also a good moment to thank everyone who is – and has been – involved in the Microsoft integration community!  I’m still learning every day, thanks to your magnificent community content!

Remember: sharing is caring!



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