Community Reality Check: Is INETA a concrete life raft?

I’m asking you, dear reader, is INETA still viable as an organization?

I don’t know about your local user groups, but here in Nashville, we don’t get nearly enough good speakers to fill our monthly timeslots.  Worst of all, the presentations all seem to be the same.  They are all basic introductions to whatever shiny new toy Microsoft has recently released.  Way too much Microsoft, way too little programming.

There are, of course, some very good exceptions to that status quo.  I personally really enjoyed seeing Scott Cate when he came through town, and we were lucky enough to snag Ted Neward for DevLink.  But over all, the quality seems to be falling further and further below what I would consider a high quality outreach organization–at least one whose goals aren’t completely in line with that of a single product vendor.

Another issue that came up recently was the organization’s refusal to work with corporate user groups.  While this might make sense for companies that might spin up something with only 2 or 3 people, it seems very silly when you work in an organization that employs 200+ .NET developers.  It also makes no sense when you look at other organizations of the same size (say: Fedex).

So, here’s the question I would like you, the community, to answer. 

Is INETA a concrete life-raft?

 

For the curious, I currently play a small local role in the organization.  As an attempt to continually improve my contributions to the community, I’m trying to determine the value I’m generating through the volunteering of my time.

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32 Responses to Community Reality Check: Is INETA a concrete life raft?

  1. The issue of corporate user groups was being discussed back when I was part of the INETA org and effort. I’m surprised that this isn’t supported yet, as I thought we were on the verge of allowing it back then.

    INETA NorAm is significantly funded by Microsoft, and is largely staffed with died in the wool cheerleaders who’ve never really known anything else, and have only their role in INETA community to set them apart. There’s no reason to expect anything of INETA other than the kinds of trivialities that come with the kind of thoughtless corporate marketing that this kind of culture engenders.

    Community isn’t made or broken on the efforts of willingly-complicit Tech Ed speakers. Community is built on purpose. What INETA offers isn’t community by anything but the loosest definition.

    Do something else. Blaze your own trail. Craft an alternative. Change the game. INETA did. Are you suggesting that you can’t be better than INETA?

    I bet within 6 months that you could build and fund a speaker bureau that would eclipse the brand pandering that INETA too frequently offers its constituency.

  2. Evan says:

    @bellware

    it does feel like a breeding ground for those pandering for book deals and TechEd speaking engagements

  3. I’ve wondered out loud to some of my peers if INETA is relevant. Personally, I don’t think so. It seems my user group (EDMUG) does very well without INETA.

  4. Jim Holmes says:

    INETA doesn’t do anything for me other than providing the infrequent speaker — the difficulty of working with them to meet my needs are more bothersome than the spotty quality of speakers. We (Dayton .NET DevGroup) talk with INETA once or twice a year and that’s the extent of our interraction.

    I’d agree with @bellware (which is shocking) that too many INETA speakers seem stuck in old-school approaches to software. There are a lot who are smart on tech but very weak on fundamental things like emergent design, solid testing, agile, etc.

  5. Jeff Certain says:

    I’ve been consistently impressed with the technical knowledge of the INETA speakers we’ve had. For a smaller user group, INETA is a great resource to get top-end speakers.

    I do, however, agree with the points raised about the difficulty of working to get speakers — requests have to be in 3-6 months in advance, and sometimes we don’t find out until a month beforehand that we’ll have a speaker. Often, by that point, we’ve booked in someone else.

    As far as “old school approaches to software”… that’s why we balance our meetings with a fair amount of content from local agile practitioners.

  6. John Kellar says:

    It is not INETA’s responsibility to provide the best speakers, that is your User Group leader’s job. If you are unhappy with the quality and content step up and do something to help make it better. To my knowledge the Nashville User Group has not used any of their three allocated INETA speakers in 2k8.

    The refusal to work with a corporate user group sounds like a failure to me. I don’t know all the facts, but if it was on the verge, why didn’t it get seen through to the end? Then again, why do you want them involved if they are pandering and are not truly about the community?

    INETA suffers from the same problem that many volunteer organizations experience, Absentee Volunteerism. Too many folks will raise their hand and never deliver on their commitment. How many times has someone said they will help get a new website up or I will be there to help do something, only to not deliver. People count on them and when they don’t come through the excuses start flying.

