. . . Or, why the STL ALT.NET User Group kicks so much ass.
One of the best moves I ever made was getting involved with a developer user group, or “meet up” as they are sometimes known. Here’s why.
I am a self-taught developer, having been touched by the progressive disease of code addiction a few years back, in conjunction with a project at work. I have had to learn most of this addictive trade the hard way, e.g. long bouts of going down the wrong road to a solution, and hours spent surfing the web, seeking solutions to problems which, for an experienced dev, would be rudimentary.
In all this, I have learned much.
One of the biggest lessons I learned is, hijack the education and experience of others, by whatever means necessary. The other thing I learned is the old saw “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” I’ll come back to this in a minute.
I had lived in Portland, Oregon for most of the past nine years. As my coding addiction grew worse and worse, I found myself joining some local user groups, and regularly attended the PADNUG (Portland Area Dot Net Users Group, of course). I found here a group of like-minded individuals, who all spoke the same language (that would be C#, for the most part, but I will generalize and use “.NET” to represent all the .NET languages – yes, I KNOW .NET is a framework, not a language, but this is MY blog, and I can call things what I want!).
I moved, rather suddenly, from Portland to St. Louis, Missouri in October of 2011. Before I was on the ground more than 24 hours in my new neighborhood of Clayton, I was scouring the inter-webs for the St. Louis version of the PADNUG. I found the Saint Louis ALT.NET group. Upon following the Google link to the group’s home page, the very first thing I saw was THIS:
“The ALT.NET community is a loosely coupled, highly cohesive group of like-minded individuals who believe that the best developers do not align themselves with platforms and languages, but with principles and ideas. “
See my previous note about hammers and nails.
I loved this. As I continued my scan of the page, I found the following list, describing the “Alt.Net philosophy” espoused by David Laribee:
The alt.net Philosophy
“1. You're the type of developer who uses what works while keeping an eye out for a better way.
2. You reach outside the mainstream to adopt the best of any community: Open Source, Agile, Java, Ruby, etc.
3. You're not content with the status quo. Things can always be better expressed, more elegant and simple, more mutable, higher quality, etc.
4. You know tools are great, but they only take you so far. It's the principles and knowledge that really matter. The best tools are those that embed the knowledge and encourage the principles (e.g. Resharper.)
The STL ALT.NET Meetup
The St. Louis ALT.NET meetup group is a place where .NET developers can learn, share, and critique approaches to software development on the .NET stack. We cater to the highest common denominator, not the lowest, and want to help all St. Louis .NET developers achieve a superior level of software craftsmanship.”
THIS was the group I had been looking for. While I had enjoyed the single-minded focus at the PADNUG group, I found the above ideas refreshing. As soon as I was settled (and learned my way around St. Louis!) I attended my first meet up, How Ruby is Making Me a Stronger C# Developer and a Better Man, presented by Darren Cauthon. The group itself was welcoming, and relaxed. Pizza and refreshments were on hand, and the monthly meet up is a Bring-Your-Own-Beer type of after-work affair.
The next month was a presentation by Jessica Kerr on Powerful Pattern Matching in F# / UX Techniques. Loved this too.
Since joining the STL ALT.NET group, I have been consistently impressed with the organization of the meet ups, and the energy with which Nicholas Cloud, the group’s principal and most visible organizer keeps the group moving. In keeping with my personal quest to expand my know-how, steal the hard-won education of others, and broaden my technological horizons, this was exactly the group I needed.
New Challenges to Face
It has been difficult for me to attend the group in the past few months, as a result of a heavy work travel schedule. I am hoping to get back in the swing of things in July now though, because I believe that participation in user groups (especially good ones) is of prime benefit to both the individual and the developer community. Even more, I believe that maximum benefit is obtained through consistent participation, and making a contribution. Even now, I am trying to find a topic on which I might present to the group. For me, the challenge in this is there is very little I might share with the experienced pros that they don’t already know. But I am going to try, BECAUSE of the challenge this represents.
Why YOU should Join a User Group
If you are a new and inexperienced programmer just starting to figure things out, or if you are an experienced pro who has never attended a user group or meetup, I strongly recommend you GET OFF YOUR ASS AND JOIN ONE. Yes, the initial social interaction thing is uncomfortable for most of us (we are, after all, geeks, right?), but there are few things which can bring a new vigor to your work more effectively than “getting involved” and “Giving back.”
And if you are in the Saint Louis area, I strongly recommend dropping into the STLALT.NET group. There will be pizza. You can bring beer. You WILL learn something. Plus, you probably have an education and professional experience I can steal while you are there.
If you are not in the St. Louis Area, or this specific group is not what you are looking for, you can most likely find one that IS what you seek HERE: Meetups in your area
If you are intrigued by the STLALT.NET group, you can find more info HERE: STL ALT.NET
You can follow the group on Twitter at : @stlaltdotnet
John on Google
There is a generation out there which has forgotten (or more correctly, never learned) the value of knowledge. In the last decade or so, it is safe to say the internet has replaced television as the ubiquitous household media resource. It is available for free in most public locations, and even on our phones. We stream music. We watch movies. Need to know where the cheapest gas price is within five miles of your current location? Google it (or use Bing, or any number of other services available for "free").
