Dave Konopka

The secret to organizing a tech meetup

A little over three years ago Hector Castro brought up an idea he had for starting a DevOps meetup in Philadelphia. We both agreed that existing user groups weren’t covering many topics bridging the gap between developing and operating software. So we organized the first Philly DevOps meetup in July of 2012 and we’ve hosted regular monthly meetups since then.

Every so often somebody asks: I want to start a meetup. What do I do?

There’s plenty to talk about in response: Meeting space. Food. Speakers. Sponsorships. Scheduling. Web sites. Attracting and engaging community members.

But there’s really only one answer that matters…

Do It.

Seriously. JFDI.

Meetups are a time and a place for a community to assemble. There’s very little you can do in isolation to orchestrate a successful meetup. Logistics are important but they only take you so far. The real development of a meetup happens when people start coming together and talking to each other.

Set a topic. Book a room. Announce a date.

Your first meetup talk doesn’t need to be perfect. You can deliver a brief talk on something you’ve worked with. You could even pose an open topic for group discussion. Pick something and move forward with it.

Finding meeting space can be painful. Not many organizations are willing to offer space to the public in the evenings. Even fewer are willing to do so for free.

We held our first meeting in a local coworking space that we reached out to via their website. Soon after we moved to a room in a bar/restaurant. We had to guarantee a minimum bar tab in exchange for using the space. There were some nervous moments the first few months but we generally covered the tab minimum.

Ask around with your contacts for space connections. Maybe your employer would be willing to donate a conference room for an evening. Keep in mind, the space you start with doesn’t have to last forever. All you need is someplace adequate to get started.

Once you lock in a topic, space, and date you can begin gathering your community. Announce the first meetup to your contacts. Share it with your coworkers. Post it to your social media accounts. Ask other similar meetup organizers if they would share it within their communities. Be sure to keep your communication genuine and avoid spamming people at all costs.

Get to know the community

Meetups thrive on interaction. High quality talks are a valuable resource. Well known speakers draw attendees. Still, the interactions people have with each other are what bring them back month after month. Without interaction people will drop off quickly after attending one or two events.

Ask people what they’re interested in from the meetup. Ask them what they’re working on. Listen to what they say. Encourage them to consider giving a talk to the group. Over time you’ll build connections that will sustain the meetup.

Build in time for socializing. Find a bar/restaurant nearby. Announce that everyone will head there to continue conversations after the meetup. Encourage people to follow over. Clarity and repetition help people feel more comfortable engaging with each other.

Be inclusive

The best tech meetup communities are a continuum of experience and skill levels. There’s always something to learn from each other. It’s helpful to organize a range of content that speaks to different skill levels.

Echo chambers are pointless. A diversity of backgrounds and experiences helps everyone advance. To this end, we enforce a code of conduct for Philly DevOps events and communication channels. We do not tolerate harassment in any form. We encourage you to be kind to others. No one can insult or put down other attendees. We expect professional behavior. Anyone interested in DevOps should feel safe and comfortable attending a meetup.

The secret is: There is no secret

There really is no secret to organizing a tech meetup. If you’ve decided there is a gap you want to fill in your community, start doing it. Get people together as quickly as possible. Listen to what they have to say. Encourage people to connect with each other. You will work out all of the logistics that matter along the way.