User Groups are GoodSo you are trying to build a career are you? I'm sure you've heard it before but networking can be asset when looking to get involved with development professionally. There are opportunities out there to meet all sorts of interesting people. You also might learn a little something along the way. The first place I look (I'm Canadian eh?) is the Canadian Developer Connection. There are all sorts of interesting blogs there (like this one maybe) but for our purposes you want to look at the Upcoming Plans section and check out the social bits on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Most major cities have User Groups that you can join and hang out with. Microsoft put a good deal of effort into providing a place for developers to connect and you can do well by making use of that.
You can also search sites like meetup.com for User Groups in your area. Some have been around for a very long time and most bring in exceptional speakers (many Microsoft MVPs and other subject matter experts). However I find one of the biggest benefits at these groups are the people you meet. Generally the people that take the time to attend these User Groups tend to movers and shakers in the software business. Some are new but enthusiastic, some are grizzled veterans who have been there and done that. You can learn from them all. Who knows, your next partner, employer or co-worker could be sitting just a couple of chairs away from you.
Hackathons are ValuableDevelopment tends to be an intense occupation. At least in peaks and valleys it is. Personally I'm in the middle of a delivery crunch time and am working longer hours than usual to get the job done. Hackathons (Hackfests or codefests) are a great way to meet people with similar interests and whether you believe it or not, a hackathon will test your mettle. Microsoft sponsors hack-a-thons for good reason. It's a great gathering point for developers and you would be amazed at what comes out of them.
Hack-a-thons are varied in shape and size. Small and large ones focused on gaming technologies to small business oriented ones. There is something for everybody. And just because you think of yourself as a business programmer, don't dismiss giving a go to Unity or some other gaming platform to create Windows Platform games. You might find you like doing games and this is a way to give it a try in a highly motivated environment.
Try doing a Bing search for "Windows Platform Hackathon" and you will be surprised out how many pop up. Your local UGs will also be able to point you in the right direction? Or, try organizing one yourself!
Conferences are More Than SessionsYears ago I was fortunate enough to attend several Microsoft TechEd events. I was close to the beginning of my development career and while it is a cliché, if only I had know then what I know now... I now know that I really only attended half the conference. It all comes back to networking. One the best things you can get out of major conferences like TechEd, Build or any number of others is the people you meet. Go for lunch, talk with the people at your table. You may find they have much in common. Once again I was fortunate enough to attend Build this year in San Francisco. While the sessions were great it was the people that I met that will have a lasting impression on my career. Microsoft, too, has learned from passed events and promotes networking in a multitude of ways. You can choose to notice this or live oblivious to the benefits offered. I was able to meet and discuss technology with Lumia developers, talk with MVPs about how things get done and have stayed in contact with many of those people months after the conference was over. It's not just about the 3-4 days of the conference. If you do it right it can leave a lasting mark on your career for years to come.
Keep and eye out for upcoming conference, day seminars and other big events near you. Here are some links where you can view some of the presentations from this last year and keep an eye open for next year.
Learning OpportunityOverall, these are all learning opportunities and opportunities to meet those folks in your area of interest that are also out there doing work. Don't show up with the goal of passing out your resume. Rather, show up ready to do some work, either coding (hackathon) or learning (UGs) or just hearing the stories of those have been there and done that. If you are truly looking for employment those new friends of yours can help a lot.
And also, in such close proximity to Thanksgiving up here in Canada, I'm constantly thankful that so many great opportunities are provided on a regular basis to help us attain our goals. Life is great!