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Guest Post: Get yourself trained (and fed) – for free

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Guest Post: Get yourself trained (and fed) – for free

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Ryan O’Neill is a software developer working from his home office in rural Herefordshire). Work normally involves .Net, SQL Server and a good sprinkling of web although I'm a good all rounder. Richard Wilde and I run the Hereford branch of the Next Generation User Group which meets once a month in Shire Hall, Hereford with excellent guest speakers on the latest interesting Microsoft (normally .Net) technology.

There is a recession on and jobs are scarce but I regularly get job offers and I’ve got a stack of fun work piled up extending into next year. What’s that, you want to know my secret? Turns out I can be bothered and most people can’t. I’m not a ‘rock star’ programmer, just a general .Net, C#, VB, JavaScript, SQL developer. I know my stuff, but I’m not Alan Turing.

Before I tell you my secret, it’s not all dull boring work either. I have a Windows 8 project for controlling a three storey tall robotic arm via a touch screen with some computer vision thrown in for fun. There is a high end e-commerce web site, warehouse administration system and some cool integration with a Raspberry Pi. Yes, I do have some boring grunt work too (don’t mention VAT rounding errors) but I’m using all of the latest acronyms and have access to all of the best tools.

So what do I mean by ‘I can bothered’? Simple really, I turn up to a user group once a month and learn something. That simple fact makes me more desirable to employers than most of my contemporaries. I train myself at little or no cost and I also go along to one or two of the yearly geek fests (Developer Developer Developer or one of the many days run by Microsoft).

Most of the events are free or very low cost (to cover pizza and speaker expenses) and the paid ones are very sympathetic - if you can’t afford the fee, just ask. I’m in the enviable position of being one of the co-ordinators for a group in Hereford. We have a small yearly charge (£89), but lest you think I’m just here to drum up business, you can come along for any number of sessions before you decide if you want to join.

What might you learn? The following is just from my group going back over a year; NodeJS, MVC, MVVM, SilverLight, WPF, NHibernate, Entity Framework, Windows 8, CQRS, Continuous Integration, Web Performance & Caching, IIS8 and WinRT. The presenters are top notch too, we’ve had Marc Gravell (Stack Overlow), Jon Skeet (Google) and sometimes even a big Microsoft personality.

Although obviously not guaranteed, jobs do get offered at groups and I’ve had paid projects as well as finding capable people who can help me with my backlog.

The social aspect is pretty good too, most meetings provide geek friendly food halfway through (pizza and coke) and many of us adjourn to the local pub afterwards for a quick chat.

Oh yes, the swag. Most groups are sponsored too so each month we tend to give away in excess of $2000 of licences, t-shirts and books from software vendors.

Remember, 90% of success is just turning up, so take the time one evening a month and you’ll put yourself ahead of the majority of coders and have some fun at the same time.

Lastly; if I may abuse my position, a quick plug for my user group (NxtGenUG Hereford), we’ve got four great sessions coming up; Designing for mobile, CUDA (coding for parallel processing on graphics cards), oAuth and Simple.Web. You can find us at

  • Very interesting post how do you think the UK dev groups compare to those abroad. there seems to be a gap in the number if groups that are available to people outside of a big city. do you think this will always be the case?

  • I personally think that with time you will see more events run by user groups online or streamed from the cities so that those not in a city can also get involved.  The key thing with user group events is that in person interaction and networking.  In order to get the numbers you tend to find the more successful user groups are based around the areas with a large population and towns with a strong technology focus.

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