I've often said that if you attend user groups, that puts you in the top 10% of people that I want to work with. This is because you are putting in your own time (time you aren't getting paid for) to try to better your skills. And this tells me 2 important things:
- You care about continuous learning.
- You care enough to put your own time into it.
I have lots of experience with this. Just this year, I've been to 20 events as a speaker and attended about half a dozen more. I get the chance to speak a lot in Southern California because there are lots of .NET user groups in the area. Since traffic is usually horrible, no one wants to drive 30 miles to get to a user group after work, so there are lots of little groups scattered around the area.
I've been involved with the developer community for close to 5 years, and my experience with the people who attend these types of events has been fairly consistent: men and women who are interested is learning something new, talking to other developers about their experiences, and investing their own time in the process.
And this is what I like about community events like user groups and code camps.
Every single person is there to learn or share or both (most often both).I try to talk to as many people as I can when I'm at these events. This past weekend, I was able to catch up with people I hadn't seen for a while, shoot the breeze with some people that I know well, and also meet a whole bunch of new people.
At code camp, I try to have lunch with someone I don't know. I'm not afraid to start a conversation or join a conversation (which is way different from how I was 5 years ago).
The Difference of the Developer Community
The thing that I like about the developer community is the consistency of this learning mindset. At professional events, I've seen a different mix. There definitely are people who are there to learn, but there are also people who see it as a paid week away from the office.
I still remember meeting someone from my company at a professional conference. I asked him, "So what cool stuff have you learned so far?" (usually a good conversation starter). And his reply was, "I already know all of this stuff." I was a bit shocked by the reaction (but not really surprised by it). This particular developer was not interested in learning. He was there for other reasons.
If you're not already involved in the developer community, it's time to change that. Cruise over to Meetup.com and see what's going on in your area. I really regret that I discovered the developer community so late in my career. Yes, I've been involved for close to 5 years, but I think about what my career and experiences would be like if I had gotten involved 10 years earlier.
I've met a lot of really great people (I'm amazed at how many people I know these days (and I'm not a social person by nature)). I've learned about a lot of really interesting technologies. I don't often use these technologies, but it's good to know what's available -- I'm really big on using the right tool for the job, and we have to learn about those tools somehow. When a particular project comes up, I can think back to a demo I saw and say, "Hey, I think that Technology X would be really good for this. Let's look into it some more."
And I have had several times where that has helped me find a good solution for an application.
Encourage Other Developers to Get Involved
I also lament for the people who aren't involved in the developer community. There are a lot of user groups in my area, but there is a much, much larger number of developers in my area. A very small percentage take the time to get involved. And many developers are not interested. One time I was working in an office of about 40 developers, and there was a user group that met less than 1 mile from the office. At that group, I met a total of 2 developers from the office (and one of them was a contractor).
If you've had a good experience attending community events, share them with your co-workers. If you've managed to improve your career from your continuous learning, share that as well. I would love to see our entire industry as a group of constant learners who become an unstoppable force in improving the lives of our users, companies, and the world at large.