Editors note: The following is a post by guest author Justin Porter who is a candidate for the COMMON Board of Directors.

COMMON has survived quite well through the financial crisis—in no small part due to the dedication of its members, volunteers and staff who wish to see COMMON continue providing top quality education into the future.  Now past its fiftieth birthday, COMMON’s future looks as bright as that of the platform we represent.  Looking to the future, we must begin to answer the question of “where is our next generation of members?”  This very question is the reason I have become involved with COMMON as a volunteer over the last several years—I want very much to be a part of the answer to that question.

Since joining COMMON as a member some years ago, fresh out of college, I’ve become very involved with and helped rejuvenate the Young i Professionals (YiPs) organization.  I soon thereafter became a member of the COMMON America’s Advisory Council (CAAC) and a member of the certification steering committee.  At the outset, my goal was to provide input relevant to my own generation that would help the organization steer itself toward the future and attract a new group of members.  The opportunity to run for a seat on the board of directors is something that I believe will allow me to help implement these ideas that I’ve garnered over the past years in a way that is meaningful, relevant and positive for the future of the organization.

At its core, COMMON is a premier provider of education and, through that core competency, provides venues for furthering ones skills as well as furthering ones professional networking.  Being a user group, COMMON’s focus is on continuing to evolve with our members and the environment within which we operate.  We can all see how this evolution has taken place over the last few years with the expansion of online educational offerings to supplement the in-person meetings.  Virtual labs followed as has the availability of certification testing.  We have built a strong and well executed tool-belt  for education delivery as a user group, but we must not stop in our quest to continue evolving to accommodate a new generation of professionals entering the workforce—it is this new generation of professionals and their membership with COMMON that will drive its success in the next fifty years.

Put simply, this new generation is not out hunting for COMMON, in part because they aren’t necessarily familiar with us.  As an organization, COMMON’s brand must be visible and relevant to the next generation of IT professionals such that the logical choice is to be a part of the user group.  Recognition all on its own can be achieved to some degree through heightened visibility and exposure.  From my experience with the YiPs, I have learned that getting the brand out there and visible is one thing, while continuing to provide relevance to this generation is a whole different animal.  We need to provide services and education catered to this generation—this is a generation that will turn first to a search engine rather than pick up the phone when dealing with issues or learning a new technique.  I would rather see this generation turn to COMMON before the search engine.  COMMON and “business computing” education need to go hand-in-hand.   We must work to become more than visible to those pursuing business computing education and then focus on providing an ever-relevant source of education to them.

I do not believe the process will be simple, but I do believe it is necessary.  We have already paved the way for this connection between COMMON and a new generation of business computing professionals with offerings such as the COMMON certification program and a fantastic remote-learning infrastructure.  We have also begun the work to expose our brand and importance in the community through sponsorship and involvement in events such as the AITP conference and the brand new RPG contest held there.  These are the building blocks for the kind of exposure and continued relevance we must provide to a new generation.  I believe COMMON is ready for this and I’m prepared to help make it happen.