Thursday, November 6, 2014

Attending IT Pro Meetups Is Well Worth Your Time

It has been way too long since I've last written an article so I figured it's about time to do so! I need to make a habit of posting something here on my site more regularly.

A few weeks ago I received an email from one of my colleagues saying something like "Joe, we need to start up the SpiceCorps meetups again. What can we do to get it going again?" See, I am the leader of the SpiceCorps of Volusia County, FL. It is one of the many Spiceworks IT Pro community groups that schedules face-to-face meetups. Each meetup is a knowledge sharing event where we all discuss IT trends, virtualization, mobile computing, challenges in the enterprise, and other similar topics. The last time I scheduled a SpiceCorps meetup for my group was before Christmas 2013! It was definitely time for me to get the group going again.

Last week we had our first meeting in more than a year. It was great meeting again with some of the same people as before. Some new faces even showed up for the first time which was great! I'm always glad that new people want to come and join the conversation. I had completely forgotten how much I missed the group. We always have a great topics to discuss and ideas to share. To give you an idea, here are the meeting notes from our last meeting:

Discussion Topics:
Other tools and software:
"Back of the book" and other topics:
I'm always amazed that even though I've been working in Enterprise IT for a while, I am still learning new things through others that share their experiences with me. Believe it or not I knew nothing about the "CryptoLocker" ransomware because I've been working on backend support instead of desktop support over the past year. Also, I didn't know about some of the new accessibility features for the visual or hearing impaired in mobile devices (which is very very cool stuff!). I am very excited for our next SpiceCorp meetup because I know I will learn something new yet again.
In my opinion, attending these IT Pro meetups have been one of the best things I've done for my career. I'm people networking with other IT Pros, I'm learning new things that I probably wouldn't have learned on my own, and it's just a fun time sharing war stories and ideas and projects. I think that attending meetups is the key to increasing and sharing knowledge. Attending IT Pro or Developer meetups can be extremely rewarding so I highly encourage that you find a group for yourself.

If you want to start up or attend a meetup group, here are some of my own tips:
  • Be consistent. – As an organizer this is something I learned the hard way. Having a regular meetup is a commitment. As an organizer, if you want people to come or if you want to maintain the group's existence and attendance it is important to be consistent. If you have a meetup every month make sure you schedule it and keep the date every month. If you meet at a regular place, don't suddenly change the venue without discussing the change with the group first. As an attendee, once you find a meetup group you like plan on attending as often as you can because it not only helps the group's comfort level increase with regards to discussion, but it also helps you get more comfortable in discussing topics. There is tremendous value here…
  • Communicate Changes as Early as Possible – As an organizer make sure you give plenty of notice for when changes occur (such as venue locations or the meetup schedule). Everyone has time commitments so giving ample notice allows group members to plan on if they can attend or not. This is courtesy and is common sense. The same situation applies for attendees such as if you RSVP'ed but need to back out. Make sure you give notice of changes if you can't attend as a courtesy to the organizer(s).
  • Plan on Joining the Conversation – Organizers should promote an open minded discussion on whatever technology topic your group members want to discuss. For example, in my last meetup I wasn't planning on talking about accessibility features but it led to a very vibrant and positive conversation. Even talking about mobile might not sound interesting but you'd be surprised what you might not have known about a topic you thought you were an expert in.
  • Treat your meetup as a social learning event – IT Pro meetups exist not to hoard knowledge. They exist to share knowledge! If you host a meetup or attend one, plan on sharing something.
  • Give away free swag every once in a while (if you can). – Being an IT Pro usually gets us access to cool stuff from vendors. Polo shirts or t-shirts, gift cards, coffee mugs, pens, mouse pads, free software licenses, and more are all at our fingertips. Giving away free stuff is usually an incentive for people to come. But the point of the meetup is not to try and draw in a bunch of people just to get attendance increased. Free swag should only be a bonus of attending the meetup and shouldn't be the reason why the meetup exists. Only give away swag every once in a while if you can help it.
Well, there are many more but these are just a few of my own tips for meeting organizers and attendees. I hope you have\find your own IT Pro meetup. If you want to create your own group or if you want to find a meetup in your area, the Spiceworks community is a great place to start.

- Joe