The Power of Community

During the Wireless LAN Professionals Conference (#WLPC on the twitters) in February of 2020, Tom Hollingsworth gave a presentation about building communities.  Once the videos post I will provide a link, but until then you will just have to imagine it.

Tom has been in the business of building communities longer than I thought (2011 when he started “Tom’s Corner” at Cisco Live) so he knows a thing or two on the subject.  As I watched his presentation I appreciated what he was talking about, but it wasn’t until after I got home and my brain started to catch up with everything where his talk started to resonate with me.  Now, other talks resonated with me on the spot, and I will be watching them again when the videos are posted, but for now I wanted to focus on Tom’s talk.

What I’m about to talk about isn’t groundbreaking technical research, but more about a continuation of my story and the impact of the communities I belong to.  If that doesn’t interest you, punch out now.

I can remember back to the first conference I attended in the community (Wi-Fi Trek 2017 in Orlando, FL) and the amazement when over a meal, someone asked me (ME!) a question and wanted to learn from me.  It was an amazing feeling and I was hooked.  Fast forward a couple of months, and I attended my first Wireless LAN Professionals Conference in 2018 in Phoenix, AZ.  If I was amazed in Orlando, I’m not sure there is a word to describe what that experience was like.

Starting when I walked in the door and saw a group of superstars in the lobby talking, to the great Jussi Kivinim-ei-ei-o giving me his cookie after he checked in (we were at a Double Tree hotel) I started to understand what normal people feel like when they visit Hollywood and see movie stars.  Every time I hear about a first time attendee try to describe what their first experience at WLPC is like, I think back to my first time with a little warm glow in my heart.

Recently, however, that little warm glow in my heart was getting harder and harder to find.

In the year between WLPC 2019 and WLPC 2020, I had some rough times.  I’m not going to go into details, but at key times throughout those 12 months, superstars within the community reached out to me, or were there for me, to get me through it.  In November of 2019 I moved on from the job I had held for 11 and a half years and started a new adventure.  It was superstars within the community that helped me through that (and facilitated the move) and I started to be happy again.  For me, however, a return to happiness didn’t necessarily mean a return of that little warm glow in my heart.

For the Wireless LAN Professionals Conference in February of 2020, I had concocted a plan to attend, and that plan centered around teaching a deep dive (a 5 hour block of time spread out over two days where a group of people focus on one topic and cram as much knowledge as you can in those 5 hours.)  The topic that I chose to focus on was antennas.  Antennas have always been my thing, but it happens to be a very, very specialized thing.  When the topic first showed up on the website, I was campaigning on social media in hopes of getting 10 people to sign up.  The class sold out, and I had people asking me right up until the class started if I had extra room for them to switch and join my class.

If there was a picture of the dictionary explaining what “unexpected” looked like, it would have been a picture of me in that moment.

During the rest of the conference, I had multiple people tell me that they were looking forward to getting into my class at the conference next year.  I hadn’t even thought about teaching the class again, and yet here were people telling me that they were looking forward to taking my class next year.  That feeling I had in February of 2018 was starting to return.

The power of the community really started to work its magic on me when I started to interact with people during the after hours events.  Nick Turner and I ended up sitting next to each other (we had never officially met before) and I have to say, Nick is an amazing person.  He opened my eyes up to a new concept, and my mind started to churn once again on the possibilities of what he taught me.  I think I can now call him a friend and I am lucky to do that.  I really hope he does the presentation we talked about, I think it would be amazing!

Then, I was talking to Andrew von Nagy of Revolution Wi-Fi fame.  I have been a fan of his calculators for years, and here Andrew is saying hi to me and we started to talk.  At first, the topic was really simple (I was trying to give something away) and by the time I ran the idea past some other people, it had grown into something totally different, and I hope I can pull it off in time for the next WLPC.

At lunch on the last day, I was talking to yet another group of people and had an epiphany about something I had tried to do for my antenna class this year, but couldn’t figure it out.  I quickly scoured the crowd and found Joel Crane and we worked up some ideas on how, with his help, I can make something amazing for the next antenna class, and hopefully in time for WLPC in Europe in the fall.

During the final presentation of the conference, David Coleman of the Sybex CWNA study guide fame was talking about blogging, and my name kinda came up (not from David, crowd participation helped in that one) as an example of what he was saying NOT to do.  Believe it or not, everyone who thought about me when he was saying that, and the few who suggested out loud he was talking about me, gave me some really good ideas.  Some of you may have noticed that my blog posts had kinda dried up over the past 6 months or so, and thanks to them calling me out, I had a flood of ideas of what I wanted to blog about.

*Side note here.  I am actually glad this happened.  I hold no remorse against David or the people who called me out.  They should have.  What I took from it was actually positive, that people do read my blog and they remember it for something other than what I write is completely wrong.

The presentations that happen at any Wireless LAN Professional Conference are amazing and in my mind, second to none in the wireless world.  Much better than any vendor conference going at the moment.  It’s what I like about my community, the willingness to share knowledge and information with those who have the desire to learn.  In fact, that is the only price of admission to our community – desire to learn.

What I love about our community is the people.  David Coleman can make fun of my blog post lengths and then we can laugh and hug when we leave at the end of it all.  My list of ideas and passions that I wanted to work on, as well as that warm feeling in my heart, had disappeared to somewhere and I couldn’t find it.  I spent 5 days with the people of my community, and they brought the warm feeling back and suddenly, the ideas returned and the PASSION has come back!

That, my friends, is a powerful feeling.  If you have ever lost the passion, and then found it again, you know what I am talking about.  It is a feeling like no other.

My plan is to pay back my community for what they have done for me, during the Wireless LAN Professionals Conference of 2020 and the preceding year.  How can I pay back something that doesn’t have a price?  I will return the favor.  While I can’t “pay it forward” per se, what I can do is share what I learn the ways others have shared.  I can be there for others the way others were there for me.  I can try to teach others about antennas whenever and wherever I can.

This is my promise to my community.  If you ever need to ask questions, or just talk, I will always be there for you.  Reach out to me on Twitter, my DM’s are open for any and every one.  I’m active in the Wi-Fi Pro’s Slack, reach out to me in public or private on there.  If you aren’t on the Slack, send me a message on Twitter or email me at ke5spg@gmail.com and let’s get you on there.  Seeing as I just gave you my email, send me one there.  If you see me walking around, grab me and lets talk, and take a selfie together so I can remember the moment.

I can’t promise that I can fix all problems or answer all questions, but if you have the desire, I know of an entire community that is willing to help those who have that same desire.

Look out 2020, this is going to be a much better year than last year, and I am coming for you!

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