I’ve never attended a technical meetup.

I have had a few opportunities, but I passed on all of them. Sure, some of them piqued my interest, but I always found something more important to do. Besides the lack of time excuses that I always find for this kind of events, I think I was afraid.

Afraid because I didn’t know really what to expect.

Last week, I advised you to never stop learning. One of the solutions I offered was to attend technical meetups. So, if like me, you haven’t participated in a technical meetup yet, let’s discover this world together.

A Sense of Community

Once again, I’ll talk about the programming community. Seriously, I believe that this is a great strength of our industry; we should all make the most of it. To write this article, I’ve contacted around 10 people from the tech meetup world, and asked them a few questions. To them, I was a total stranger, who was asking a bit of their time. You know how time is precious these days…

  1. Do you remember your first meetup? What did you like; what made you continue to attend?
  2. As an attendee/organizer, what are you expecting from a tech meetup?
  3. What are the best and the worst reasons to attend one?
  4. Any advice for someone who has never attended a meetup?

All of them replied. All. Not just polite answers in 2 lines; I received detailed and interesting answers. This was astounding. I wanted to know more about their world, and they welcomed me into it. Thank you!

You’re wondering what type of programmer you’ll encounter at meetups? Friendly and open people, eager to discuss about any technology; these are the people you will come across at tech meetups.

First Time in a Tech Meetup

Afraid of your first time? Who isn’t? Everyone had a first time at tech meetups. So take a leap of faith, and go. You’ve got nothing to lose but a few hours in your life.

As Joseph Mansfield, who runs a C++ meetup in Edinburgh, wrote to me:

“If you’ve never attended a meetup and are worried about it, just remind yourself that you’ve not actually been and what you’re imagining it’s going to be like is probably all wrong.”

It’s ok to be a newcomer. Most likely, you won’t be the only first time visitor. I had a great response from Andy Grunwald, who has been organizing the “Web Engineering Meetup” in Duesseldorf:

“Many people are a first time visitor on a meetup. So they are the same as you.
No one will treat you with disrespect or laugh about you. In my opinion you can only benefit from it.
You miss a great community and a great chance, if you don’t try it.
If you don’t like it, you can leave at every point :)”

You’ll always be able to find lame excuses not to go. Check out these 4 reasons not to go to a technical meetup written by Mary Loubele. She runs the KW Intersections Meetup in Kitchener Waterloo Ontario. In conclusion, stop finding excuses and act!

If you’re looking for a reason to go, don’t think that pizza and drinks is a valid one. And read on!

Continuous Learning

A technical meetup represents the perfect place to discover things and improve your knowledge about a specific field in programming. Whether you can use it at work or not, you didn’t waste your time. That’s what Andy told me:

“Over > 50% of my knowledge is based from things I catched up from meetups. If you can afford the time, go there. In most cases, it is way better than an evening on your sofa.”

Perhaps you haven’t realized how close to great developers you can get at meetups. A lot of programmers dream of being able to talk with an expert in a specific field. Aaron Maxwell explained that you could approach them easily — this probably would be way more difficult online:

“Some great developers show up at these events, and they are surprisingly friendly and approachable – nothing to be scared of. If anything, they’re just as nervous :)”

Johann Romefort, hosting meetups in Munich, reported the same to me.

“What pushed me to continue attending meetups is the possibility to access specialists and ask them questions in live.”

About continuous learning, Alessandro Baffa, who organizes the French Riviera Software Craftsmanship Community, likes to mention the Four Stages of Competence:

“I’ve learned in different meetups to acknowledge my level as a programmer, by discussing or coding with other developers (not necessarily better ones). After some time, I realized that I had moved up from stage 1 (unconscious incompetence) to stage 2 (conscious incompetence) :)”

Meeting New Programmers

Yes, you’re going to meetups to learn and discover new stuff. But the other essential goal is to meet people. It’s called “Meetup” after all. And now I have deterred at least half of you…

Most programmers happen to be introverts. We don’t specifically hate talking to people, but making the first step kind of feels like an ordeal. So, if you’re concerned about meeting other developers at tech meetups, I advise you to read this great article by Aaron: Meeting People at Tech Meetups.

Aaron told me how he indeed made some friends at meetups:

“I actually don’t recall my first meetup — it was years ago. I do remember that I did not know anyone there, though; I just showed up, because the meetup topic was interesting to me. […]. After repeatedly attending and seeing the same people several times, I made good friends there, and so I sometimes would go just to spend time with them — even if I wasn’t interested in the topic that night :)”

If you’re afraid of talking to new people, take it as an opportunity to improve your “social” skills, as Mary put it:

“One of the best reasons of going to a Meetup is about getting over your fear of meeting new people.”

