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PHP, Community and User Groups

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Dear Reader,

Those that know me know that the is near and dear to my heart. I am always looking for ways to support it, usually to the chagrin of my employer. We have the greatest of any programming language I know of and I like helping people find ways to participate in it.


The

This blog post is in two parts, First, the video. This year at TEKX we had a community round table discussion. My partner, Keith Casey moderated it and we had 4 wonderful guests, Michelangelo van Dam, Lorna Mitchell, Rafael Dohms and Ben Ramsey. (Of the 4, I think I got Ben’s name right in the opening credits.)

When it comes to organizing and running , they are very smart. All 4 have experience in building some of the best groups in our community. If you are interested in user groups, you will want to watch this video and take notes. Feel free to add your ideas as comments to this post so everyone can share.

TEKX Community Round Table from Cal Evans on Vimeo.

 

Ideas from the community

Recently I put out a call for ideas from PHP Users Groups leaders to send me their favorite ideas for building groups. I present them here quoted directly from the emails. I do not claim ownership of these ideas, I am only the curator. (I wish I was as smart as these people)

Rafael Dohms
here go a few tips i got up my sleeve:

  • Start slow, get a mailing list up and wait till you have a good number of members to start moving to bigger and better things
  • Get in touch with the UG resources, UG mailing list and other UGs near to you
  • Try to find more people to share the coordination with you, that will lighten the load
  • Podcasts are a lot of work, but get lots of attention and are really fun
  • Try to get communication going between the UGs near to you, so one UG can also benefit from partnerships and lessons learned from others (this is the PHP Brazil Communities structure)
  • A good event to do is a testfest, simple and fun.
  • Get in touch with the publishers like O’Reilly, they will send you books to hand out, the more reviews you get them, the more they will help you
Bradley Holt
I organize the Burlington, Vermont PHP Users Group. The biggest tip I have to offer is this: be patience and consistent. Keep putting together meetings even if you feel attendance is low and meet regularly (we meet once a month). Organizing a user group is a marathon, not a sprint (it’s actually not anywhere near as hard as running a marathon, but you get the analogy). Decide what you can handle on a regular basis and stick to it. It’s better to do less and be consistent about it then to put a bunch of effort into organizing the occasional meeting and then skip several months. The consistency will build momentum and show the community that your user group is a resource that’s here to stay.

Jake Smith
I think it’s a combination of things that we do that really helps bring in a good following.

  1. We are consistent. We meet at the same location and same time every month (Same bat place….same bat channel).
  2. We offer a QA meeting every saturday following our usual meeting. This helps a lot of our newer PHP devs.
  3. Keep the topics advanced/challenging. We want to keep attracting the more advanced devs, while guiding our newer developers. If we keep it too basic then the advanced developers will stop showing.
  4. We have “after-party” at the Fox and Hound for drinks. A lot of great networking/conversation occurs during this time. It really helps the organizers feel what the crowd is wanting to hear about. We have plenty of people who do not drink alcohol, but have no problem coming to hang out.
  5. We operate an IRC Channel, #dallasphp, which is very popular (15-20 people most days). This helps keep communication going throughout the month and gives us a channel to help others with issues.
  6. We have a meetup.com account which is an amazing source for getting new members. We operate through our website/google group, but pull in many new members through meetup.com (Great Exposure).
  7. We have pre-meeting dinner, very informal, and we also have a Dallas PHP lunch every Friday following our meeting.


I guess the key with our group is constant contact/communication.

Daniel Holmes
My tip – Present something every time. Even if it is just 20 minutes, we had a much higher and much more diverse attendance when we did.

Of course, once I because busy enough–the UG had to take a back seat–no one else picked up the talks and attendance fell back off. It’s usually a good discussion, but gets pretty random without a talk to kick it off and focus the discussion and learning.

Michelangelo van Dam
In my opinion when you’re starting or running a (PHP) user group, you should do this for your community by giving your time and efforts regardless if you get something back from it. With this attitude you emphasize your passion for the cause and when you expect nothing in return, everything you do get back is unexpected and you’re more driven to continue the path you’ve chosen.

Another tip I want to share is that when running a (PHP) user group, stay focused on stuff that matters to the majority. We’ve tried and failed a couple of times when we sidetracked from our main focus (organizing a PHP on windows event, talking about agile project management, …). We didn’t received the response our partners (mostly this is done in collaboration with commercial companies) would have wanted, and since they had high expectations, their loss was even more a failure than the event itself.

Johanna Cherry
Host a conference. Seriously. I know that is out of the realm of possibility for some user groups, but for a lot its not! Conferences are easier to organise and run than most people think. It doesn’t have to be a huge conference either. PHPUK started very small and there is a lot of sponsorship money out there to get you started. PHPLondon gets a TON of people who have never come to the user group, or heard of it even, that go to the conference (through their employer) and then come to user group every month after that. Some of them even want to speak at the user group right away and all!

Lorna Mitchell
Make sure you have relevant content, but not too much of it! As a rule of thumb 50% content, 50% drinks/networking and make sure it all runs to time, that way people can come for the content and then dash off for their train, or leave before anyone talks to them, or whatever works for them.

Wrapping it up

I would add to this list but…wow. All of them are great advice. Thank you to everyone that contributed. For those of you who didn’t, or didn’t see it, feel free to add your ideas on how to boost your user group attendance as comments to this blog.

Until next time,
I <3 |<
=C=

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Published at DZone with permission of Cal Evans, DZone MVB. See the original article here.

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