Rob Kraft's Software Development Blog

Software Development Insights

The Next Generation of User Group Meetings

Posted by robkraft on December 2, 2011

In the Kansas City metro I’ve noticed an increase in the number of computer user groups forming to meet and discuss and learn about software technologies.  Some of these groups have exploded on the scene with an average attendance of more than 30 people per meeting, which outdoes groups that have been existing more than a decade with less than 10 people per meeting.

But I think it is time to try to do more.  I think we can do a better job.  I think the goal is to increase the knowledge of technologists about all the things they are interested in; and I’ve noticed that some of the most popular meeting topics are about “other things”.  For example, training on Ruby at the .Net meeting produces a large crowd; and training on IIS at the Java meeting produces a large crowd.  Why is that?  I believe it is because most developers recognize the need to have at least some knowledge of the tools they don’t regularly use.  By raising our own awareness of other tools and techniques, we are open to more possible ways to solve problems.  More importantly, after we have learned the basics and some pros and cons of a new tool or language, we are less intimidated by that tool or language and more open to consider using it in future projects.

What does this all mean for user groups?  I believe that we should continue to have the “Special Interest Groups” to focus on the arcane and specific features of the group’s named technology.  But I believe we need a general interest group that presents tools and technologies at a high-level (introductory level) that can be marketed to the entire community of developers in the metro.

How do we go about this?

  1. We need to find a venue to host these meetings.  My hope is that we can draw 50 to 200 people at each meeting.  Therefore, we would want a venue that can accommodate such a crowd.
  2. We need to identify topics of presentations that can be presented as introductory material to this large audience.
  3. We need to find good presenters that are enthusiastic about presenting and answering questions on these topics.  In addition, the      presents will probably, but not necessarily, need to create the presentation.
  4.  We need to get the word out to all IT people in the KC Metro about the event.  And I want to jump on my soap box here and say that the goal is not to get as many bodies as possible at the event; the goal is to make everyone in the KC Metro that might be interested in this topic aware of the opportunity to learn.
  5. We need coordinators to bring all these elements together at the same place and time.
  6. Optionally, we could obtain sponsors to help pay venue costs if any, and to provide food, drinks and prizes; but I don’t believe that food, drinks, or prizes are necessary to draw the crowd.
  1. Now I am not sure what venues can hold this many people.  I believe that JCCC could do it, and probably would be open to it; but their business needs usually come first.  Red Nova Labs and VML both seem to have large venues, but I don’t know if they are large enough.  Can you suggest other venues?
  2. The list of potential topics is long.  I will start a list with these items: TDD, Agile, Kanban, Starting in Ruby, Perl, JavaScript, Jquery, HTML5, CSS3, SQL, Unit tests, Inversion of Control, Asp.Net, MVC, MVVM, SQL Injection and XSS, Starting in .Net, Starting in Java.
  3. The list of good presenters is also long.  In fact, the current local user groups, those that I collectively refer to as Special Interest      Groups, could serve as the training grounds for finding presenters.  If you know someone that gave a great presentation at a local user group, then recommend that person and their presentation for the new general interest group.  Also we need to hear from presenters      about topics they would like to present.
  4. We already know several ways to get the word out., and and linkedIn.  We would, of course, set up a simple web site with info about the upcoming event.  We could contact all the local groups and have them announce the meeting.  We might also spread the word by creating a meetup for the event.  We could start a twitter hash tag as well.
  5. We need people to do these things.  I believe that if we can get 5 to 10 people behind this to do the work, it will be enough to make it happen and those 5 to 10 won’t get burned out.  Personally, I would like to be one of the marketers to spread the message about the upcoming meetings, and I hope Mike Gelphman would work with me.  I would leave it to others to find the venue, topic, and presenter.
  6. If a vendor reads this blog and wants to step forward, then please do so.  Of if you want to contact potential sponsors, please do so.  They are certainly welcome, especially if we incur venue costs that the sponsor will pay for.  But this is primarily about increasing the skill levels of our technologies and those making technology decisions, not about selling products.

The OWASP group has a pretty good speaker agreement that I believe we could copy for this group as well.  Perhaps a similar agreement from venue host and sponsor would be helpful.

Who wants to see this happen?  Who wants to be a driver to make this happen?  Let’s make the software developers in the Kansas City metro the best in the world!

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