For this generation, the instant availability of up-to-the-minute, detailed and accurate (ok, I'm using the term "accurate" loosely here) information on just about anything is simply an everyday expectation. And it better be free. The internet has been available to them since before they could speak. Even some of us who were alive and kicking in the pre-internet era have come to rely on this instant availability of data, directions, and content.
Which is a problem in some ways. There is a lot of information available for free on the Interwebs. Some of it is even of fairly high quality. To your right on this page I have added links to the weblogs of some folks who regularly put their time and energy into sharing what they know, bringing (in most cases) years of schooling and experience to the table for free, so that folks like myself can improve their know-how.
The Shoulders of Giants
I am a self-taught programmer. Meaning, I have to seek and find the information I need in order to learn this complex art, because I didn't listen to my mama when she said "go to college, son." Now, in my forties, I really, really want to learn everything I can about programming and development. "Self-taught" is actually a misnomer here, because in reality, everything I know and have learned about programming has come to me through the efforts of people who saw fit to go to school for this, and/or who mastered the computer at an early age and have accumulated professional experience. Most importantly, these folks also felt some perverse inclination to share what they know via their blog posts. Via on-line forums and user-groups. Via Stack Overflow. Mostly for free.
Now, I am not so naïve as to think that there are not selfish reasons any blog author or "developer evangelist" type undertakes these efforts. Blog authors may, in addition to simply wanting to engage the community, hope to derive some ad or affiliate revenue from page views. "Developer Evangelists" are obviously paid to engage the community and build support for the ecosystem in support of their employer. But in most cases, each of these people would tell you they would do what they are doing for no money.
Quality Content vs. "Free"
Some of these folks have taken things a step further. Scott Hanselman and Rob Conery just yesterday released a screencast The Art of Speaking: Scott Hanselman on TekPub (Conery's successful company which provides high-quality tech-focused screencasts for professionals) featuring Mr. Hanselman presenting on the topic of, well, presenting. The cost for this 90 minute, downloadable, stream-able content? $18.00.
Scott Hanselman is one of the foremost presenters on tech topics today. Yes, he is employed by Microsoft as an evangelist. But for years before that Scott has been publishing content on his blog for his own reasons, and on a wide variety of topics. He is in high demand as a presenter, and for good reason. Rob Conery has created a business which provides high-quality video productions at a comparatively modest cost. The two decided to publish the afore-mentioned screencast, and it is exceptional.
Immediately began the G+/Facebook/Twitter complaints about price. Really?
I have to seek and find the information I need in order to learn this complex art, because I didn't listen to my mama when she said "go to college, son."
We expect the web to provide everything for free. We complain about the price of a $0.99 app for our smart phone. We complain when someone makes space for AdSense ads on their site, hoping to recoup the cost of hosting and possible put some pocket change away. We want the top-rated educators and presenters of our time, who have invested countless years and countless dollars into learning their craft, to turn around and share the wealth for free.
At What Cost, Knowledge?
I for one, am happy to pay a paltry $18.00 for 90 minutes of Mr. Hanselman's time. Or how about $30.00 for several HOURS with C# guru John Skeet? Or any of the other TekPub subjects, who have created hours and hours of content, for very, very modest prices.
Does this sound like a plug for TekPub? It might, but consider it instead a metaphor for all affordable, quality content. TekPub is currently but one of the more visible examples where one can find true "rock star" status professionals walking us through some of the most relevant content in the tech realm, at prices rivaling that of a decent dinner or a few drinks. I am not ashamed to discuss products here that I believe in. In reality, I was simply angered by the complaints I read on-line by people who thought that $18.00 was just too spendy for a 90 minute video by a well-respected authority on the subject.
Many in the tech community give freely of their time and knowledge, in so many ways. There is definitely a sense of "giving back" despite the fact that some also attempt to garner a little revenue from the deal. I myself have started this blog so that, maybe, someone coming behind me might garner a few nuggets I have picked up along the way. This is also why I contribute, to the degree I can, on Stack Overflow. I also hope, maybe in a year or two, to pay my hosting bill. Yup. There are a few ads sprinkled on here, in case either or both of my readers want to click on a product, and help me pay the hosting tab. But in reality, I just want to contribute, engage, and be "part of".
When all is said and done, I owe that much, for all I have taken. But when those with the know-how and experience to do what I can only dream of doing decide to charge some nominal fee for access to what they know, count me in. If you don't like the cost, go search Google and assemble 90 minutes of content matching the clarity and quality of a TekPub or other screencast for which you might have to shell out the price of an evening at the movies.
Lemme know how that works out for you. In the meantime, I have some vids to watch.
Referenced in this post:
- Stack Overflow
- Scott Hanselman
- John Skeet
- Rob Conery
John on Google