    I agree that you should stand out, blaze a trail, but why not as a reformer. I question how community minded you would be to reinvent the speaker bureau instead of helping to make the existing one better. If we all approached software development this way, every project would be a rewrite.

    It is easy to criticize, but action is what makes a difference. @bellware is right, community is built on purpose. So the value you provide is what you bring to the table and are willing to deliver on.

    Sorry for the long comment.

  7. I don’t think it’s INETA per se. I think it’s a tendency of the speakers in the organization to pick easy topics. But, it’s larger than that. The speakers wouldn’t be invited to speak if no one listened. Clearly people want to hear, at least some of, the information they’re talking about.

    What topics to you think speakers (INETA or otherwise) should be talking about?

  8. Jay Smith says:

    I agree on several points here. As the leader of the Northwest Arkansas .NET User Group I also was frustrated with the INETA Speakers Bureau. It too many times felt like my request for speakers were lost to a black hole.

    I am now a part of the Speaker Bureau Committee and have been working to try to change that. It is easy to stand on the outside and throw rocks, it take a true leader to stand up and decide to do something about it.

    We are working on several things to improve the Speaker Bureau and infuse it with some new speakers that are speaking on topics that are relevant to the community. We are also working to automate the process of requesting speakers so that it can be completed in a more timely fashion and provide feedback to the user group leader regarding the status of the request.

    The current issue is that I am only one of a few developers that are trying to work on this while running our local user groups. As you can imagine time is a precious resources and we have very little of it.

    Not trying to sound like a INETA fan-boy because I agree it could be better, so I’ll just echo what has already been said lets fix it or make something better.

  9. @Jay, what topics do you think are relavent to your community?

  10. We also get the occasional speaker (1 per year), which is nice, but not overly required. But really, I don’t have too much trouble finding speakers amongst my attendees. If I’m really at a loss for something to do we schedule an Open Spaces meeting.

    Which I think is how things are supposed to be. A user group is about building community — which mean building up experts around you.

    What I would like more of from INETA: books and software. Why can’t a user group have a MSDN Subscription? Why do we have to go to all of the book publishers ourselves (this isn’t too hard, but still).

  11. Kyle Baley says:

    Our group just joined INETA so I have no specific experience with them. But I’m in a pretty small market where the theme seems to be “the more introductory the better” for the local industry. I’ll just be happy just to have someone else talk at a meeting.

  12. John,

    Some, not all, software projects are indeed re-writes. Some projects are too entrenched and too costly to fix.

    The question then is whether INETA and the Speaker Bureau is one of them.

    INETA may have changed since I left, but my feeling is that the cultural inertia in INETA that supports pandering to Microsoft in exchange for a few grams of status is far too well entrenched.

    INETA may be salvageable, but only its skeleton. The body of the organization could only change at this point if it were gutted.

    It’s often cleaner, more expeditious, and more rewarding to create a competing organization and let that competition drive innovation for both organizations.

  13. Jay,

    I stood on the inside, as the speaker committee’s chair, and I pushed for what I thought were reasonable and actionable changes, but efforts have to be assessed against analysis of the situation. INETA’s inertia and predispositions presents formidable barriers.

    Do you know how many years that INETA has been trying to automate that speaker request process? Part of the problem with INETA’s own informatic infrastructure is the asinine architectural and process guidance from standard issue Microsoft ideology that has contributed to several failed attempts at building web apps, and tens of thousands of dollars over the years blown on failed efforts.

    INETA is pathologically dysfunctional. It’s this way because of a lack of a deeper integrity. That’s not likely to change after so many years of reinforcement.

  14. John Kellar says:

    Scott,
    I agree, but think INETA still has the ability to change, or be changed, from within. When people like Jay can take the lead to guide it back on course that is community in action. Of course, if an organization is unwilling to change then it will usually find some competition and see itself become less relevant.

  15. Jay says:

    @Peter Well in my community a lot of our members are really interested in TDD, OOP, Design Patterns, and trying to create good extensible applications. We are not so concerned about new fancy Microsoft Technologies unless it helps us meet that goal. We have played with the idea of creating an ALT .NET Group to better focus on those interest.

