Code Free World

What do you look for from a User Group?

I'm in the process of starting a User Group in my area related to .NET development. The format of the community will be the average free food, presentation, and then maybe free swag giveaway.

What would you, as a member of a user community, look for in order to keep you coming back month to month?

If there isn't beer, its not a good enough user group to attend. The open source guys get this. Their user group meetings are funner, and more dynamic because of this. Just make it BYOB and it'll naturally get better in my experience.

I always like talks on different subjects. The real hard thing about talking to a specialized community is keeping the detail level high and the scope narrow. What's the point of talking to a bunch of .NET programmers about the benefits of Polymorphism? It always kills me when I go to a meeting on a particular subject and get the most rudimentary explanation and examples. Its a waste of time.

MSDN webcasts have a level system that describes the complexity of the subject. Most are level 100 or 200. If you're dealing with a group of professionals, your talks should always be at level 600-1000.

In addition to talking about technical subjects, another big area to hit is professional development. How do you make yourself a more valuable programmer? These types of talks are great for bringing in other people, such as management, sales, customers, etc. People who you normally only associate with under protest, and who you typically curse under your breath when they walk by. A user group forum is a great way to bring these people together with developers in a pseudo-group therapy like setting.

Also, donuts.

It's true that some of the talks out there are very rudimentary, unfortunately some times the bulk of your crowd may need that. I consider myself a novice in a lot of fields, but I've attend talks that I thought were beneath me and still people were asking very basic questions. Perhaps it would be worth having a bi-monthly user group, one week for entry level and one week for advanced. It doesn't necessarily have to mean twice the work if you can get someone to help you coordinate a lot of the work will overlap. On the other hand you might just need to feel out the members of the group and see what their average skill level is and play to that.