Leaving your own comfort zone — I think that a lot of people, including me, should follow this advice. Rajen Sanghvi also started to go to meetups to meet interesting people. He recommends that you focus on a few conversations:

“Try to have at least one good conversation with someone you’ve never met before (instead of trying to work the entire room).”

As he explained in this brilliant article, Tech Meetups and Startup Events Don’t Suck, Maybe You Do, he tries to remain as authentic as possible with the handful of people he approaches at meetups.

Johann has the same attitude:

“I give myself only one goal per event I organize or attend to: make ONE interesting connection with someone I don’t know. As an organizer, I expect that attendees learned something useful, but especially that they made friendly connections.”

What about Networking?

After reading articles and the answers I got by email, I feel that technical meetups represent a great place to network and possibly find a new job or hire developers. However, you should always remember that not all participants attend these meetups with this objective in mind. Your primary objectives should remain learning new things and making interesting connections.

As Joseph mentioned to me, meetups enable you:

“to speak with people from a variety of companies, especially if you’re looking for a job;”

But he also warned me:

“And don’t go just to plug yourself or your work. That can be part of it, but you should mostly just be getting to know people.”

Even if you need a job, I think you shouldn’t focus on getting one at meetups. As counterintuitive as it looks, your chances to get a job might actually increase. Think about it; companies do not look for people who just search for a job, they want to hire interesting people who can get the job done and with whom they could work.

Aaron had the following point of view on the subject:

“It will open job opportunities for you. A tip, though: start going to meetups BEFORE you need a job. That way you’ll have more fun, be relaxed instead of nervous, and it will be easier to find a job you like when you do need it.”

Who knows whom you could get in touch with through technical meetups?

What’s the Next Step?

I’m probably anticipating a bit, but looking at presentations and discussing them with other participants could make you want to give your own talk! See it as a natural way of giving back to the community after all it brought you. Of course, this will not move everybody, but it did for Aaron:

Finally, it’s an opportunity to practice public speaking. You don’t have to do this, ever; it’s okay to just show up, mingle, and be in the audience of the talk. For myself, I was surprised; after seeing enough presentations, I started having the urge to give one myself – I never expected that! It’s a perfect environment to give your first talk to a group, if you ever decide to.

As the matter of fact, this actually illustrates the objectives of organizers. Joseph explained it to me:

“As an organiser, I’m just hoping people will come along and enjoy themselves and maybe even feel inspired to give a talk at a later event!”

Other ways to contribute back to the community would be to help organize meetups. Running a meetup doesn’t just consist of finding a place and presenters. It also includes taking care of the catering, communicating, ensuring everything works well for presenters, tidying up…

By any means, if you want to give a hand, I’m pretty sure meetup organizers will be more than happy to let you in. Joseph told me what he expected from a meetup:

“A tech meetup is welcoming and enjoyable if it has a chilled out atmosphere, is well structured and organised, has interesting content and/or people to talk to, and has some tasty food and snacks! Some people worry about sponsored events, but a good sponsored event will try to keep the sponsors as unobtrusive as possible and it helps to get a nice space and food/drinks and such, so it can be a very good thing!”

I also advise you to check the tips from Johann, 16 Tips to Organize the Best Tech Meetups, and Andy, Lessons Learned from Running a Local Meetup. They’ve been running meetups for a while and you really feel it when you read their articles. Great advice!

As a summary of what I covered, I’d like to quote Aaron:

“It could be a great thing for your life. If you never go, you’ll never know. And it is low risk to find out; just a couple of hours of your time.

You may learn a lot of things about technologies you are interested in, and – this is the important part – they will be things you would never find out any other way.

If you’re an introverted programmer who would like to be more outgoing, there is almost no safer, more nurturing, more welcoming place that helps you start expanding your social skills.

If you keep going, you will probably make some friends. In fact, if you just keep showing up, it’s hard to avoid this – you’ll find people you like and who like you.

It will open job opportunities for you. That’s a great reason to go.”

Are you convinced now? For sure, I am. I can tell you I’ll attend my first meetup next month! I’d like to thank again Mary, Johann, Aaron, Joseph, Andy, Rajen and Alessandro for answering my questions and giving me a nice overview of the world of technical meetups.