To provide a social and professional networking forum for technology enthusiasts in the Ocala / Marion County area where ideas and information can be shared.Ocala I.T. Professionals mission
The Ocala I.T. Professionals has always been primarily a meeting and networking group. We started meeting in February 2014 at the local library and restaurants. My main goal was to bring I.T. people together so they could share ideas and opportunities and we’ve done that and a lot more over the last several years.
Now, 2020 has really thrown us a couple new curves. Our meetings have been online since April because of the pandemic and, with the number of new cases climbing fast in Ocala and other cities, it doesn’t look like our group will be doing in-person meetings for the rest of the year at least.
Attendance has also been an issue for a number of reasons. It’s always been a challenge for tech groups in Ocala and other groups have finally closed down due to lack of interest. Now, with people scrambling to cope with all the demands of online education, family and careers in the time of COVID, yet another online meeting is often not the first choice for a Thursday night.
I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how I want this group to continue. I even considered whether it should continue at all or whether it was time to give it a rest and let someone else take up the effort when Ocala’s tech culture demanded it.
In the end, I couldn’t imagine what shutting down the Ocala I.T. Professionals would look like as established as it’s become and I can’t seriously consider it. This group is about much more than meetings. We’ve worked with the local Chamber and Economic Partnership, TalentCenter and local companies to promote opportunities and help individuals find employment in the area. It’s been a point of contact for individuals moving into Ocala and looking for the local I.T. community. We’ve also helped support other tech groups and can continue to do so.
That said, we need to make some changes to adapt to the “new normal”. I’ve been dissatisfied with Meetup.com as a membership system for a long time and even cancelled it for awhile in 2019. This year, I’ve been having to remove inactive members to keep the cost down on a site that really doesn’t provide enough to justify the cost. With in-person meetings unsafe and online meetings not in demand, there’s very little reason to continue a paid meeting management service, especially when we have a Slack workspace.
Our group has actually had a Slack workspace since 2019 and a number of members have joined. Slack is a great way to carry the conversation online and share all kinds of materials in ways that are difficult in standard meetings. Instead of waiting for me to schedule the next meeting, you can simply login and post a question or some information on your latest project. It’s also completely FREE for you to use.
Networking is an essential part of the Ocala I.T. Professionals and I can’t imagine the group providing a real benefit without it. I also don’t want to completely abandon periodic meetings to give members the chance to talk to each other directly. However, I believe it’s actually long-past time to move beyond the limits of traditional meetings and use more of the tools that are available to us so that more of our members can benefit from the group.
From this point on, Slack will be the primary networking space for the Ocala I.T. Professionals. If you haven’t already signed up, you can get an invitation link by entering your e-mail address below and signing up for our newsletter. When you confirm your subscription, you will receive an invitation link to sign into the service for free and join our channels. If you have already joined, please remember to check in every so often and help us keep the conversation going!
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In an upcoming post, I’ll talk more about what my plans are for continuing our online meetings. Stay tuned!