William Bell is the practice lead for Unified Communications and Collaboration at Chesapeake NetCraftsmen, a U.S. IT consulting firm. He says, “Cisco Support Community embodies the idea that the value you get out of something is directly related to how much effort you put into it.”
How did you get your start in networking?
In college I interned for a small IT company, primarily doing software development for Windows and Novell environments. Over five years I transitioned from software development to troubleshooting server issues, which quickly led to network protocol analysis. For a time, my primary responsibility was to show up on a customer network with a Sniffer and solve some obscure performance issue. It was quite natural to transition from protocol analysis to working on the network gear itself. Eventually I was designing and building out networks.
My next career step was working for a service provider, where I had free reign of the R&D lab. I would stay late into the evening, and on Friday I would stay all night, not going home until Saturday morning. I learned everything that I could in that environment, and began developing my expertise in unified communications technologies.
What are you doing now?
After jobs with a defense contractor and a large financial organization, I decided I wanted to get back into consulting. I joined Chesapeake NetCraftsmen, which is a very talented team of seasoned engineers based in the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. I am currently the technology practice lead for Unified Communications and Collaboration.
How did you discover the Cisco Support Community?
I stumbled across the community when it was called NetPro, through a search engine. At first I would visit the forum if I needed help with a problem. Then one day I saw a question that required digging into a CallManager trace file. I am a big believer in giving back to a community that has helped me out, and at that time I was very fluent in parsing trace files. So, I helped the member and found the experience to be very rewarding.
Why do you continue to contribute?
I began actively participating in the community because I felt obligated to give back. There is value for members in quickly finding an answer to a challenge, but I’ve found it much more rewarding to get involved and help out others. I’ve also found that over time you begin to get to “know” other members, gaining insights into personalities and truly becoming part of a community.
Does your employer support your involvement?
Knowledge sharing and contributing to the larger IT community is a core value for Chesapeake NetCraftsmen, and our leadership actively encourages us to contribute to Cisco Support Community. Three of us, Rick Burts, David Hailey, and myself, have been recognized two years in a row as top external individual contributors, and we’re all members of the Cisco Designated VIP Program inaugural class. I think the fact that three of 24 VIPs from around the world are from one company clearly demonstrates my company’s commitment to knowledge sharing.
How do you participate?
Normally, I pop into the forums two or three times a day to see what’s going on. I add to a thread if needed, and otherwise just read and rate good responses.
How is Cisco Support Community different from other communities?
I participate in several communities and I honestly believe that Cisco Support Community is the best, for two reasons. One is that members are so committed to helping each other. For example, someone recently posted a challenging problem to the forum. This question spawned a thread where I and several other people actively worked together to solve the problem. It was a demonstration of how people from various backgrounds and experiences can work together without ever meeting each other. That, my friends, is collaboration. Another outstanding quality of Cisco Support Community is the degree to which Cisco supports the community and its members. The CSC portal is very easy to use and invites participation. A lot of time and talent goes into creating this type of environment.
Any suggestions for fellow community members?
To everyone who is actively participating and helping out, keep up the good work! To people who have only used the community to ask questions, I encourage you to try giving back. You might find the experience to be very rewarding. Additionally, I’d encourage everyone to be gracious to people who ask questions, and to not just answer for points or imply a question is silly. Remember that you weren't always as knowledgeable as you are today, and that at some point in your career someone generously helped you out. This is an opportunity to return the favor.
How about advice for people asking questions, to elicit the most helpful answers?
As IT professionals, our job is to identify use cases, understand requirements, and provide solutions. Our solutions should focus first on the use case, not the technology. So instead of asking, “How do I make Cisco Unified Communications Manager do X?”, consider asking your question from the standpoint of the business problem you are trying to solve. You may be pleasantly surprised by how many ways we can solve for X.