Networking with newbies, experts and gurus

Networking is more than just cables and wires. Although federal Webmasters may find themselves mired in securing firewalls and analyzing Web hits, they must consider the other type of networking: interacting with peers in a supportive, free exchange of ideas, tips and the occasional cathartic rant.

Whether just starting with basic Web design or managing a team of Web programmers, federal Webmasters should remember the benefits of networking — the people-to-people kind.

Networking is initially helpful in obtaining a job, but once hired, it is imperative that IT professionals continue to network among colleagues. That's because a knowledge gap can occur when co-workers move in and out of the office from the private sector to the public sector. Networking also fills in the blanks when funds for professional memberships dry up.

Individuals at different skill levels still need the advice of their peers: newbies, experts and gurus can share ideas and mentor others. (An illustration of these skill levels: In the IT world, the newbie is just starting the certification series; the expert just completed the certification; the guru teaches the classes.)

Webmasters should consider venues that enable individuals to share knowledge with each other. Informal hallway conversations can be expanded to brown-bag discussions. (Desserts always encourage high attendance.) Inviting other (non-IT) individuals to these brown-bag discussions forms bonds that blur the too-formal lines between technical personnel and other staff members. Networking is important for both to be able to understand each other. Natural leaders and generalists who straddle both "worlds" serve as liaisons when it appears that communication may be waning.

Developing a sense of community and collaboration also can be aided by subscribing to newsgroups, e-mail discussion groups or threaded discussion boards.

Electronic conversation via e-mail and threaded discussion boards opens opportunities. Just reading postings (lurking) allows the newbie to learn a lot. When training is not readily available, lurking can help the newbie get up to speed.

E-mail discussion groups facilitate easy access to the authors of the book on industry standards or communication with colleagues in a related agency. It's like having tutors at your fingertips. Of course, the drawback is the time spent on responding and waiting for responses.

This is not to say that e-mail groups take the place of attending formal training sessions, conferences or hands-on panel meetings, but online seminars can offer similar dynamics. Look to the lists for announcements of online learning opportunities and online seminars you can attend.

You can find lists of interest by searching these databases:

When you find an e-mail list of interest, be sure to read the "info file" to ascertain if it is a private list and if it really is what you want. Subscribing and unsubscribing generally follow the format described below:

Be sure to read list guidelines carefully, and be sure to send to the correct listserver, listprocessing, or majordomo (subscribe-to) address. For example, to subscribe to FedWeb-Announce, send an email to listserv@www.gsa.gov with this text in the body of the message: subscribe fedweb-announce.

Some lists may require that you add your name or e-mail address after the list name. You will receive confirmation of your request, and some e-mail groups will ask you to confirm that you intended to subscribe.

Obviously, there are too many lists to include them all here, but these are some to consider. (And if you're really inspired, you can start your own list.)

You can also visit your favorite technical Web sites and see if they host discussion groups or a forum or two.

These organizations are targeted to women:

Too busy to correspond or lurk? Get your feet wet with this representative sample of e-mail newsletters.

—Tang, a member of the Federal Web Business Council, is an associate in the Information Technology Group at Caliber Associates, Fairfax, Va.

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