Recently, someone asked me why it was a good idea to attend a local user group meeting. Here’s a longer version of the answer I gave at the time.
There are several reasons why it’s a good idea to attend a local user group that’s relevant to the technology you use for your day to day job - in no particular order, here are some that motivate me.
A formal training course from a reputable provider often costs many hundreds or several thousand dollars, even for a single day or half day course. Your local user group is likely to be a free event, costing you only your time, and is likely to give you a good grounding on the relevant subject. Some presenters will even make suggestions on where you can find out more information.
Its true that you can usually find a training course on a given subject within a few weeks, but don’t write off your local user group. Most leaders would be delighted to receive a request for a specific topic as there are often local experts willing to speak if asked.
Also, it can be hard to justify an expensive training course on a technology you don’t have a proven need to use, but a user group meeting can give you a useful overview of a technology so that you know when it might be useful.
Your local user group offers a chance to meet up with your peers working with the same technology stack. Even without diving into the (often confidential) details of your current project, bouncing ideas around with people having a different viewpoint can be valuable. Such discussions can give you a fresh perspective, new ideas and increased motivation.
There are long term benefits as well. It’s been said that as many as 60% of ICT jobs are never formally advertised, or only advertised as a formality when creating a job opening for someone who’s already been identified as a good hire. Even if this statistic is totally overblown, being well known in your local user group will certainly help when the inevitable shift in roles becomes a reality.
Paying it forward
We all owe a debt to others in our industry who took the time to share what they knew with us, helping us to mature into professionals. Whether it’s the senior manager who took us under her wing to show us the ropes, the blogger who told the story of his struggle with recalcitrant technology or the friend who gave us good advice when we were stressed to breaking point, we all owe a debt.
In some cases, particularly when it relates to people we know “in real life”, we can work to payback what we owe. But in some cases direct payback is impossible or infeasible (what would I have to teach Ayende Rahein or Anders Heijsberg?)
When this happens, paying it forward is one good answer - take the time to help out someone less experienced, or less informed, than yourself. Not only will you feel good about the experience, but you’ll find that the task of clearly explaining a topic forces you to really understanding it.
Of course, there are other reasons to attend - probably as many different reasons as there are attendees. Some may attend only for the free pizza and drinks; others because it’s a chance to catch up with friends.
Why do you go?
Why don’t you go?