The Nashville .NET User Group

I was the Co-President of the Nashville, TN .NET Users Group for nine months in 2017. Here is some of my thoughts of the experience.

The Election

The Nash.NET group is democratic with elections held for the posts each year. The typical posts are group president, vice-president, and secretary; however, we switched it up this year with two of us sharing the group co-presidency.

We thought that by sharing the group presidency, we could alleviate the burden of showing up to every meeting early and leaving late, of finding speakers, of dealing with whatever comes up, etc.

This worked fairly well with the exception that we wouldn't make executive decisions on speakers and changes without trying to consult the other: so there was a bit of a delay in reaching a concensus between us. Also, I think the dual-leadership may have caused some uncertainty in speakers being unsure as to which of us to talk to.

The Hand-off

The elections were held two months before the start of the new group's leadership which gave the old leadership ample time to prepare us. The former leadership was extremely helpful:

  • A kickoff meeting to get us new leadership talking to each other and to give us time to ask them questions.
  • Each of us got a tailored email with information pertinent to our role. I was given info relevant to group president.
  • Supplying names of likely speakers.
  • Introducing us as the new leadership.
  • Agreeing to answer questions for the rest of the year.

Maintenance

When I signed up to help out, I made a mistake in not considering the amount of maintenance that goes into a user group: Where do we get sponsors? How do we get speakers? Do we have backup speakers? How is funding handled? Where is the meetup held? How is the meetup site handled? How is the domain name renewed? Who has the meetup credit card?

Luckily for me, the wonderful Vaco of Nashville solved half of those maintenance tasks by supplying a meeting space and food. Those two things are the biggest costs. By having those costs supplied, we avoided actively looking for sponsors. Although, perhaps some effort in getting sponsors for give-aways would have been good of us.

The remaining items are handling the meetup site, renewing the domain name, handling the meetup finances, and getting speakers.

I leaned heavily on my co-president to handle finances. I should have taken more effort to learn enough to be helpful. I also didn't take enough of an effort in handling the media footprint: domain name, meetup site, twitter, slack.

Speakers

Getting speakers is no different from a job hunt: finding that first one is so hard, and then the rest is relatively easy.

  • Go through the list of people who have presented at the group before. - Odds are good you can pickup a few local crowd favorites to talk about their best subject. If you are very fortunate, you may recruit one of them as a backup-speaker.
  • Developer evangelists. - These fine people travel around the country talking about technology relevant to their employer. I have no advice on how to find these people, they found me. Having a convenient and obvious contact form might be the most obvious thing to have.
  • Proper phrasing of "request for speakers". - I never got a single person to respond to "Looking for speakers", but I got a flood of requests when I said "only 5 spots left this year". Creating the sense of that scarcity really drives the urgency home and got a lot of speaker submittals. Having to turn away people is a good problem.
  • New speakers are hard to find. - New speakers should be given any encouragement possible. Getting a new speaker to fill a full hour is hard, but perhaps having them as part of a group panel or a series of lightning talks makes it easier.

Expectations

I'm not referring to my expectations, but to the expectations of the user group. Somehow, everyone just assumed that I instantly knew what I was doing. So I went for the "fake it 'til you make it" approach and it worked out some of the time.

Many people wanted to talk to me because I was part of the group leadership. I'm not very good at being an extroverted social person so this was a jump out of my comfort zone.

I quickly recognized the value of talking to as much of the group as possible. So I instituted a rule for myself: I must introduce myself to new people every meetup, preferrably those people who are sitting by themselves. I didn't meet everyone, but I tried.

Meeting new people isn't nearly so hard as remembering names, faces, and relevant facts, especially with a month between most meetups. I would spend the drive home after every meetup verbally repeating the list of people I met. It wasn't perfect, but it helped.

Jobs

I was approached by a lot of recruiters to recommend them and to send out their job postings. I don't recall ever sending out a job posting because I didn't want to give preferential treatment. Though any recruiter with the opportunity to speak certainly got the chance to sell themselves.

On the flip side, a decent amount of people talked to me in the hope that I'd be valuable in their job search. The most I could really do is recommend a recruiter if I know they have any relevant openings.

Responsibility

Each month, one or both of us co-presidents would introduce the speaker, thank Vaco for the food and getting us the meeting space, and close out the meeting. That's the gist of our meetup tasks.

Outside the actual meeting, arranging the speakers was the big thing.

Summary

I made a lot of mistakes, but I'm thankful to have had the opportunity to be Nash.NET user group co-president for part of the year.