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Learn about cloud (or share your expertise) at a local Meetup

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One powerful thing about cloud computing is that resources are virtualized and distributed globally. But a great way to learn (or share your knowledge) about cloud computing itself is to attend a local Meetup group.

I’ve hosted New York PHP user group meetings for ten years. I recently established the NYC Cloud Foundry Meetup and joined the leadership team of OpenStack Connecticut. In this post I’ll share my experiences in finding, attending and running Meetups so that you can start to participate in your own local cloud community.

What is a Meetup?

meetup-blog-670pxComputer user groups have been around for decades, but social tools like Facebook, LinkedIn and Meetup have made it much easier to organize people and schedule events around a common topic. Meetups bring people together with others nearby that share an interest, technical or otherwise, to exchange knowledge.

Meetups are regularly scheduled, semi-structured events that generally take place after work hours. Most events are free and open to the public (with a simple RSVP). They are commonly hosted at an office, bar, coffee shop or restaurant where speakers give a presentation on a predetermined topic that is followed by social interaction and discussion.

There are no hard rules, however. Some Meetups are informal gatherings where attendees freely mingle and spark spontaneous independent conversations. Others are more structured and may charge a fee to reserve a spot or defray speaker travel costs. Some groups provide refreshments at the meeting; others retire to another venue after the presentation.

Why should I join a Meetup?

If you’re new to a technology like cloud computing and aren’t sure where to start, there’s no better place than a Meetup to catch a live presentation, participate in an interactive discussion and meet local experts willing to teach.

After attending a Meetup or two, you’ll probably have a good grasp of a given technology. You may have time between events to do your own learning and may want to share your own experience at future meetings as a presenter.

In time, you’ll have acquired a stronger skill set, connected with a network of people you can lean on for answers to difficult questions (or job opportunities) and quite possibly have established your own eminence as a local (or global) technology expert.

How can I find a Meetup in my area?

The best place to start is Meetup.com. You can search for groups by keyword and geographic area. For a particular topic, you might find more than one local Meetup, though they may each focus on a single cloud delivery model, open source project or commercial product.

The Meetup organizers might schedule one or more speakers for an hour-long presentation. They may offer short lightning talks or encourage panels of three or four experts to debate the pros and cons of a certain issue relevant to the community.

To give you an idea of a sample talk, here is a presentation I recently gave at a local Cloud Foundry Meetup. The goal was to introduce the technical audience to an IBM open source project, solicit feedback from the attendees and invite them to contribute.

How can I start my own Meetup?

Don’t rush to set up a new group if one already exists. The OpenStack wiki page on user groups provides a good overview of the effort and costs involved in establishing and, more importantly, sustaining a strong community. If you see an inactive Meetup, try to engage the organizers rather than replace the existing one.

Start your own group only after you’ve thoroughly searched on Meetup.com. Then use Google, because many vibrant groups including New York PHP, which was founded in 2002, predate Meetup.com (on which it only later established a presence).

If you decide to arrange a local Meetup, one approach is to find a popular topic that already has one or more Meetups in other cities, and use their format to jumpstart your own. You can collaborate with the remote groups to share topics, tips, swag and coordinate touring speakers. In the case of Cloud Foundry, OpenStack and IBM Bluemix, there are many groups that you can engage to help, which will make running your own group much easier.

Next, find a venue and select a time for your first event. It may be simplest to talk to a local bar or restaurant about accommodating a dozen or so people. You may then find others who can offer formal meeting space or sponsorships as your group grows.

When you schedule your Meetup, consider other events that occur on the same day and, of course, be mindful of the calendar. The summer and winter months coincide with holidays and vacations, which can result in lower attendance even for great topics.

Finally, let your group evolve and be flexible. Membership will grow and drive the topics. Conversations may spill over into mailing lists and social media. Embrace that. There are many Meetup models, but you’ll eventually discover a management style that is best suited to your community.

Participate!

Now that you’re familiar with Meetups, you’re ready to get involved! Find a local Meetup now or check out this list of best practices to learn more about being a great organizer.

Please reach out to me on Twitter or LinkedIn if you have questions about finding, running or improving your own Meetups. If you have any tips for running an event, post a comment below.

If you’re in the greater New York City area, join us at my Meetups: NYC Cloud Foundry, OpenStack Connecticut and New York PHP.

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