In 2002, I asked people at Microsoft questions such as, "How do you work with IT user groups to get information about improving Windows?" One answer I heard from some people was, "Those guys are the implementers. They don't have any purchasing influence within their companies." I was shocked. Then, Mark Smith wrote an editorial, "The Soul of Windows" (January 2003, InstantDoc ID 27392), for this publication. Mark made the point that Microsoft had deserted its core constituency—IT pros—and, as a result, risked losing its most valuable customers. If Microsoft didn't believe IT pros had influence, the company could watch IT pros abandon Windows and choose competing products. That article had an impact within Microsoft. Major initiatives followed to solicit IT pros' input and to pay more attention to Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs). Microsoft's growing passion for IT pros also resulted in the establishment of Culminis, a worldwide support network for IT user groups and associations.

Power to the IT Pro
Culminis is now celebrating its 1-year anniversary, and I thought you might like to learn about this organization devoted to the power of the IT pro. I recently talked with Dave Sanders, president of Culminis, and Ron Gandiza, global director of programs. According to Dave, the group's mission is to "elevate the status of IT pros in the workplace and the general community."

What does that mean? Dave explained, "We're trying to show IT pros and the industry that they're not geeks. They're professional solution architects. They can show a company how to save money, make money, and put itself in the market more effectively. These professionals work hard and study hard. By promoting involvement in the civic community, we can raise self-esteem and public perception while making a huge difference in the world. IT pros are not just the people who fix PCs at work, but they contribute their expertise at schools and homeless shelters, for example."

According to Ron, by helping the community, IT pros help themselves. He said, "IT is a transient profession. It's unusual to be in a company longer than 2 years or the length of a project, so people feel precarious. It's hard to keep self-esteem. Groups who get involved in the general community raise their self-esteem. When IT pros help the community, the community gets stronger, they get stronger, and recognition of the profession goes up."

What Culminis Does
In its role as support network for IT user groups and associations, Culminis provides the following services:

  • Administrative and operations help for user-group leaders to effectively manage the group (e.g., resources such as templates to start up a user group)
  • Training and education (e.g., downloadable technical presentations, speakers, free hands-on labs)
  • Advertising and marketing to grow user groups (e.g., opportunities to talk about a group at TechNet briefings, templates for marketing materials)
  • Career management (e.g., career portal to post jobs, networking opportunity)
  • Community outreach (e.g., access to a database of charitable organizations and contact information, a request system for schools to request assistance from Culminis to build or support a network)
  • Feedback development (e.g., ability to participate in and provide feedback directly to Culminis sponsors such as Microsoft and Intel)

To learn more about Culminis and join a Culminis-affiliated IT user group in your area, visit http://www.culminis.com.

The Status of IT
Microsoft responds quickly when it realizes it's missing an opportunity. The development of Internet Explorer (IE) and embracing the Internet are well-known examples of this characteristic. Recognizing the importance of IT pros' customer satisfaction is another.

Working on my Hey Microsoft! column has convinced me that some Microsoft development teams truly value and rely on your feedback. Michael Emmanuel of the Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) team is an excellent example of true commitment to customer service, as demonstrated by the fact that your feedback on "Can MOM 2005 Help Small Businesses?" (December 2004, InstantDoc ID 44426) resulted in the availability of a trial version of MOM Workgroup Edition.

I believe that community is the way to ensure that Microsoft's products meet your needs and is also the means of protecting your job status and security. That's why this magazine's mission is connecting you with one another, with Microsoft, and with third-party vendors that support you.