Rie has asked us to write about “Advice on running a user group“
It’s a great topic, and if you’ve even been involved in a user group in any capacity then you’ll probably appreciate that it takes a fair bit of ingenuity, knowledge, connections, manners, begging, borrowing and getting help from others to eventually become a successful group.
The first thing to note is that you don’t necessarily need all of those things to start off with – but manners and the ability to persuade others to help will certainly be a great start.
And, with a few of those things in hand, “The Christchurch SQL Server User Group” was founded, run by myself, Rob Douglas [@rob_douglasNZ] and Nick Draper. Fortunately, Rob’s company lent us their office space, on the condition we tidied up after ourselves, a reasonable request although I never envisaged carrying so may beer bottles and pizza boxes to the bin. I soon learnt moving the bin closer to the attendees was a good idea.
The group was mainly founded around socially events. Christchurch is a small(ish) place and we managed to get the word out pretty well – it wasn’t uncommon to have 20-30 people turn up even in the early days. We usually carried on the meeting in a local pub afterwards.
Soon we were contributing to other local events – such as the annual Christchurch Code Camp (thanks for the opportunity Steve Knutson (@nztechtweet)) and we managed to get a SQL Saturday off the ground after Greg Low (@greglow) helped us get affiliated to PASS. The more community involvement, the better – but the local population is the life blood of your group. While national and international are great and interesting, local is what’s going to build your group (at least where physical meetings are involved, that may be shifting with virtual) – think local, act global (remember, every local community has some sort of individualism and uniqueness that you can probably leverage somehow)
We then managed to make another community connection with the local community college, which was quite fortunate as Rob was moving away from the city and the group needed a new home – so Ara stepped up and stepped in. The deal was the same, tidy up after yourself. This actually proved a little more challenging as they didn’t have big bins and the now growing amount of pizza boxes wouldn’t fit. So, I needed to transport all the rubbish home myself – so I put rubbish bags on my (now growing) group night shopping list,
The group’s still based at Ara, and I know that members of the group (including myself) still do education sessions for their students from time-to-time. A mutually beneficial arrangement.
So, what did I learn. Well, you need to change as your audience changes. Initially, I knew nearly all of the members and I assumed they all liked the food and drink on offer – beer and pizza – and they did. But I should have been more accommodating as new members joined, catering more for people who didn’t want to drink beer or eat pizza.
I left Christchurch in early 2016, the group had grown significantly and it was time to hand it over. One of our ever present members, Hamish Watson (@TheHybridDBA) took it over, and it’s gone from strength to strength ever since. Most members are keen to get involved in any capacity, while speaking may seem the obvious one – that’s not for everyone. Simply having your regular members help to make new members feel welcome and involved will go a long way.
Since leaving Christchurch, I’ve been involved in a few other groups. “SQL Social Melbourne” run by Martin Cairney (@martin_cairney) is a great concept. Built around a social gathering in a local pub it encourages short talks from various members and it was a great way of getting new speakers interested in the local / national / international communities. Unfortunatly, the pandemic has curtailed that – at least temporarily, but I reckon we’ll see it make a comeback soon. If you’re in Melbourne, keep your eye out.
More recently, I moved to Brisbane and became involved in Virtual user groups with Warwick Rudd (@Warwick_Rudd), We run Data Platform Down Under which runs at 12:15pm AEST (UTC+10) on a Tuesday, usually the first Tuesday of the month, but this can vary and we often have additional sessions (still on a Tuesday). Check out our times. They are great for most parts of the world (although maybe not Europe – sorry Europe!)
Which brings me to another point – “Never turn down the opportunity of free publicity for your group”
And with that, I’ll say that Thanks Rie, and to everybody reading this, best of luck with all your user groups -whether you’re a current group host, a future group host or a valued (or prospective) community member.
Have a great day