What’s one part user group, one part professional conference, and one part online community meet-and-greet—with some beer drinking thrown in for good measure? If you guessed the Minasi R&D forum’s annual Forum Meeting, you’re probably already an MR&D forum member who knows something about this yearly gathering of IT professionals. If not—and you enjoy networking with your IT peers—you’ll want to know more about this get-together, coming up April 20–23 in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

My pal Curt Spanburgh, a Windows IT Pro author, veteran consultant and all-around font of entertaining IT war stories, has been sending me reports on the meeting for a couple years now. His write-ups impressed me, first because of the technical expertise of the session presenters—all of whom volunteer their time here. But equally impressive to me was the rapport of the participants, who mainly knew each other from the forum but seemed to bond pretty easily in person over their shared interests of Windows computing and beer. It sounded like fun!

So this year, another one of my MR&D buddies and Windows IT Pro author, Eric Rux, invited me to attend the forum as a presenter. What an honor! I’ll be giving the industry keynote on the topic “What It Takes to Succeed in IT in 2008,” drawing on what I’ve learned as an editor to discuss technology and professional trends that will help forum members stay on top of their profession. What I hope to gain from the event: Plenty of face-to-face networking with the people who are the mainstay of our publications’ audience, where I hope to learn what issues they’re concerned about, what they’re doing on the job, and—of course—what they really think of Windows IT Pro. Whatever it takes to help WITP do a better job of giving our readers the information they need!

As far as I can tell, the Minasi Forum annual meeting is unique in several ways. First, it’s not-for-profit: the main motivation for these folks is sharing their knowledge. It’s a logical, in-person extension of the forum. And it’s a bargain as far as professional conferences go: $450 to register (which covers meeting overhead), plus your own airfare, hotel, and meal costs. And finally, the gathering seems pretty egalitarian: Most, if not all, of the experts presenting the sessions are part of the same forum community as the attendees, a situation that would seem to promote an environment that’s more informal and relaxed than other professional conferences.

Forum attendees are talking up the conference on their blogs; you can see what they’re saying here. To see the list of sessions and get more information about the forum meeting (including links to registration and hotel), go to the MR&D Forum Meeting 2008 Home Page.