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A little over a year ago our local .Net User Group shut down (Maine Bytes).  The guy who had been running it for 10+ years decided he didn’t want to continue the work, and rather than find someone to fill his shoes he just shut it down (if you want to hear a rant ask me what I think about that decision).

Maine Bytes seemed to encourage passive attendance, not participation.  I’m not sure if was intentional or if it was the space (rows of tables facing the speaker) or just a vibe the group developed, but I frequently went and rarely talked with anyone.  They usually had a seasoned speaker come in from out of the area and the group (myself included) began to expect that. The one time the group held a “member lightning talk” night, I think it came as a surprise, and I’m ashamed to admit I was a little put off, that we had inexperienced speakers.

When Casco Bay .Net User Group filled the gap, their second meeting was a “member lightning talk” night.  At my co-worker’s urging (he is one of the organizers) I presented a gave a quick talk on Automated UI Testing with Selenium.  I really enjoyed speaking, but I also really enjoyed the other lightning talks.  They were compact and informative.

That night was enough to encourage me to speak at Boston Code Camp, then Vermont Code Camp as well as a few more CBNUG lightning talk nights. I’ve really enjoyed each of these events for their own reasons, but Vermont Code Camp really stirred something in me.

Two things happened the week of Vermont Code Camp that changed the way I look at our user group.
1. Russ Fustino spoke to our group about Xamarin Forms, which was a great, but at the end he said “Where are we all going to get a beer?” The question wasn’t “does anyone want to get a beer?”, the assumption was that we were all going to the bar and he wanted to know where. This was the first time we went for drinks after any user group meeting I’d ever been to, and it really broke the ice for the group.

2. I went to Vermont Code Camp. At first I was excited to see how many names I recognized as seasoned speakers I’d seen at bigger conferences or recognized from Twitter. But what really impressed me was the quantity and quality of speaker from Vermont.  It made me realize that these speakers probably got their starts at their local user group (VTdotNet).

Those two things made me realize we had a lot of work to do in Portland around building a better user group and more importantly a better community.  I realized I (and the group as a whole) needed to look forward to lightning talk nights. It’s on these nights when a first time speaker gets up and fumbles through a rushed presentation of a small idea that our user group truly grows. And it’s after the “official” meeting when we reconvene at the local pub that our community grows in other equally important ways.

Because of that revelation I have decided to appoint myself Community Booster.  I am going to do my best to encourage involvement at every level.  I’m going to encourage people to attend the user group meetings, to come out with us after, to speak at the lightning talks, to submit talks to both CBNUG and code camps. This isn’t an area I have much experience in, and I’m sure I’ll make some mistakes along the way, but I feel like the community I want to have in my local area needs someone (or multiple people) to really embrace this role.

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