a reckoning for tech by the humans that work with it

User Groups: Old School vs New School 

I just wrapped up a great UK VMUG UserCon. My closing keynote was a reminder that our working lifetimes are decades long with a call to action to gather your team of mentors and community peers and develop a career-long learning practice through side projects. I guess in England one could use the metaphor that everybody needs a Professional Shed in which to putter about.

The VMware User Group organization is remarkable: over 100,000 members worldwide with groups run by local volunteers. I love going to VMUGs and presenting at VMUGs, and because of my involvement with the vExpert program, many VMUG leaders are my friends. I believe they are a key tool for career growth if you are involved professionally with VMware tools. They’re a hot ticket for sponsors, too, because they are one of the few ways of directly connecting with enterprise IT pros.

But as I interact more with my clients in the open source and developer areas, I wonder if the VMUG model of user groups is about to be superseded by new, more lighter-weight models of user gatherings. To make an analogy to the companies themselves — heavyweight enterprise technology vendors being superseded by more nimble newcomers — is irresistible.

Not clear what I’m talking about? Check out Meetup.com for what’s going on in your town. Even in the English Midlands there are dozens of developer, open source, and technology meetups going on every month, some sponsored by companies, others by independent organizers. And Meetup.com is not even the whole story – lots of activity and events going on these days!

The differences between old school user groups and new school meetups:

  •  centralized control vs decentralized control
  •  third-party sponsors vs non-sponsored or company-subsidized
  •  multi-session meeting vs single session
  •  full afternoon vs evening
  •  multiple sponsors vs zero or one sponsor
  •  sponsor presentations vs brief sponsor mentions
  •  passive, listening vs active, hackathons
As I design these user group programs for companies, it’s not clear that a VMUG-style user group is universally appropriate for all companies or topics.
[Originally published in TechReckoning Dispatch v2n16]