    @Scott I understand where you are coming from. One of the reasons I got involved was to try to figure out how INETA operated and to see if it could be fixed. Being new to the community it was amazing to me to see how difficult it was to find a speaker for the topics our area wanted. The organization has changed some, not sure if it enough to ensure the amount of agility (please not lowercase) that INETA or an organization that server the community needs to have.

  16. Evan says:

    @John,

    I’m just asking questions and trying to figure out if I’m observing the same thing as everyone else. This stuff seems to be an unspoken elephant in the room when I talk to people privately. I guess maybe I’m the first person to ask about it publicly.

    “Of course, if an organization is unwilling to change then it will usually find some competition and see itself become less relevant.”

    While I don’t see any competition on the horizon, I’m specifically interested in the question of whether or not it is still relevant..

    @Jay

    “Not trying to sound like a INETA fan-boy because I agree it could be better, so I’ll just echo what has already been said lets fix it or make something better.”

    Which do you think is harder? Just curious..

  17. Chris Sutton says:

    Actual Ineta groups are rather independent of the parent organization. We have maybe two Ineta speakers a year, but local groups pick their own style and topics. We have had some really good speakers and some who obviously didn’t prepare their talk.

    I don’t think you can lump the international organization and the local entities into one unit.

    Chris Sutton

  18. James Avery says:

    I think you could use your time in much better ways. When I ran the CINNUG group working with INETA was always a pain. They have some great speakers, but many are mediocre at best.

    This is one of those things sitting out there in the .NET community just waiting to be replaced. We need an independent speakers bureau that helps to push what is right for the community not what is right for Microsoft.

    It’s not Microsoft fault, funding the group has been a good way to encourage user groups, it is the communities fault for not building a better organization.

  19. Tim Barcz says:

    Re: shiny new things….is this a problem with Ineta or the people who come to meetings expecting shiny new things?

    Are groups just giving in to what the masses what? Or giving them what they need? The two may not be one in the same.

  20. Jay Smith says:

    @Evan Either will require considerable work and funding to accomplish but I would let that stand in they way.

    CodeZone has been attempting to make a site for the community as well and it has succeeded and failed in several areas as well. They do have a self register speakers bureau has anyone used that to find speakers?

  21. Chris,

    > I don’t think you can lump the international organization
    > and the local entities into one unit.

    Indeed. INETA and its member groups are neither the same organizational unit and not necessarily the same social unit.

    It is possible and reasonable, however, to lump them into the same culture, and from this we can understand why a segment of the guidance making its way to the user community is often indistinguishable from Microsoft’s official message.

    Understanding this, we have to start calling into question the relevance of an organization that claims to be independent but tows the line in practice, and is largely funded by Microsoft except for a few relatively minor sponsors.

  22. James,

    > This is one of those things sitting out there in the .NET
    > community just waiting to be replaced. We need an
    > independent speakers bureau that helps to push what
    > is right for the community not what is right for Microsoft.

    This has been a topic that we’ve been mentally poking at for the past twelve months. Now that we’re gathering our own sponsor base, it’s not an entirely unreasonable projection.

  23. Jay,

    > They do have a self register speakers bureau has anyone
    > used that to find speakers?

    This isn’t the right customer experience, and CodeZone could have realized this if they had done some customer experience analysis, or even just a little bit of scenario thinking. This feature can be torn apart in analysis in just two moves.

    CodeZone was about Doug getting to spend some Microsoft money on building some ASP web apps. I would barely call CodeZone a serious socially and culturally-focused effort. Don’t get me wrong, if I had the budget and the leeway, I might have done exactly the same thing.

  24. Randy Walker says:

    First off, as an INETA Regional Mentor, we DO allow Corporate memberships. This was a change within the last couple of months. However, unless you allow outside attendees, you will NOT receive the speaker benefit. I am in complete agreement with this stance, why should the general community not have the financial benefit, if the corporate group isn’t willing to work with it?

    Lastly, you MUST learn to work within the system. Since INETA is also a volunteer organization, there seems to be this expectation that INETA will do all the work for you. Yes, INETA has done a poor job managing expectation though. I ALWAYS recommend doing the following when trying to schedule speaker … contact INETA speakers directly. Find the email address of any speaker you want, and ask them directly if they would come. Very rarely do they refuse!

