By Dan Martin, Deputy Director of Conference Operations
“There isn’t a way things should be. There’s just what happens, and what we do.”
—Terry Pratchett (2004) “A Hat Full of Sky”
I am absolutely petrified at the notion of public speaking. At my first SHARE event (Anaheim, 2005), the hardest thing for me to handle was less than 60 seconds in front of the room as a session chair. Eleven years later when I was asked to take the podium at the San Antonio Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon, I had a moment of panic. Then I grabbed the opportunity. I’d just been given the best job of the entire event: I had the privilege of acknowledging the San Antonio RAVE Award recipients.
“Thank you” isn’t something most of us hear in our day-to-day routine. As a community of enterprise IT professionals – mostly systems programmers/administrators, software developers or other bits-and-bytes types who are primarily Myers-Briggs capital “I” introverts — we’re comfortable in our anonymity. If we do our jobs right, nobody ever knows we’ve done anything. If our efforts result in Coming to the Attention of Others, it’s seldom viewed as a good thing.
The experience of a SHARE event is unique. Our volunteers stay engaged throughout the year, but event weeks are particularly intense. We take time away from our homes, families and regular professional responsibilities. We invest those hours in the core mission of SHARE: We educate each other. We network with our peers. As partners, customers and associates, we influence our chosen profession.
RAVE (Recognizing A Valiant Effort) Awards are small tokens with a huge meaning. There’s no such thing as a simple “thank you” in any volunteer-run organization. In a community of technophiles where excellence is the norm, this type of recognition is not a trivial thing. Though any SHARE member can nominate another participant for this award, these awards are not handed out in large quantity. The San Antonio awards were given in recognition of acts ranging from investment of large amounts of time and work before San Antonio to last-minute demonstrations of initiative and adaptability by volunteers who handled problems on site. It didn’t matter what title the recipients held or what color of ribbon they wore. What mattered was that the recipients saw things that needed to happen, and they made them happen. These are the people who showed up as if they meant to be there and performed in a way their peers chose to recognize.
The three weeks since SHARE in San Antonio have given me time to reflect on the value of volunteering. While SHARE is not the only volunteer-run organization I work with, it is by far the largest. Regardless of size, successful volunteer-run organizations share three features:
- These groups come together in response to a need perceived by the community — not for fame, not for fortune, not for glory. People come together when they see an event or an opportunity and decide something needs to be done. They realize there isn’t a pre-ordained way things should be. They pay attention to what’s happening, and they take action.
- The word “volunteer” implies that everybody receives the same cash compensation: zero. Never underestimate the value of volunteer time and effort. Without our volunteers, there is no SHARE — so take the time to say “thank you” to the people who show up in a way that makes it clear they’re not present by accident.
- Success requires balance of ongoing work with recruitment of new talent. Take care of the business at hand, but remember that you’re here because somebody once gave you an opportunity. Reach out to the new people; you used to be one of them.
Before we left San Antonio, members of the volunteer team were already hard at work on planning for our next event in Atlanta. Take a look around you. Don’t be afraid to thank your colleagues for their efforts. Stay involved in the conversation between conferences. Follow up that first-time attendee or reach out to the new hire in your office. And remember to SHARE; it’s what we do.
Daniel Martin is a senior software engineer at Rocket Software, Inc.