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Goal-oriented Side Event Ideas for Technical Meetups

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This blog post was orientally posted to the Guildflow product blog, which will soon be shutdown.

I’m a firm believer that going forward, successful technical meetup groups need to evolve past the once-a-month event style to more of an ongoing community presence, with smaller goal-oriented events happening more often. I believe it is through these events the social connections that ultimately lead to a successful community are solidified.

All of the following event ideas are built around:

  • Providing goal-based activities that will draw a crowd and encourage ad hoc socializing.
  • Offer more flexible or focused time commitments, with much of the event, when possible, happening async with high value face-to-face time limited for kickoffs and conclusion presentations.
  • Have low costs for organizing and hosting. No complicated software. No leaning on a single person to prepare a day long workshop.

Book Clubs

Book Clubs are great way to bring together goal minded people who want to become better at something. It’s a fairly well understood idea and so the big decisions are usually around what book to read and how to meet and discuss.

I recommend picking a few book options and letting a group vote. Generally speaking you’ll probably get more involvement with more introductory-level books.

You’ll want to meet once a week to keep that social pressure on people to do their readings and homework. Consider a first meeting for social introductions and then work out a regular meeting time from there. One hour is usually good enough.

When it comes to the meeting itself try to have different members volunteer to “drive” the meeting. My own book clubs tend to scan over the chapters from that week and kick off discussions/questions.

Code Jams

This is something I know of more formally from the Game Jam concept but it can just as easily apply to general programming.

Over the course of a single weekend or week you pick a theme and/or a specific SDK. People then work on a demo, game or hack with that theme and SDK in mind. At the end of the event people present their work, with awards being handed out – the more cheesy the trophies the more sought after they are within a community.

Some personal code jam style events I have fond memories of include MacHack, Iron Coder and Global Game Jam.

Architecture Craft Sessions

While Code Jams are more on the lighthearted side, these Architecture Craft Sessions are more about education through practice and peer review.

Pick a simple app idea (eg: tasks list, weather app, whatever). Everyone does a rough prototype or architecture outline for how they would build it out: the objects and types they would define, how they would interact, and why they are making these decisions. Something akin to an architecture decision record (ADR).

The event style would be advance notice of the app idea, then before the meeting each person would work on their prototype or outline in their own time. At the meeting they would come together to present what they’ve come up with. People can ask questions and offer feedback on the designs. It can take time to do a full code walk through so you might have to break up a larger group into smaller breakout groups to do this in a set amount of time.

The big idea is people get more experience with how to break down problems and design architectures that are SOLID and testable.

Pair Programming on Code Katas

I define the Architecture Craft Sessions above as more solo work and while some people prefer to build in isolation, there is also a lot to be said for pairing two people together. In particular pairing a junior person with someone more senior, even for an hour can lead to a ton of great observations for how people work.

To help define a path for this pairing we look to Code Katas.

A kata, or code kata, is defined as an exercise in programming which helps hone your skills through practice and repetition. Kata exercises vary from general to more complex algorithms and real life situations for you to try using your preferred programming language.

Remember that code katas are not quizzes or puzzles. You should not only try to ‘solve’ it, but find a very good solution, following best practices of the programming language you are using.

For more examples on Code Kata problems you can use check out:

Open Source Project Day

Rather than kick off a major new group open source project (which has a much larger time and energy commitment), pick a day and an existing open source project for your platform.

Kick off the day with an introduction to the open source project, it’s code and some good tasks for new contributors (simple bugs, documentations, more tests). Let people work async or in pairs, with shared group spaces for discussion or questions. At the end of the day people can demo the PRs they’ve built.

For people new to open source, match up mentors to teach how open source and pull requests work.

Any other ideas?

Those are few ideas from my own experiences. I’d love to hear if you have any more for a future update to this post.

Thanks, and best of luck with your technical meetup.