About Programming Stuff
I’d like to start a user group about programming, but I have two problems: I’m lazy and my ideas are a bit off the beaten path. So far, it’s the first one that’s stopped me from trying. I’m busy. Most programmers are. I’m happy to chat about the possibility and poll a couple of friends. I’ll even make convincing gestures with my hands. But actually organizing such a thing involves work, a very scary proposition indeed. However, I’m now being nudged into action and suddenly wondering if my odd ideas are anything more than just that.
User groups have a couple of problems in my opinion, the biggest of which is that they are about something, something too specific. That something is usually a programming language. We build our forts out of Java or .NET sticks and don’t bother much to peek out the windows.
On paper at least, this is practical, even desired. The compiler of a typical programmer rarely changes in a typical week, month, or occasional decade. Why shouldn’t the user group match the contents of the hard drive? But this insular focus on a particular technology or language first limits the potential audience for the group (in a way not unlike a binary search) and ignores something incredibly fundamental. Most of us are doing a lot of very same things.
We’re searching the contents of a database. We’re organizing a project that got much larger than originally expected. We’re trying to make an interface better for our users, moving a widget here and changing a color there. We’re dealing with a tangle of code written by someone else. We’re wondering if we are doing this or that the right way or, in my case at least, the most interesting way.
These are the types of things I’d like to discuss and not only because my current job can lead me between database maintenance, a web application written in Java, multiple .NET platforms, and, lately, an Objective C application for the iPhone in a typical week. I just enjoy discussing technology. It’s what made me a geek. There’s a ton of programming topics to discuss and debate, both common and uncommon alike, that don’t center around a single programming language.
The other problem is that user groups are boring, boring in both topic and presentation. I don’t think I’m the only person that has stumbled into a group meeting after a long day at work and spent the next hour wishing I was home with my kids.
A narrow focus on a specific language often leads to equally narrow and specific topics. Sit me down in an extended session about something I’ll never, ever use and I’ll show you someone more interested in their cell phone than the voice coming from front of the room.
In fact, sit me in an extended session about anything after the hour of six in the afternoon and yawns often result. I need a kick start after work and I don’t mean pizza, even though it certainly helps. A long form presentation is the very opposite.
I see any decent user group as a great opportunity for discussion and debate. Let’s talk about something. Let’s experiment with presentation styles created by people as bored as I and make something worth the attention and feedback of the folks still seated in the room. Let’s argue about religious topics and foster participation. Folks willing to spend their free time in a user group are often quite passionate about what they do. I want to hear some of it.
In a lot of ways, I just want to chat. About stuff. Programming stuff.
I might just be interested enough to attend such a chat after work. Add pizza to the mix and we are golden.