4 technology groups worth joining

Associations can offer feds professional and technical development

To keep up with the rapid evolution of technology, federal government employees must undertake a lifelong education in their particular specialties. To do that, many join professional associations, user groups and other organizations that provide symposiums, peer-to-peer networking, publications and other resources.

Treasury Department Chief Information Officer Ira Hobbs, who is co-chairman of the CIO Council’s Information Technology Workforce Committee, said professional development is critical for any discipline, including IT.

With “the rapid pace of technology, there’s no way you can stay in school long enough to get it all,” he said. “You’ve got to build those relationships with others in your community, and I think professional associations do a great job in terms of helping.”

There are hundreds — if not thousands — of groups whose missions range from broad technological themes to specific specialties, such as programming, open-source or local-area network management. Many nonprofit groups, such as the Industry Advisory Council, Association for Federal Information Resources Management and Women in Technology, offer individual and/or corporate memberships. Technology companies also provide user communities and forums for their products.

“Sometimes the hardest thing is choosing the one that’s right for you, that fits who you are and the kinds of things that you’re most interested in,” Hobbs said.

Here are four associations that offer individual memberships for government IT professionals.

1. AFCEA International
Benefits to joining AFCEA International include staying aware of news, developments and innovations in the technology industry and networking with the 32,000 members representing government, industry and academia across 130 chapters in 30 countries, said Curt Adams, director of member and chapter services.

The group offers forums in which members can exchange information and get ideas for solutions. Adams said that would particularly benefit government supervisors, who could then spread the word about innovations and new developments to their employees.

“It enables them to capitalize on the knowledge of their peers and colleagues to solve problems they may have or solve problems their colleagues may have already solved,” he said.

2. Association for Computing Machinery
Formed in 1947, this group bills itself as the world’s oldest computing society and has more than 80,000 members and many chapters worldwide. Spokeswoman Virginia Gold said the group studies various issues that affect the IT field, and members have access to a huge digital library, which includes all conference proceedings, publications and other resources.

“We think that anybody [who] has an interest in the field as a profession or an academic discipline would benefit from the initiatives that we have,” she said.

3. Internet Society
Internet pioneers Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn co-founded this group, based in Reston, Va., in 1992. It has 24,000 members worldwide throughout 77 chapters and focuses on the development of the Internet.

“Our tagline is that the Internet is for everyone, and we fund and support efforts to train people in the developing world about running sound networks, to make sure that in policy debates about the Internet there is a voice of the user that talks about the history of the Internet, how successful it has become and why so,” said David McAuley, the group’s membership director.

4. USENIX: The Advanced Computing Systems Association
The 31-year-old organization, which started as a Unix users’ group, was the place where people first heard about Java and where UUNET was launched. Seven percent of the group’s 6,000 members, who include systems administrators and programmers, are government IT professionals, said Anne Dickison, USENIX’s marketing director. The group publishes an online magazine six times a year and holds conferences and training programs on topics such as Linux.

“You really get to ask your questions to the people who created the software or are experts in the field,” Dickison said. “We do a lot of community building so you have mailing lists [and you can] post your questions to people you know who can answer your questions.”

Sarkar is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.