It Pays to Do Community ...
I am incredibly honored to be the recipient of the INETA Community Champion Award – the annual recognition for those who contribute notably to the Microsoft developer community. While the recognition from INETA is definitely rewarding, I have actually gotten much more back from our wonderful community compared to what I have given and have to share this recognition with my cohorts. It takes effort, persistence & contributions from a lot of folks to build a truly rewarding developer community that benefits everyone involved. This will be a quick post thanking several people that I truly respect & enjoy working with, along with thoughts on running a technical User Group.
First, INETA is the mothership for most Microsoft/.NET based developer communities that we have worldwide. If you are a community member or leader, make sure you know all about INETA and the resources available to you. The INETA Community Champion program is wonderful way of recognizing those who stand out in their contributions .. find out more details @ http://www.inetachamps.com/. If you are a community lead, make sure to record your contributions with INETA. See someone doing a lot for your local developer community? Nominate them for the INETA Community Champion Award or ping me & I’ll be happy to. Like they say – you already do a lot, why not get recognized for it? Here’s a quick view of the wonderful certificate INETA sends your way!
Check out the 2012 Q3 INETA Community Award Winners page HERE – a stellar group of folks indeed. Not sure how worthy I am to be on the list, but thanks anyways INETA . What’s important to note is that community leaders have a support system to fall back on which helps build developer communities. Communities cannot operate in a silo; it has to be a consolidated effort from folks without vested interests. And technical communities need to be fun & engaging for volunteers to happily contribute. Every community has its story .. here’s a short version of ours!
June 2011. Windows Phone has been out for a little over 6 months. In Central Ohio, just like in many other cities, we have the .NET User Group as CONDG – Central Ohio .NET Developers Group and few other User Groups focused on Microsoft technology stack. While these groups were great & had regular meetups, we also had a bunch of passionate Windows Phone developers in town. We used to talk at other meetups on how we could use a dedicated forum just to focus on the mobile technologies; Mobile is a different beast after all. After a lot of planning, cross-checking on resources & advice from other community leaders, we started the Central Ohio Windows Phone User Group. A small group of passionate developers to begin with, we soon found out that we could easily talk about the Windows Phone ecosystem once a month, if not more often – the dedicated forum was absolutely worth it. And the shiny gadgets that we brought along did not hurt. In fact, my most enjoyable times at our UG Meetups was often the hangouts after the technical talks – the sharing of what’s new on our phones, the next big App idea, the banter! Even though we were a little late getting back to our spouses, the geek talk was pure fun.
Then, Windows 8 came along. What we were so passionate about in Windows Phone – the Modern UI design, the fast & fluid UX – that was all suddenly mainstream & bigger than ever. We quickly adapted and finally regrouped as The Windows Developer User Group. We now embrace a wider technology stack, starting from XAML with C#/VB.NET, C++, HTML/CSS/JScript & game development in XNA/DirectX. The wider reach paid dividends and our little User Group grew to 70+ members. We have a long way to go, but we’re excited to see the passion in the new Microsoft ecosystem grow – that was the primary reason why we wanted the forum. Our meetups offer terrific speakers sharing their technical knowledge, as well as serving as a networking tool to increase awareness & learn from each other. We have our group of regular patrons & the trickle of new faces every month. This is what technical community should be – for developers & by developers.
Now, a little something about our locals. Here in Columbus OH, we have an absolutely rocking developer community – developers from all platforms who just need a forum to come share war stories & learn from each other. We are able to pull off conferences/events sheerly due to the passion that the developer community has towards improving our craft – this is truly amazing, and I hope folks in this town realize how wonderful it is to be ensconced amidst so much talent. On the Microsoft stack, we have involvement from the northern Heartland DPE folks – Jeff Blankenburg, Brian Prince, Jennifer Marsman, Clark Sell, Dave Bost & David Isbitski – I don’t think I need to tell you how superbly awesome every one of them is. Jeff deserves a special thanks for helping our UG get off the ground & providing support throughout. Doug Mair and Chris Ellis are truly the pillars of our User Group now – they have stepped up selflessly and make sure that our group has a long life ahead. Doug & Chris – Thank you for what you do; this recognition is as much yours as mine. Michael Collier, who runs our sister User Group – Central Ohio Cloud Computing User Group, deserves a big thanks for helping us spread the word. Cheers to patrons like Craig Blazakis & Rylin Slotterbeck. Also, our UG quickly found a solid support system in our awesome sponsors, who make sure we are never short on logistic supplies & raffle prizes – thank you for your involvement. And lastly, I circle back to our wonderful UG Members who come to our meetups with so much energy to share & learn – it makes for a truly delightful community.
Still with me? Because now comes the good part . We, at the Windows Developer User Group, have had a good run in growing our little group with the help of passionate individuals. In no way can we claim success, but only a little pride in what we love doing. Running a technical User Group and slowly building up a community is not for the faint-hearted; here are some personal tips that I have seen working. Most community leaders will tell you the same things and it is common sense. But here goes:
- Again, running a User Group is not easy – there are a thousand things to take care of. So, be in it for the long run & without a vested goal in mind.
- The focus of the User Group needs to something that you are truly passionate about. Otherwise, volunteering is just not fun and you will see interest fall off the peak.
- Too much of anything might cause fatigue – applies for developer interest. If you already have local User Groups with similar focus, do not create another UG just to target a very small technological area. Try to invest your time & energy towards growing into a leadership role within your existing developer community.
- Be wary of time and always be conscious of the fact that folks are coming to User Group meetups sacrificing family/personal time. What value are you providing in return of their precious time? Stick to announced meeting times.
- A user group is a community offering; it can never be about one or two people. Even though you may have started a group yourself, give up control – it shows leadership & contributes to the life of the user group. Create leadership teams within the user group, so that the group can function fine even if one/two of the owners move out. Delegate work, since it provides volunteers with a sense of ownership & stake in the success of a user group meeting. If your group becomes big enough, consider democratizing the board through elections.
- There is no easy pill towards spreading the word – try everything. Social & web presence is big, but so is reminding folks at other UG meetups about your group’s existence & upcoming meetings.
- Seeing the same faces every month isn’t a bad thing – it starts with a small group of passionate developers. Ask every one to try to bring a friend each month. Keep spreading the word through networks.
- Get some really good speakers, as their klout draws attendance. Tap into INETA’s Speaker Program if your group is Microsoft focused. Encourage locals to come share knowledge.
- Pizza is the glue . Food is optional, but matters when done right. At the end of a long day’s work, wouldn’t you want some refreshments before gearing up for some learning? Food helps in networking as well. Celebrate milestones & seasonal events if your budget permits.
- Get sponsors – lots of them. Knock on doors & remember to not feel bad – you’re not doing this for yourself & people will see your big heart.
- Giveaways is again optional, but a big draw if you have junior developers & University students in attendance. The Microsoft stack has plenty of vendors, partners & publishers to make sure your group is well-stocked with raffle prizes. Pace yourself with the prizes so that you don’t ask your sponsors too often.
- Give your group some identity & members some sense of belonging. A strong logo, focused social presence & the occasional custom-printed UG shirt does not hurt.
- Plan on few hackathon-type events throughout the year, if your group is development focused. We developers love to get hands-on.
- Give up your ego and truly listen to members about what’s working & what’s not. Seek feedback from other community leaders.
- Network & build bridges.
- Listen, host, embrace & enjoy. Repeat.
That’s all from me. Thank you once again INETA for your support infrastructure & the recognition. Cheers to our User Group & the awesome folks who make it worth it!