How to join the WLAN community for free

I must admit I had a “meatier” topic in mind for my first real blog post. But today, as I interacted with members of the WLAN community whom I have never met before, on two different mediums (well you can argue it was just one… “the Internet”), I thought it might be helpful to other new, shy wireless engineers if I took a moment to write about how (I think) I successfully joined that community.

In my experience most technical communities have a wonderful nature of supporting each other and recognising that we all had to start somewhere. None of us were born knowing everything and unless you are Sheldon Cooper (that’ll help to date this post in years to come!) we all needed someone to show us “the way” at some point.

Of course there are tech rivalries – pre-IP telco engineers hate network engineers, and server engineers hate desktop engineers, and coders hate, well… everyone. But generally within your own field the people around you are very supportive and generous with their time.

That brings us to Rule 1 (not that this post is going to list “rules”, it just seemed like a good segway): do your own research before asking others. No one is going to spend their precious time answering questions that you can answer yourself using Page 1 of a Google search! If you’re going to ask the community a question make sure a) it’s not a stupid question – think the question over for a while to see if the answer is obvious when you take your mind out of the situation it was in when the question occurred, b) take at least 30 minutes to find out if someone has already written about the subject by having a quick Google and reading more than just the headlines of the resulting articles and c) formulate your question so it is accurate, direct and succinct – if people have to try and work out what you’re asking they are going to very quickly move on to one of the many other things they are being paid to do or enjoy more than deciphering your question.

Rule 2 (well hey, look at that, I am going to list things as rules) is Contribute. Now you suddenly got very sweaty and lost faith in this post which is supposed to be showing you, the beginner who “knows nothing”, how to interact with these WLAN industry giants! But give yourself more credit than that. The chances are you work in an industry or vertical that many of these “giants” have never experienced before. Or you use wireless tools in a way they’d never thought of. By giving your opinion, in a way that follows part a and c of Rule 1 (this is getting silly now!), you help us all learn about the wireless world outside our own particular bubble. And you will find people far more forthcoming with their help to you if you’ve been seen helping others, or at least partaking in the community.

So, “how do I contribute“, I hear you all ask. “And remember you said FREE!” I hear you follow up under your breath.

Thankfully this is the easiest part and the one I feel has had the biggest impact on me feeling part of the community in such a short space of time:


Every working day Lee Badman (@wirednot) poses a short question on Twitter related to WiFi (hence hashtag+WiFi+Q) that the community share their opinion on. The topics are far and wide from non-technical ones (that even you, the “beginner” should feel comfortable contributing to) like,

Do you participate in or read WiFi vendor community forums? Pros, cons of this resource? Guidance for anyone new to them?

to more technical ones (but you should still feel comfortable contributing too) such as,

What poorly chosen vendor default WiFi settings do you tend to change? What poor defaults do you run across when out & about?

Several times since I started responding to these questions I’ve felt out of my depth but NO ONE has cut me down, hurled abuse at me or otherwise made me feel like an idiot. In fact, on the contrary, people I don’t know have started liking my comments, responding to me with helpful information, or even retweeting my comment to their followers! Heck, my response today which I felt might show my lack of standing in the community was retweeted by the man and legend that is Keith Parsons (@KeithRParsons) (that guy has almost 9000 followers, move over Katy Perry!).

So Rule 3: get on Twitter and join in!

The other way I’ve interacted with the community is using the Wi-Fi Pros Slack channel setup by Manon Lessard (@mae149). If you’ve not used Slack before it is quickly becoming (or already is and I’m just behind the times) the business social media slash collaboration tool of choice.

There is a lot less traffic on it than Twitter which is both good and bad.  It means there is less opportunities for picking up tidbits of information from the pro’s. But also less noise. And like a traditional Instant Messenger application when you post something (like one of your well considered, researched and concise questions!) everyone on the Slack channel gets to see it. On Twitter if you don’t have a huge number of followers then your Tweets for help go largely unnoticed (unless you @ the crap out of it).

As you would expect from this awesome community there is a great gentlemens/ladies agreement to keep the Slack channel clean of advertising and vendor bashing. I’ve plucked up the courage to post a couple of requests for help on there and (because I followed a, b and c above) so far I’ve been met with positive responses. Although one time my poorly worded attempt to help someone else did seem to upset one significant member of the community, so remember to be careful how you express your opinions so you don’t inadvertently upset anyone.

So I guess that means  Rule 4 (although this one is really stretching the theme) is send Manon a DM on Twitter to get an invite to the channel.

My next vector for even deeper community integration (check my big words out mum!) is to attend one or more of the conferences that go on. I normally avoid conferences because I’m not great at breaking the ice and interacting with strangers, but the welcome and involvement I’ve had so far on Twitter and Slack makes me feel like the other attendees won’t be strangers!

The challenge will be getting time off and funding from my employer, which is not likely to be easy given wireless work is just one component of my role. The conference dates also seem to be at the times of year I like to vacation with the wife, which makes it even harder as it’d mean taking 2-3 weeks away from the office at a time. I will find a way though. Maybe not this year, but I definitely hope so in 2018!

Until then I will keep contributing to the online community and I look forward to seeing you there too.


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