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    Author makes lots of good points, and it’s true that a shitty presentation isn’t worth watching. To me, a tech meet up has always been about meeting like minded people and having conversations about whatever. The presentation is an ice breaker.

    Back when I started Hack && Tell, I was aware of the other problems (sponsors, etc) mentioned and decided to implement a few rules to enforce an environment that wasn’t dominated by sponsorship. Presenters weren’t allowed to talk about projects they did for work. There were no official avenues for job offers (and we policed the mailing list), or air time for sponsorships.

    But there are a few real problems in hosting a tech meetup. Space being the biggest. In the event you are an organizer and work in a space large enough to host a number of people, things are golden (and this was how Hack && Tell found success). Once we had to go out and find space, suddenly, we needed to offer something to avoid financial setbacks. Our organizing was never about money, it was about community, and as a result we had no funds, nor was I going to put personal funds into space. Even the experiments we did to charge for attendence didn’t yield enough money to rent out a space (we donated everything we ever charged to organizations like the OpenBSD Foundation, or Software Freedom Conservatory). Our solution was to allow the host to speak for 2 minutes about whatever they wanted to say.

    Something interesting happened, though. The companies that volunteered their space, and the companies that bought pizza (often the same), didn’t even take the opportunity! It became more about the community, about the inter personal connections made, than about sponsorship. The “sponsors” still had visibility, and it was probably still a good recruiting opportunity, really. They got people in the door, after all. But, it was opt-in only.

    I, and my co-org James created a safe space for programmers to talk shop and learn about interesting personal projects. So, it can be a good experience, but the author is completely right to say that it’s very often not.

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      The core bit of this to me is that you need some kind of functioning community around the meetup, which has goals, and an ethos, and an organizing team who will do the planning and supply the direction. If it’s sufficiently good, many of the other problems can be pushed back. For example, I went to a few SuperHappyDevHouse events back when I lived in the SF Bay Area (well, I lived in Santa Cruz, but close enough to travel for an event). Once that event got big enough, these were usually sponsored by a big company as host, which both provided the venue and the food (and sometimes beer). It was at Microsoft once, Facebook once, etc.

      But, besides having an obvious sponsorship presence because we were in their space, the companies didn’t really dominate the event with droning sales pitches or anything, because the event had a cohesive organization team that set the agenda and could communicate to the host what their plans were. If an event has no content except the sponsor wanting to conjure up an event, that’s when I think it gets super corporate. If there’s an actual community, many companies are just as happy to wash their hands of the scheduling and let you host an “organic” event in their space; if anything that’s better PR for them, not to mention less work.

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        If an event has no content except the sponsor wanting to conjure up an event, that’s when I think it gets super corporate.

        Or, if the speaker is there on behalf of his/her marketing team… That’s where our no job projects rule came from. Even if it’s 5 minutes, I don’t want to sit through a marketing pitch.

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          Or, if the speaker is there on behalf of his/her marketing team… That’s where our no job projects rule came from. Even if it’s 5 minutes, I don’t want to sit through a marketing pitch.

          I can totally understand the “no job projects” rule, for a meetup like yours, you totally don’t want to instruct all speakers.

          But there’s something that confuses me: this is damaging to the marketing, too. I’m frequently baffled on how bad many companies are at being represented at those events.

          Especially as they usually have some very interesting tech bits to talk about in their products, which they could just do. No one minds a “this is what our product does, and hence we had to build this very cool thing we want to nerd about for 5 minutes”. But the number of people grocking that is sadly far too low.

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        Something interesting happened, though. The companies that volunteered their space, and the companies that bought pizza (often the same), didn’t even take the opportunity! It became more about the community, about the inter personal connections made, than about sponsorship. The “sponsors” still had visibility, and it was probably still a good recruiting opportunity, really. They got people in the door, after all. But, it was opt-in only.

        At some of the confs and meetups I ran, I explicitely asked the companies if they have an enjoyable speaker that can quickly introduce people to the space and say “hello”, and maybe tell something notable about the place they are in. The effect is the same: many decide not to waste peoples time with something low quality.

        The best sponsor at a conf I ever had used their 5 minute talk for a “hey, we’re from Berlin, so I tell you some stuff I enjoy about the city”. People rated that talk extremely high.

        People value info and brevity, not standard blurb. If you are ever in the situation of having this minute or five minutes at a conf, make it worth their while.

        By the way, I love the H&&T for their good running format: strict and on-point, not allowing people to get lost in details.

