This month the #TSQL2SDAY invitation comes from Rie Merritt (twitter). The T-SQL Tuesday is a monthly blogging event that was created by Adam Machanic (blog|twitter) and is maintained by Steve Jones (blog|twitter).
Rie asks us to write about various aspects of running a user group. The invitation is in this post.
I am not a user group leader
“What the heck Mikey? The topic is clear” some of you might think. That is true. Although I am not running a user group I had the opportunity and pleasure to attend a number of user groups in two countries (Poland and the UK) in the past 7 years. I want to share some of my observations as an attendee.
The leaders - thank you
But… first. I would like to show my big appreciation to all user group leaders who spend their precious time with like-minded folks. Very often sacrificing family time.
Thank you very much for what you are doing for the communities.
From the discoverer’s diary…
My very first user group had monthly meetups in the same building as my office was. I only found out by someone from outside as it was mentioned in some sort of the newsletter. Someone could tell that it is my fault I was not “looking around”. True. But once I found out about the UG, I carried on attending it ever after. Although it was a pattern noticeable in almost every user group I have attended, maybe it is not a problem, because as an attendee I might not see everything.
To feed or not to feed
Almost every user group I attended had pizza and drinks for attendees. Most of them had soft drinks, but some of them had just alcoholic beverages. Although we cannot please everyone I think it is good to have diverse options. Personally, I do not like to mix alcohol with learning (that is how I treat the user groups). Some groups organised themselves after the meeting for a drink, which extends networking. As for feeding options, it probably has changed a bit since 2019, but for people who still work in the office having a chance to grab a hot slice between sessions might improve focus rate.
Be consistent and regular
This is totally my opinion. My very first user group was very consistent and regular. I always knew when it is happening and the agenda was published in advance. I fell in love. Unfortunately, it is not the default for every user group. Sometimes attendees found out days before that it is going to happen, sometimes there was no “warning” - it just did not happen at all. For in-person meetups it might be discouraging, as people need to plan their trips.
Virtual / hybrid / in person - attendee
This is totally my opinion. My very first user group was very consistent and regular. I always knew when it is happening and the agenda has presented the way in advance. I fell in love. Unfortunately, it is not the default for every user group. Sometimes attendees found out days before that it is going to happen, sometimes there was no “warning” - it just did not happen at all. For in-person meetups, it might be discouraging, as people need to plan their trips.
Virtual / hybrid / in person - speaker
What was difficult as an attendee became easier for me as a speaker. I had a chance to speak at user groups that normally I would probably not visit. Speaking to people all over the world was fun and interesting. And I could do it from my own home!
How to marry these two worlds?
Several user groups had a hybrid option long before the pandemic. They had one virtual speaker presenting to everybody in the room and there was a second speaker locally in the room. Even though the speaker was virtual the discussion could carry on in-person between attendees.
Growing new speakers
One of the user groups always tried to find new speakers from the crowd. One idea was the study group that was created alongside the regular meetups. The concept was to prepare the group for the exam. The leaders asked for volunteers to present a session based on the guidelines. This way it was way easier for first-time speakers, as the topic was preselected. In my case, this was my very first public speaking. So nervous! But then I had the courage to ask the leaders if my own topic makes sense. While I was still feeling ambiguous about going out there and speaking about my own topic, the group leader came to me asking if I am ok to speak at the next meetup. They pushed me, and here I am :-)
Since I attended my first data platform user group in 2015… I tried to give back to the community as much as I can (speaking, volunteering). One day I might even lead the user group… So again, big thanks to the leaders, volunteers, speakers and organisers for creating space for like-minded people where we can all meet and learn.
I also wanted to thank the Ukrainian Data Platform Community who gave me the opportunity to speak at my first conference ever! I believe we will meet again in your beautiful country! Stay strong and safe my Friends!