The Software Testing Club recently put out an eBook called “99 Things You Can Do to Become a Better Tester“. Some of them are really general and vague. Some of them are remarkably specific.

My goal for the next few weeks is to take the “99 Things” book and see if I can put my own personal spin on each of them, and make a personal workshop out of each of the suggestions.
Suggestion #32: Is “Join Software Testing Club!” taken? I couldn’t see it… or maybe it is too obvious 🙂 – Geir Gulbrandsen
Well, what do you expect? This was a poll started by Software Testing Club, and the results were turned into the “99 Things” eBook. Nevertheless, it makes a good point. Whether it’s the Software Testing Club, or some other group or network, the goals are the same. Places where people with similar skills and experiences can congregate tend to help those people grow, learn, and network. Therefore, this post is going to be relevant regardless of the forum you choose to support.
Workshop #32: Be a net producer rather than a net consumer of your respective community 
When you join a community of any kind, often we go in with the hope of getting something from the experience. There’s nothing wrong with saying that, it’s generally true. Our first impulses when we go to a site, or go to participate in an online environment of any kind is because we want something. we want information, we want something that we think will be entertaining, we want to talk with other people that share our interests. Again, that’s totally fine and expected. I’m just saying that, if that’s your core reason for going, chances are really good that you will not participate with it for very long. When the novelty wears off, or the ability to find what is tailored for us tapers off, and we are not actively contributing to the environment, then yes, at some point, we will check out or spend less time with that community.
If you are interested in joining any kind of an online community, peruse their site and ask the following questions:
– do the topics that are represented reflect my interests?
– do I have expertise that would fit in with the primary discussions?
– are there opportunities for me to provide content for the site that others can view and comment on?
– if I were to get my five most important questions answered (needs met, etc.) is there additional value to me for coming back here?
– are there tools that I will be able to use to help contribute and participate? Are they replicating things I’m already doing elsewhere? If, so, can I integrate what I am already doing with the community (an example would be the ability to share posts, have a blog syndicated, or referencing other aspects where we won’t have to do it multiple times in multiple places)?
– what are the benefits of membership? What makes this community better (or worse) than another community?
– is there a regional aspect? Do those of us who are not located in the primary area feel out of place, or do we have opportunities to participate even if we are not in the general vicinity of where the group is organized? I’m mentioning this last one simply because the Software Testing Club is in the U.K., and those who are in the U.K. or E.U. will have more opportunities to directly interact with members than I will being located in California).
If you can answer all or most of those questions positively, then it’s a good bet that it’s a positive fit for you as a community. 
Once you have decided that it is a good community to join, I would suggest seeing if there are areas with questions that can be answered, opportunities for mentoring, or otherwise getting involved in a way that directly impacts the people of the community, and has you participating as a net producer for that group. The communities where you you contribute the most to are, generally, the ones you will stick with and continue to participate with. 
Bottom Line:

Regardless of where you choose to place your focus, and with which community, strive to make direct connections with the people there. try not to be the person that just lurks, or reads from time to time. IF that’s your goal, then a community isn’t necessary. There are hundreds of blogs that can be read, researched and notes taken from that will do the same thing. Communities are there for interaction, and if you decide that the community is what you want, then contribute to the community. Your efforts will be noted, and you may make a number of potential life long friends. Seems to be working for me in the communities I participate in, in any event :).