What Do You Get Out of User Groups?

When I started this job about a year and a half ago, I didn't know much about user groups and community.  I was aware of the NJ MS Developer Group that met in the local Microsoft office only because it was run by some of my fellow MCS consultants.  I figured it was a good customer service initiative Microsoft was leading to help folks learn about its developer technologies. 

When I took the Developer Evangelist role at Microsoft, I learned that one of my main responsibilities would be to support the local .NET developer community and area user groups.  I quickly learned that there were many .NET user groups that met throughout the New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania area.  I also learned that these groups are led by a set of dedicated people who are passionate about technology and excited to share that passion with their fellow developers.

My first thought upon learning this was, "Why are these folks doing this?  What's in it for them?"  The folks from MCS who led the NJ group, while passionate about the technology, did so more or less as part of their jobs.  But these other community leaders appeared to be doing it in their own spare time!

Over the past year or so, as I've gotten to know most of these folks, I've come to understand what drives most of them to be leaders in the developer community.  There's a whole slew of reasons, and I'll tell you that money is not one of them!  While passion about the technology is prime, I came across this article from Paul Kimmel yesterday that sums up nicely what's in it for him.  Paul is one of the leaders of a .NET user group in Michigan, GLUGnet.

Read Paul's article on "Exploring the Value of .NET User Groups". 

I'd like to think most folks who attend user groups get similar value out of them.  In my efforts to help support the developer community, I'm always looking for ways we can improve the user group experience and provide more value to people who go out of their way to attend after work. 

So what say you?

If you do attend a user group regularly already, what's in it for you? Why do you choose to travel to the monthly meetings after work and get home late?  What would make the user group you attend even better?

If you don't currently attend any user groups, what would make you interested in trying one out?  Is it the topics?  Location?  Meeting time?  Free schwag that many groups usually give out?

Each month, I try to list out what's going on at each of the user groups in the NYC, NJ, and eastern Pennsylvania areas here on this blog. Does that information provide value? 

Speak out and let me know!  Leave a comment on this post, or send me an e-mail via the blog.

Comments (4)

  1. pmaroun says:

    Timely post.

    A new .NET user group is being started up in our area.  This question has been on my mind lately.. Why should I invest my time into this group?

    User groups used to be a very valuable resource for me.  However, with the easy access to webcasts on any topic, the user group has lost some of its allure.

  2. Steve Goguen says:

    Hi Peter,

     I started going out to user groups and meetups a few years ago because I realized I didn’t have many geek friends in New Jersey.  Fast forward a couple of years, I’ve made a number of good friends and have had fun organizing our groups and meeting other geeks.  

    The main benefits I get out of groups:

    1.  Friends

    2.  Tips, tricks, heads up

    3.  A group of people to ask questions

    4.  Brain dump sessions

    5.  Opportunity to code with other people and learn techniques.

     I wrote to you a few months back about our <a href=”.NET’>http://dotnet.meetup.com/112/”>.NET Meetup</a> in Paramus, NJ.  After a bit of a slow start, we’ve been meeting weekly.  We created a venue where we participate in pair-programming sessions where teams are composed of 1 master and 1 or more students.  The student picks a project and the master guides the student towards finishing his project with the master teaching his conventions and technique for solving problems and implementing solutions.

     I personally find it rewarding, guiding someone and showing them the right way of doing things.  It’s especially rewarding when you have something to show for the time you invested.

  3. paul says:

    It’s like being a kid again, a User Group makes learning fun.

  4. Andy says:

    I’ve been a member of Philly.Net (www.phillydotnet.org) for about 4.5 years.  Early on I saw the benefits.  I learned a lot and had access to people who knew more about .Net than I did.  It really helped my career.  Because of the great speakers and topics presented at Philly.Net, I got exposure to all of the latest technology including Beta stuff.  Attending meetings like this is a great way to stay ahead of the curve.  

    Recently, I took an official role in the group as a member of the Steering Committee (I think that is what it is called).  I am glad to help out in any way that I can.  I think of it in the "Pay it Forward" mentality.  Other people offered there time so I could learn and advance my career.  So I am happy to do the same now that it is my turn.  And as a bonus, I think I learn even more now that I am involved.

    And to quickly comment on the previous comment, I think webcasts are a great resource.  I’ll take information from any source I can.  But there is nothing like attending presentations in person.

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