On Developer Communities...
I hold the following hypotheses about successful, growing, and thriving developer communities:
- First, you need a team builder.
- You can run a company like a user group, but the inverse is not always true.
- Quality always works.
- People are not resources or assets.
- Don't go away.
Each hypothesis is accompanied by one or more "anti-hypotheses" - clues that you are not participating in a sustainable developer community.
Build Quality, Quantity Will Follow
There's the temptation to go after big numbers right out of the chute. Like many temptations, the consequences bear consideration. If you establish a pattern of delivering quality, word will get out - fast. Faster than you could spread it yourself. It's amazing how fast news of your quality will travel through your community.
There's nothing wrong with big numbers to start with. Just remember that sustainability lies with quality. Folks will not continue to show up if you do not stage a quality show. That's right, I said "show." A User Group meeting is a production. It needs to be treated as such.
Communicate an agenda at least one week before the event. Include everyone who is participating in the event - the speaker, group leadership, sponsor, facilities liaison - everybody. Make sure everyone knows what's going to happen during the meeting, but also include the pre-meeting agenda: when does the food arrive? When do we test the presenter's laptop? Let's do that stuff before the meeting begins!
Anti-hypothesis: If your user group does not value quality, you are participating in a dysfunctional community.
Give the speakers and sponsors time slots and ask them to remain within them.
Quality presenters. Quality presentations. Delivered with professional quality. Quality, quality, quality!
For some, quality is Job One. We're geeks - quality is Job Zero!
Quality in Richmond
Late last year we started our Richmond User Groups 2008 Sponsorship Campaign. We had a lot of response. We turned down a few sponsors, in fact.
Once the promise of money appeared on the horizon, I sent an email to the leadership of the Richmond SQL Server Users Group that read something like this: "Hi Guys! We are going to have money this year. What do you think we should do with it? I think we should use it to buy and give away cool swag!"
The responses were along the lines of: "Andy, Andy, Andy. We need to use the money to bring in better speakers with cooler presentations, not silly old swag!" They were correct. (This, by the way, is an example of Quality Communication... )
In 2008, I started the year off in January with a presentation on using Change Data Capture with SSIS 2008 to do Incremental Loads in CTP5. It was a big hit. We followed that meeting with a Brian Knight presentation on Data Mining in February, Kevin Viers on an overview of SQL Server 2008 in March, and Adam Machanic on Highly Concurrent Application Development in April.
Average attendance soared from about 20 people to over 50 people each meeting! As Foghorn Leghorn says: "Figures don't lie."
Remember, build quality and quantity will follow.