My dad, even with a serious head injury that ended his working life, regularly attended a computer club where he could chat with a community of fellow geeks who accepted him head injury and all. I was always glad he had somewhere he could be accepted, but I never realized I’d end up attending and helping to run programming user groups in my own career.
I first went to a Java Users Group in Sacramento, SacJUG. I had been getting deeper into Java and figured it was time to see what the local community was like. I found a home with some fellow geeks and I attended regularly for the next ten years or so. I even eventually hired multiple developers I met at SacJUG and I appreciated being able to geek out on the language and share war stories. A few years later I got deeply into Ruby in my spare time with the advent of Rails and eventually helped setup the Sacramento Ruby Meetup. It would be a few more years until I got paid to do Ruby, but met some great developers along the way and I still regularly attend. Only a year or so later I helped found the Sacramento Groovy User’s group which continues today as essentially a JVM languages group.
All this experience with user groups has led me to experiment with visiting other user groups from time to time. A few months ago I showed up for an Angular group and met a lot of front-end specific developers I don’t mix with regularly.
If you haven’t tried out attending a user group I encourage you to try it. It only costs you an hour or two and the benefits are worth it. Things like:
- Seeing the size of say the node.js community in your town and getting a sense of how a new language or toolset is catching on.
- Getting exposure to something new with a group of programmers.
- Meeting fellow developers who are trying to come up to speed or stay on top of technologies.
- Finding a great new candidate for your shop. The developers who regularly attend user groups tend to be more motivated and engaged employees and you can get a pretty good sense of their skills just from chatting.
- Getting out of the house since many of us are introverts. With the shared context it’s much easier than say the annual holiday party.
- Practice speaking if you work up the nerve in a low stress atmosphere.
- A sense of whether a particular language/community is on the rise or fall.