Ten years of the Orlando CodeCamp! That was the message that I was priviledged enough to deliver as the first keynote speaker at the 10th Annual Orlando CodeCamp on March 28th 2015. Even more incredible to me is that it's been almost 15 years since I started the Orlando .NET User Group.
Given that ONETUG has been going for 14 (and some change) years, the question came up in conversation several times the prior evening (at the speaker party), "What contributed to the success and longevity of the group". Now, I had already planned to talk a bit about the history of the group in the talk, as a prelude to what brought us to "today", there at the tenth annual CodeCamp; but this was a fascinating question. One that I'm not sure I had really given much more than cursory thought to. But since I was on the spot, I thought back to my time running the group for the first 4 years, and then all of the amazing volunteers that have run the group since.
That's when it hit me ... it's all about the people!
When I started the group, for me it was all about finding a set of like-minded individuals. In 2001 I was just entering the industry, and I lacked a professional network. As Microsoft announced it's new .NET technology, I was really excited about it, and wanted to talk to others who were interested in the same thing. So I posted on a site that had sprung up to help .net user groups organize (dnug.net) and eventually a few people signed up after a few weeks and we met up at a local restaurant.
Even though there were only a handful of people there, one of the attendees agreed to be the speaker at the next meeting; and along with help from Ryan Parnell (with whom I went on to co-author my first book with) ... the second meeting actually happened! As more and more people signed up for and attended the meetings, we got more people helping with set up and tear down of the meeting location, more people speaking. Towards the end of my tenure as president, a fantastic board of directors had coalesced to help run the group. Without these wonderful folks, I would have long let the group fold due to a number of things (time, stress, work-load, etc). Once I decided to step down as president, the board went on to keep growing the group, and have kept things going for years.
So, upon reflection, it becomes obvious that what grew the community were the people kept stepping up to the plate. After a time, it became a self-reinforcing feedback loop.
If I had any advice for someone looking to build a community, particularly in the tech industry, it would be to simply make it about the people. Build relationships, meet attendees for lunch whenever you can, become friends. Eventually, you'll find that you start seeing connections that can be made between different people (jobs, contracts, opportunities). Once you can get people involved, and connecting with other members, it gives them an incentive to show up to the next meeting, and eventually you can start to delegate responsibilities in running the group. I'm incredibly proud of how the Orlando .NET User Group has grown; and I give thanks to the many hours volunteered by the board of directors ... your continued contributions are making Orlando a great place to be for tech!