Though books are a wonderful way to learn, beyond all the wonderful pages of information and writing, we have a new dimension available to us now – we have access to the actual people behind the words.
Thanks to social media, we can now personally learn from the experts, speakers, thought leaders and authors.
In my opinion, this is like having access to the most awesome library imaginable! It’s priceless, yet it’s available for free!
We can ask questions, debate and discuss theories, tools and techniques. If we read something that we don’t quite understand, we can go directly to the author to dig deeper, explore, dissect and innovate.
And what’s more, we can even become friends … not just superficial “virtual” friends, but form real-life connections based on shared interests and mutual respect.
Take any topic and you will most likely find others who have similar interests on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
If your interest is agile topics, there are hundreds of agile groups on LinkedIn, and agile pundits tweeting about everything agile. All you need to do is join in the conversation!
There is so much available, in fact, that it might seem overwhelming to know where to begin. Start with understanding your objectives. Are you trying to learn a particular methodology? A tool? Gain experience and knowledge to beef up your resume?
For those new to social media, I’d suggest these three phases of participation similar to the ShuHaRi model of mastery:
1. Read, Learn, Connect
2. Comment, Discuss, Share
3. Create, Write, Teach1. Read, Learn, Connect
Start with finding social media related to the topics that interest you most. You can find blogs, LinkedIn Groups, forums, ebooks, courses, podcasts, SlideShare presentations, YouTube videos and other avenues to learn.
Many authors offer free ebooks in exchange for your subscription to their mailing list.
If you don’t have a LinkedIn account yet, get one and create a profile. LinkedIn is the best social media site for business and careers.
Then, whenever you read or learn from someone, request to connect to them via LinkedIn. Let them know in your request that you are interested in learning more about their topic and thank them for the blog post or whatever it was that led you to them.
Follow them on Twitter, subscribe to their blogs, and “friend” them on any social media that they advertise on their sites. If you find that you’re getting too much email, you can always unsubscribe, change your settings or set up an RSS feed.
However, by connecting to these experts, you will naturally be led to others as these connections post links or pass along information about similar agile circles and communities.2. Comment, Discuss, Share
Bloggers love to get comments. Even if your comment is simply a “Thank you for your post,” your comment is appreciated and will help raise engagement on the blog.
Likewise, simple likes, re-tweets or sharing through various social media channels will not only help to establish you as someone who is interested in these topics, but will also help strengthen your connection with the authors.
Sharing a post or tweet is so easy, and it’s really a win-win. You are doing a service to others in the community by sharing information and the author feels happy for the recognition.
Taking this one step forward would be to add a longer comment with your own experience or ask a question. Once again, the authors will appreciate that you took the time to engage in discussion and will welcome respectful dialog.
This is another opportunity to form a connection with the thought leaders. If you are someone who comments on their material, they will recognize your name and you’ll gain some visibility as someone who is interested in learning and sharing.
LinkedIn Groups also give the opportunity to pose questions and engage in discussions with others with similar backgrounds and interests.3. Create, Write, Teach
Finally, as you gain expertise, start your own blog or discussion forum. When I was laid off in 2009 and looking for a QA management job, I started a blog as a way to learn, network and gain some credibility, should anyone decide to “Google” me.
I started by blogging about everything I was learning from all these different social media avenues. Then I branched into interviewing other QA managers I’d connected with on LinkedIn, and started doing podcasts or Q&A sessions that I’d publish on my blog.
I remember writing about Cem Kaner – a well-known QA leader who I greatly respected and had once quoted in my master’s thesis on measuring software quality. Imagine how surprised and excited I was when he left a comment on MY blog!
I soon was getting other comments from QA and agile experts and feeling elated that these big-name experts and authors were communicating – some even on a personal level – with me … an unknown, unemployed blogger!
I became “real life friends” with Lisa Crispin, who I always admired, and who co-authored what I consider the most comprehensive and well-known books about agile testing.
My blog led to a job, but not the job I’d expected. I was offered a position as the site editor for SearchSoftwareQuality.com, and soon was going to agile conferences, networking, interviewing and writing about agile development and software quality for a living.
Though I eventually went back to a QA management job, writing and networking with agile and QA professionals allowed me the best professional development I’ve ever had in my career.
What’s particularly thrilling for me is that many of the agile greats are now my Facebook friends, and I get to know them on a more personal level. Mike Cohn, with his humor and puns, is an absolute favorite.
Besides blogging, there are many other ways to share your knowledge and expertise with others. Volunteer to speak at user groups or events, host a podcast or YouTube channel, train, coach or mentor others who want to learn.
Social media is the ultimate tool in allowing us to learn and master any skill. However, beyond the written word, we have exposure to the minds of great leaders.
Take advantage of this treasure and you’ll soon find that not only will you grow your skills, you’ll also form life-long relationships.