Many IT practitioners of all organizational levels have longstanding opinions on the value of personal involvement in professional associations. They vary widely from considering it the most important factor in their professional success to being a total waste of time. I know senior IT leaders who strongly suggest their staff become involved in industry-related activities, and others who strongly discourage membership or attendance at professional association meetings, user conferences, and other collections of IT executives or practitioners.
It’s been my experience, both personally and through the observation of others, that the value you receive from professional associations is directly correlated to your level of personal participation and involvement. Participation is showing up at meetings, listening to the speakers, and networking with others as the meeting schedule/agenda allows. Involvement is joining the local chapter’s board of directors, helping plan an event, or otherwise contributing to the association.
The value of professional associations is not from simply going to an event now and again based on the speaker’s topic or having nothing better to do that evening. The value comes from attending meetings month-in and month-out, regardless of the topic or meeting format.
Ongoing participation in the IT association of your choice helps you:
- Stay current on IT trends and technologies by talking with meeting sponsors and vendors.
- Widen your perspective on the IT profession by listening to the speakers and engaging in conversations with other association members.
- Gain insights into new service providers, software products, and vendors.
Active involvement in the association’s leadership allows you to, over time, become part of the fabric of the organization, which has the following professional advantages:
- Building deeper personal relationships between you and other association/chapter leaders
- Positioning you as a respected leader among your peers.
- Allowing you to get true and honest feedback from other members on local IT vendors and service providers.
- Introducing you to potential future hires.
- Providing you with a job search network should the need arise.
- Finding a mentor, maybe a seasoned or retired CIO, willing to help you navigate your career.
Taking a senior role on your local chapter’s board of directors, ideally the local chapter president, also has other special professional advantages, including:
- A permanent professional credential showing your IT industry leadership (Past president of …)
- The opportunity to meet the presidents of other chapters around the country (or the world) and enhance the geographic diversity of your professional contacts
- Experience running a business-like venture, giving you insights into cashflow management, revenue generation, marketing, and other business activities you don’t generally experience within an IT role
The saying “It’s lonely at the top” may be especially true for CIOs because your C-suite peers are also your internal customers: Your job description includes providing technology support to their organizational silos. As a result, you may find you don’t really have anyone inside your company with whom you can openly and honestly confide. IT associations can provide this emotional and professional outlet.
There is also another important, maybe the most important, reason to be actively involved in a professional IT association: As industry leaders, we have an obligation to give back to the profession that has been so good to us. IT association involvement provides a platform to enhance the state and stature of the IT profession and gives us the opportunity to pay forward the advice, mentoring, and support given to us through our professional journey.
As you may expect by the tone and topic of this post, I am currently an active member of two professional associations. I’m a past president of one and serve on the board of another. I say this to both disclose my affiliation and to let you know that this post comes from my experience and respect for professional associations in general.