My personal $.02 ... I personally believe that certification / degrees from colleges are noise. However, they do show to a potential employer that at least some time has been spent investigating technology x. Personally, however, I would ask a potential employee what real life experiences do you have. Can you solve problems? Have you dealt with problems that have bitten our organization in the past, and how would you deal with it? Do you personally identify problems and solutions, or do you wait for prompting from managers to solve problems?
I would continue to do what you are currently doing, go to user groups if they exist in your neigbourhood, and participate in online communities. I would also encourage you to *give* presentations to those groups, because if it perks someones interest, it may be a way into the door of that person's organization...
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