Sean O’Connor: how to make running a user group feel like cheating

Tags: django, djangocon

Sean recently organized the New York django user group, one of the biggest there is.

Local user groups provide locality. World-wide IRC and mailing list communication and collaboration is great, but finding local fellow developers is also great from time to time. And it provides idea sharing and socialization.

The key to running a user group is KISS. Keep it simple. Do the simplest thing possible to reach a goal. If it works, keep it. First search if there isn’t something existing already. Volunteer: see what you can do yourself. Arrange a meeting place for instance.

You want to look at your audience: too small means it isn’t viable, too big means loads of work and problems. You can steer the size by being more or less focused in your topics. Look at the population density: if you’re in New York you can be pretty specific in your topics.

Something social is handy to get a new local user group started. Less pressure that way. Later you can go for the regular talks events. Regarding location: look at local tech companies, libraries, community centers and co-working spaces, for instance.

Make sure to build relationships with the location(s) you use. Talk to them beforehand. Say “thank you”. Leave the place in a clean state. Stick to a schedule.

Regarding sponsoring: avoid dealing with money, but stick to in-kind sponsoring like funding the food and beer or providing a room or so.

Important: keep it rolling. Keep the momentum up. If you keep doing something regularly it is easier.

For you as an organizer, a good tip is be lazy. Try finding the minimum you can do. If it takes to much work, you’re probably not going to do it. Use, for instance, as it is the easiest way to run a user group: email reminders, sign-ups, agenda, website. Also delegate. Enable others to do work (but do check in whether they’re actually doing the job).

If you need help with something: ask for it. A generic appeal often doesn’t work. So ask people directly. The worst that can happen is that you get a “no”.

Regarding people: don’t leave them waiting. If you get an email: reply. Even if it just a small reply “I’ll get to it next month”. And follow through if you’ve said you’d do something.

A great way to improve the sustainability of a user group: have a co-organizer. You’re not dependent on one person anymore. If you’ve got your attention elsewhere, your co-organizer probably picks up the slack and vice versa.

Aim for high impact, low effort. Nobody’s getting paid for it. And everyone needs to be excited. And try to tie in something social. Have a drink, go to a bar, whatever. Socialize. And try out several forms. Lightning talks; tutorials; 30 mins talks; invite one of the traveling django top devs; hack nights.


(Note for Dutch django programmers: on 9 June there’s another Dutch django meeting!)

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About me

My name is Reinout van Rees and I work a lot with Python (programming language) and Django (website framework). I live in The Netherlands and I'm happily married to Annie van Rees-Kooiman.

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