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        Curiously, I stopped going to meetups when I finished college and started working full-time: after eight hours of work, I just want to go home.

        Meetups are as good as their organizers are[1]. A lot of them seem half-interested and thus the meetup is a waste of time—a few of this and you get burnt out on the whole concept. In NYC, ManhattanJS, BrooklynJS, and NYC Elixir do a very good job with organizing, timing, etc. It actually feels like the organizers tried.

        [1] Four of the author’s points are due to poor organization

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          Meetups are as good as their organizers are[1].

          This, so much this. If you can’t get a vibe across, start something new.

          I ran 5 different meetups and had to kill two of them because they were a struggle for me and subsequently the audience. One was my personal favourite idea.

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          Yeah the ‘dominated by sponsorship’ thing is a total turn off for me as well.

          However don’t paint all programming meetups with the same brush. The author was simply describing the less successful ones.

          I would point to groups like Boston Python - high quality presentations, vibrant packed project nights, and organizers (like Ned Batchelder who exemplify the community spirit with their tireless efforts.

          Also, with respect to the author, are you really belly aching because you didn’t get your free pizza? Seems a bit entitled and, forgive me, but obnoxious to me.

          And maybe rather than slagging the meet ups, why not pitch in and make some awesome?

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            are you really belly aching because you didn’t get your free pizza? Seems a bit entitled and, forgive me, but obnoxious to me.

            I don’t fully disagree, but a lot of events happen at night, after work. In NYC (at least), it’s super common to just stay at work a little longer before going to the meetup, because the trek home can be long. That means if you were told there’d be pizza, and there’s not, you haven’t eaten yet at 7:30. This isn’t fun.

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              Yeah, breaking a food expectation that people plan around is not great, though the OP’s phrasing might have been a bit obnoxious about it.

              Beyond just expectation-setting, I think the free pizza we provided at my local code club was actually important (though certainly not essential) in a few other ways:

              • We were mostly students on fairly tight food budgets. A free meal every week is a nice thing.
              • The food’s arrival provides a shake-up part-way through the night. It gets people on their feet and moving around, talking to other people.
              • It was a fun way to engage people who wandered by. “Have some pizza!” creates a space to talk for a bit. It’s hard to get new people (and especially new programmers!) to actually come out for their first time, so this sort of bypasses that.

              …I may also just be post-rationalizing since, at least to me as an organizer, it was a small thing every week that kept me going!

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                I think you’re right and I totally recognize that the food is important. I guess you’ve also hit the nail on the head in that the author’s tone was a bit - I can’t think of any other way to say it than “entitled”.

                “Gee all these people coming together and trying to create a community and spread ideas and lift each other up? It’s CRAP. And I didn’t get my free food!”.

                I can totally sympathize with what everyone’s saying - going a long evening with no food is un-fun, but as the recipient of all this effort and care by the organizers, I think there are more gracious and helpful ways of dealing with that than the way the author chose to purvey.

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            What is the benefit of a meet-up as opposed to the internet?

            The only thing I can think of is to demo a hardware project interactively.

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              Some people just get better engaged in person. I can watch a talk if I’m attending it, but I really can’t suffer through watching a 1 hour video of someone speaking. Also, afterwards, I have questions and can’t talk to the person.

              For new speakers, it’s often a good chance to learn.

              No biggy if it’s not for everyone, I think diversifying offers is the key to make tech engagement enjoyable for everyone.

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                And don’t forget the questions during the talk, which also might help the presenter.

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                There’s the network aspect- I mostly go to meetups to meet people, find (and pass around) job opportunities.

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                  Networking. It’s a proven fact that humans end up forming different kinds of relationships with each other in meat space.

                  In no way am I saying that you can’t network remotely, but there is a definite difference between forming a relationship via E-mail and actually seeing someone in meatspace every month, having some meaningful exchange of ideas and war stories.

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                  It definitely depends on the community and the actual meetup.

                  In the Bay Area, I’ve been mostly just to SHDH, which was kinda cool, but haven’t really found any other good meetups, nor particularly good pizza, food or presentations to remember.

                  In Austin, there are a whole bunch of meetups that get completely packed, the food is great and presentation is flowing. A crappy meetup with no food or poor presentation is definitely the exception, not the norm. And with so many of them downtown, you can just walk from one to another in a few minutes.

                  In some nearby bigger towns than Austin? Food may be good, but is often missing. Presentations are average. Sales pitches are plentiful, yet sponsorship is scarce. Attendance is rarely inspiring; and so is the frequency and selection of the meetups. Can totally relate to OP.