Data Centers

User groups: Are they worth the fees?

Derek Schauland is weighing the pros and cons of joining a user group that charges member dues. What is your experience of formal user groups? Take the poll and let us know your thoughts.

Toward the end of 2009 my organization installed a new telephone system. Being the lead on this project was a ton of work, but it was also a great experience. However, I am not sure what the best method is for continued learning and staying current with updates on this system.

Working with a reseller has been great, and they are very knowledgeable about the Mitel product(s) we are using, but some things are best learned through experience. Currently, I'm evaluating the usefulness of user groups -- the kind with meetings and dues and networking opportunities, not just forums and online Q&A.

There is a Mitel User Group which I have been considering, but am not 100 percent sure if the cost of membership is worth it. Currently, it appears that the membership fee is $249, but for new members the cost looks to be $99. (I have emailed the organizers of the user group for clarification and will follow up in the comments when more information is available.)

Worth the money?

This particular user group has an annual general meeting where members can network with Mitel employees and other members. They also have forums and other resources, like training and webinars which are made available to members. These items could be worthwhile for finding new information and getting questions answered without calling our reseller (or even in conjunction with calls to the reseller).

Does the experience in the user group really live up to the cost of membership?  In this case, because the group focuses on a specific product, it may be sound to give it a try for a year. There have been other groups, which seem even pricier when it comes to membership and meetings.

One group I used to belong to, charged a fee of approximately $100 per year, but also then charged admission (less for members than non-members) for the meetings. The cost offset the price of dinner which seemed reasonable, but to add this on and charge a membership due seemed a bit high. In my opinion, there was not enough takeaway to justify the dues and attendance costs, although the dinners were usually quite good.

Specific focus may work better

The overall nature of many user groups like AITP and other IT-related organizations might be a bit much, taking on multiple topics at each meeting rather than focusing on a core technology.  n my experience a more focused user group will benefit the attendees and members more than a group with a broad focus.

As I'm considering all of this, I was wondering what others in IT think of formal user groups where dues are charged. Take the poll below, and feel free to follow up with comments on your experience with particular groups. Are they worth the price of admission, or can you learn just as much from strictly online forums?

About

Derek Schauland has been tinkering with Windows systems since 1997. He has supported Windows NT 4, worked phone support for an ISP, and is currently the IT Manager for a manufacturing company in Wisconsin.

7 comments
IT Wiz
IT Wiz

I have been a member of a local user group for 15 years, HAL-PC (Houston Area League of PC users) which I believe is still the largest user group in the country. It has been well worth the $45/yr fee. The group is general in nature but the SIGs (Special Interest Groups) are specific focused. I got both my MCSE and my CCNA through them, saving thousands of dollars from other avenues.

eleffler
eleffler

The answer depends on the group. If the group is supported by the manufacturer it will always have a sales slant. My preference is a user group that is "by users, for users." It doesn't hurt to have a developer/manufacturer presence at the meetings. In fact it often can lead to future product features that you have a need to have. When the developers and marketing teams are there, you will often find yourself in a position to "Back up" the techs on a needed feature that the marketers don't see as necessary. The other great thing about Users groups is that you will meet up with people that may have already solved some problem that you are currently having. One last reason for a user group commitment is the networking potential. If you know others and have their contact information, you can reach out to them when you have an issue you can't resolve yourself. I belong to the Microsoft "Dynamics SL users group" and it has proved itself to be so valuable that I put in time on the user group forum helping others in need, kind of paying back for the help I received.

SmartyParts
SmartyParts

We use a document management product in our Insurance business. Membership in the User Group for that product is included as part of our annual software maintenance fees. I've been to two User Group meetings and they offered OUTSTANDING classes, incredible learning opportunities to meet others who use the same product and share ideas, and additional fun and frivolity to make the meetings enjoyable as well as educational. That company was acquired by a larger company and this last meeting there was horrible corporate sales pitches but we complained enough about it that hopefully next meeting will see that one complaint rectified. Other than that we are huge fans of the User Group concept and it is money well spent for us.

harryolden
harryolden

I did belong to a computer user group and it did pay of as I repaired computers, but now I dont do it anymore I do not get any value for the membership fees, I now join groups and learn the ropes and see all the mistakes thy make and quit I see it like this what is in it for me and what do I get out of it I quit because a lot of money gets spent on stupid things Cheers Harry

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

One factor to consider is whether that meeting takes place in a location that's convenient and affordable. Annual meetings in Hawaii don't do much good if the bean counters won't authorize your trip (unless of course you already live there). If most of the group's business is done at that meeting and you can't reliably attend, membership may not be worth the cost.

avalencia
avalencia

Someones technical background and personality will affect how they view the groups benefits. A high level tech will like to experiment with the technology on there own and learn through experience. A mid/low level tech or operations manager will benefit and save money using a fee based group system. Its best to decrease your need to use the resellars fee based support services.

Justin James
Justin James

I belong to two computer-related organizations: the ACM, and the Columbia Enterprise Developers Guild. The ACM runs me about $170 per year, and that gets me a ton of things. The benefits that I actually use from it are the magazine (which is excellent, but usually way over my head) and the Safari and Books 24/7 memberships. Those right there are worth the price of admission. The developers guild is free, and it is WELL worth the investment in my time. I always learn something at the monthly meetings, I get to be active in the community (we just put on a Code Camp, I do presentations all over the area, I help the group as the Membership Coordinator), and its a great place to network and meet people. J.Ja