The story of our .NET Meetup - ".NET Stammtisch Linz"
Yesterday we had our 4. .NET meetup in Linz. Since it seems to become a thing that people recognize as a "regular meetup in town" I thought it's time to write about it!
The goal of this post is to summarize what worked and what did not work and I also want to give people from other parts of the world an idea on how to start something like this. In fact, when we got started I typed "how to organize a .NET meetup" into google and I found very useful tips from other meetup organizers, but there was nothing .NET related out there.
So, I live in Linz , Upper Austria (Europe), which is a city with about 200.000 people and with some very great tech companies. We have 1 bigger meetup every month here called Technologieplauscherl, which is an awesome meetup basically for everyone, who is interested in tech. I'm a regular attendee and I also presented once. Technologieplauscherl is a very important part of the local tech-scene and it's not rare that more than 100 people attend.
The big irony is that yesterday we had a talk about Cobol .NET, but that would be another story.
So, we started in the summer of 2017 and since then we had 4 meetups altogether.
Now let's go through a few points that in my opinion are relevant when you want to organize something similar in your region:
1. Connect with other meetups
For us Technologieplauscherl is a huge help. It is where a big part of the local tech community meets and they even have a "Community news" section with links to other events from the region. So, if you want to start something similar I highly suggest to first look for a big meetup and if there is one in your region then talk to the organizers, since they can give you very valuable tips and help you reach your target audience!
2. Make sure you fill a gap
This is obvious. If you want to organize a .NET meetup then make sure that there is no .NET meetup already in your area. If there is already a meetup for .NET/Microsoft devs, then there is no point in starting another one. Before we started I talked to multiple people and asked if they know about active communities here in Upper Austria. I also asked several people if they would think that there is really a need for something like a .NET meetup. It turned out that there are multiple companies here that built their product on .NET and there are other companies where .NET is not the main technology, but they still use it. So, in sum we had many people working with .NET, but no .NET meetup.
3. Team up!
".NET Stammtisch" has two organizers, so I'm not doing this alone, and if you plan to start something like this I suggest you to find someone who co-organizes it with you from the beginning. Sometimes there is not much to do, but in some cases organizing a meetup can be a lot of work and doing everything alone, especially if you also have a full-time job could be simply too much.
And also, in general it's better to have a team! For example, for our last meetup we had to organize drinks and foods. Now I have never done something like that and just the mental help that you have when you discuss an offer from a catering company helps enormously. And I guarantee you that if you are a software developer and you start a meetup then you will face challenges that are completely new to you!
4. Be ready to be both the presenter and the organizer
Finding speakers is hard! At the first meetup we had 2 talks and the 2 speakers were the 2 organizers. We only had to present at the first meetup and since then we always got new speakers, so we are very lucky on this one.
Other meetup organizers from the region told me that it's actually easier to find a location than speakers for a meetup. This of course can be different in other parts of the world, but still I suggest you make sure that you have enough good talks before you publicly announce your first meetup. We –as organizers- maintain a list with all possible topics that we can do a talk on and we can jump in as backup speakers any time. I suggest having a similar list.
5. Define the goal and communicate it clearly
In our case the goal is to “bring together .NET/Microsoft devs from our region (Upper Austria) and talk about interesting stuff in our industry”. We have this on our website, on our meetup page, and also in our facebook group , basically everywhere. Now we rely on other people who give talks and on companies that offer their office as meetup-location and I think it's good that they immediately know what the meetup is about. For example, the sentence above already hints that we are not a "hiring event". We never had this problem and companies are already smart enough to know that making a 1 hour "how awesome our company is" talk is a very bad idea*. Nevertheless, by communicating the purpose of the meetup still helps to avoid confusion on this.
*For companies: On the other hand, it is a very good idea to e.g. send your best engineers and let them talk about the technical aspect of a very interesting project! Everyone will love that.
6. Be present on every relevant platform
We have a website, a facebook group, a meetup group and we also have a twitter-account and we also have an email address, so people can contact us wherever they want. I think as a meetup organizer you should not expect that people create an account on a specific platform because you advertise your meetup only on that specific platform. It's much better if you – as a meetup - are present on every relevant platform, so no matter what potential attendees use they will find you. Some people for example don't have a facebook profile. Of course, you can do this gradually. We started with a facebook group and twitter, then I watched Jon Galloway's session on .NET Conf where he said that DotNetFoundation offers meetup accounts for meetup organizers (I don't know if they still have this offer), so we got meetup after a few months, and then we also created a website.
7. Start at your own company if it's possible
We started at the company where both of us work. This had multiple advantages: first, since both of us presented and organized the meetup it was very convenient to simply walk up to the cafeteria and do the whole thing there. Second, we have an awesome office management team and they helped us with the organization. I know that not every company has this and not every company is willing to help you, but if you have a similar option within the company where you work then it would be silly not to take advantage of it. And by the way we are still extremely thankful for all the help that we got within our company!
8. Prepare for a non-regular work load
Some meetups are easy to organize and others will be more challenging. This depends on the location, on the speakers and on many other things. We always try to have different locations and visit multiple companies. This is I think very good for the local tech community. The organization of the first meetup was extremely smooth, the last one was a little bit more work due to the fact that the location and the drink/food was sponsored by different companies. In fact, I wrote 32 mails to organize it. These are just the mails that I sent and I hate writing mails, so I only communicated when it was really necessary. The point is: your first meetup may be easy, but make sure you have enough time for a challenging one.
9. Make sure you do it regularly
We clearly failed on this one. Our goal was to have a meetup bimonthly. The reality is that we do it every 3-4 months. Now this is still fine, and we try to make it more regular, but it would be much better to have a meetup on let's say every first Tuesday of the month.
If you are a meetup organizer and you have other advices feel free to leave a comment! I'm happy to hear other experiences on this topic.
And finally, I would like to thank every company and organization that supported ".NET Stammtisch"!