Recently I attended the annual Most-Valuable-Member celebration at the Inland Empire .NET Developer User Group in San Bernardino. It is such a pleasure to participate in this UG, most especially at this event, so I’ll describe it in more detail here.
What makes a great User Group?
A big part of my job is to support the local developer User Groups. To do that I attend and speak at a large number of these groups. Because of this I get a unique perspective about what is working in a user group. In the interest of improving community, and because I am particularly inspired by the Inland Empire UG, I decided to start with a short list:
1) Regular meetings – seems obvious, but starting with same day of month, starting and ending on time and, as much as possible, same location is a basic that will help improve membership.
2) Regular communication which is multi-modal – have a website, a mailing list, monthly mailings at minimum.
3) Reward participation – more about that one later in this post
4) Get the most engaging speakers possible – work together with other UGs nearby so that out-of-town speakers can speak at more than one UG when they come here to speak. Do some research on speakers, at minimum do a web search to see what they’ve contributed online.
5) Ask for free stuff with gusto – don’t be shy, the more you ask, the more you get. Try to get stuff with the most value – such as developer tools and other software first. Books are also popular.
6) Reach out to new members – welcome them, talk to them, be inclusive. Generally, the more members (who are participating) the better the group.
What is so special about the Inland Empire .NET User Group?
This UG is consistently outstanding. Every time that I’ve attended or spoken there, I come away energized and knowing more about coding than I knew before I went.
Why is this? It starts with strong leadership. James Johnson has been running this group for 8 years and he’s been incredible effective. I suggest you attend to see what he does in action.
Let’s start with this blog post by Craig Shoemaker about the most recent meeting. Are your meetings like this one? More pictures here too.
What are some of the extras?
Does your UG do anything like this?
1) Have ongoing relationships with technical book publishers, so that members can get early and free access to newly published technical books (in exchange for writing public reviews of those books)
2) Teach community classes in basic developer skills, such as ASP.NET coding or Database queries to people who are interested in becoming developers. The slide below shows the two classes taught by UG members last year.
3) Have strong relationships with developer tools companies so that they are happy to provide your UG with sponsorship and valuable giveaways. Also strong relationships with technical recruiters, such as Robert Half. Interestingly, Robert Half is going to support a new User Group in the Inland Empire – for SharePoint developers. This is because of demand and interest from the core UG.
4) Provide mentoring to other, newly-formed UGs? Including UGs in third-world countries. They partner with Zamdevs (in Lusaka, Zambia) – slide shown below with details.
This User Group was also instrumental in helping me to teach local developers in Zambia on the SmartCare Electronic Medical Records project how to code up an ASP.NET website using Dot Net Nuke. I am proud to say that, working together with developers in the US, the Zambian developers now host and maintain their own site in Zambia (shown below).
5) Use a reward system with metrics to celebrate the UG members who make the greatest contributions to the UG and to the greater developer community (via speaking, publishing, etc…). Also to recognize and reward Microsoft MVPs who speak and who attend. This meeting had 4 Microsoft MVPs in attendance, including Denny Cherry (who drove over from West Los Angeles) and Cidgem Patlak (new Silverlight MVP) show below.
The Inland Empire .NET Developer UG does all of this AND more.
What is the MVM program?
Most notable is their Most-Valuable-Member program. This is a point-system for members who contribute in various ways to the success of the UG and to the success of the greater developer community via teaching, writing, speaking, etc…They have the ‘point system’ integrated into their UG website too.
It is great to see that this program has GROWN in participation over the three years that James has run it.
Who is doing all of this?
Of course, even though James is the catalyst for his UG – he is working together with a core group of members to make all of this happen.
The Inland Empire .NET Developer User Group meets the second Tuesday of each month at the Riverside Medical Clinic. If you can, just go there one month, you’ll be welcomed and you’ll learn lots.
Also here’s a list of all of the .NET Developer User Groups in SoCal that I know about – enjoy!