    Most importantly, if you don’t like the way INETA is, send us an email, or volunteer to help us change!

  25. Randy Walker says:

    Ok, I’m calling you out! ;) How can you complain about an organization that you agreed to volunteer as a Regional Membership Mentor, and not even participate in the conference calls? The conference calls is the first stage of effectively implementing change within the organization and you’re not participating? (I went back and checked the last two meeting minutes and you weren’t listed as an attendee.)

  26. Randy,

    > Most importantly, if you don’t like the way INETA is, send us
    > an email, or volunteer to help us change!

    This is a cop out. This reminds me of open source project members saying stuff like, “if you don’t like it, you can change it,” and then you open up the source base and find a god awful mess of negligence and vanity.

    If INETA is really invested in change, then its first order of business is to clean house and to make the organization more attractive for new blood, and then to recruit that new blood.

    Inviting people to come in from the outside to clean your house isn’t a credible or practicable proposition.

    The only way that the outside-in approach can work is when it is done as a distributed, organized takeover.

  27. Randy,

    > How can you complain about an organization that you agreed
    > to volunteer as a Regional Membership Mentor, and not even
    > participate in the conference calls?

    I can’t speak for Evan, but from my own year and a half as Speaker Committee chairman, I can say that it’s hard to get people interested in participating in the same old same old stagnant non-action when an assessment can be made quickly that the organization has been stuck in essentially the same pattern loop for years.

  28. Evan says:

    @Randy,

    “Ok, I’m calling you out!”

    Nice try, but I called you out first. I fail to see how this has any relevancy to the organization as a whole.

    I can say that the past couple of months, I’ve pinged a number of people about INETA and usually have gotten the same response (see above) from those who aren’t directly involved in serving within the organization.

    It’s this, in particular, that’s caused me to pause and reflect on whether I want to continue to engage in the organization. I need to either become wholly involved or jump out. This post was intended to be one mechanism for gathering feedback before making that decision.

    In addition, taking a hard look at what my local user group might look like next year has been on my mind in particular. Specifically, how to get high quality speakers to come and speak. This too, brings me full circle to the intentions of this post.

  29. John Kellar says:

    Evan,
    I applaude the fact that you put the question out here. I was not complaining about you posting this at all.

    I do think it needs to be pointed out that INETA doesn’t provide anyone with the material only the opportunity to be in the speaker bureau. I don’t know the criteria for how speakers are put in the bureau though.
    You know some people think devLink is a Microsoft conference, but we are independent. I tried a Java track last year, and the Java community did not show up. We had a mix alternate topics last year, but fewer submissions this year. Could it be that INETA just isn’t getting submissions from the folks who speak on these topics? Are they turning away these speakers? I am asking, I don’t know.

  30. Randy Walker says:

    Scott – I completely agree that INETA has definitely been stuck in the same loop. But we all know that change takes time. There has been a strong desire for INETA to change, both internally and externally, but how do you implement sweeping changes without having the organization collapse in on itself? I guess my point is, we need solutions, not just problems.

    Evan – You are exactly right that every volunteer needs to decide to commit themselves to it, or move aside. Additionally, those that are committed need to evaluate if they are effective. One of the best things I did as a user group leader, was move aside. I wasn’t effectively growing the group, however as a Regional Mentor, I seem to fit in this role better.

    Lastly, I think this kind of discussion is a good thing for the community, but only if something positive comes out of it. Please please please send a list of your complaints directly to the Board. They are having a Board meeting soon, so this is the best time to make it known. i-noram.board@ineta.org daniel.egan@ineta.org

    My list of things that need changed:
    No review process of any of the volunteers.
    Membership Mentors have no impact on INETA itself
    Lack
    Website (which is much improved and constantly getting better)

  31. Jay Smith says:

    I have been thinking about this a lot the last few days and would like to turn this around and ask what do user group leaders and member need from a umbrella organization?

    I believe many user groups can be very successful without an umbrella organization, but, if there was one, what services would you want them to offer?

  32. @Jay Is it that there aren’t many ALT.NET-aware members in INETA? I’m not familiar with the request process; can you request specific people or specific topics? If you could do that, would INETA better suit your needs?