Recently, I came across a box of stickers, pins, and lanyards that I’ve accumulated throughout my career from attending various meetups, hackathons, and conferences. Deep inside that box was a lanyard from one of the very first industry events that I ever attended: the Adobe on AIR Bus Tour. Along with finding that lanyard, I found myself thinking about the professional connections I made that day and how industry events—particularly local meetups—have a personal and professional impact.
When it comes to talking about the value in attending industry events, I have to admit that I’m a bit biased: for the past several years, I’ve been a co-organizer of Refresh Pittsburgh, a monthly designer and developer meetup in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. But even before getting the chance to help organize Refresh, I was a regular attendee for many years.
Our mission is similar to that of many other web meetups: we exist to bring people together to share what they know through software and tech demonstrations, panel discussions, and open-ended question-and-answer sessions. And we strive to do this in a low-to-no-cost way.
Seeing things from both the attendee and organizer points of view has allowed me to have a well-rounded appreciation for local meetups, and it’s led me to always recommend meetups as a way for folks to get involved with their web communities. In my opinion, the value of meetups can’t be overstated:
You have the chance to gain exposure to disciplines outside your normal, day-to-day role. Even if the meetups you attend are hyper-focused around a particular language or framework, you’ll have the opportunity to talk with others about how they’re approaching their work, how they’re solving problems, and you can share your experiences with them.
There’s an opportunity to be exposed to completely different ideas or ways of doing things. One of our past Refresh presenters gave a talk about and demonstrated something that was written with ChucK, a programming language for real-time sound synthesis and music creation. This is something I would have never known about prior to attending the meetup that night!
You are able to hear from both experienced presenters and first-time presenters. Local meetups are a great way to gain public-speaking experience and are also a great place to test out talk ideas or to get comfortable with being in front of an audience before submitting proposals to larger conferences and industry events.
You’ll likely have the chance to participate in question-and-answer sessions. Often, larger conferences don’t have an opportunity for the audience to ask questions, but because of a more intimate setting, local meetups typically offer this.
There’s an opportunity to just simply hang out and talk shop with folks outside your office.
If you’re a student, or just getting started in the industry, there’s an opportunity to talk with industry veterans as well as folks who might also be just getting started in their careers. And sometimes you could find out about local employers who are looking to hire.
Those are just a few of the benefits that come to mind when I think about meetups. If you’re looking to get more involved with your local web community and are hunting for a meetup to attend, Meetup.com is a great place to start looking. You might be surprised at how many tech meetups exist in your area! And if you can’t find a meetup that fits what you’re looking for, start your own!
If you’re considering starting your own meetup, I suggest trying to be as consistent as possible with your meetings or events. Come up with a regular schedule (monthly, bi-monthly), and stick to it. Keep your members informed: talk frequently with them on Twitter, through an email list, and through your website. In order to have an active group, you need to make it look like you have an active group!
Look for advice on the web, and don’t be afraid to reach out to the organizers of other meetups in your area for tips. It’s been my experience that other groups are willing to share ideas, offer advice, or even help promote or mention your meetup to their groups.
Starting and organizing your own meetup can be quite time-consuming, but it can also be very rewarding. I’ve had the pleasure of making a number of professional connections, as well as several lasting friendships via Refresh Pittsburgh.
If you’re just starting your tech career, I hope that this post has encouraged you to check out a meetup in your area (or if you’re ambitious: to start your own!). And if you’ve been in the industry for a while but haven’t checked out a meetup lately or never tried attending one, I hope this post encourages you to try attending one soon.