Events do not a community make

It's a recurring theme. The relationship between the .Net developers community, the community leaders, Microsoft products, and Microsoft itself is an endless debate.

These last couple of weeks I've seen it come back again, strong, with the usual rants, departure notices, and rebuttals (which are getting fewer and further between).

The Microsoft .Net User Group Leaders

I run a small .Net UG in Chicago and when I have a chance to talk with other user group organizers, no matter how truly dedicated and valuable they are, I invariably come to the same sad conclusion.

The majority of the UG's act as mere outlets for showing off introductory talks on whatever is the shiny new technology from Microsoft. I wonder if all user groups have a clear (or even unclear) mission statement.

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with providing 100-level content about new products. The problem I see is that this doesn't really contribute much to build any kind of community and we can't make our UGs be restricted to just that.

In many UGs there's a lot of emphasis put in "Microsoft" and ".Net" but almost none in "User" or "Group." I think this is completely backwards. The UG leaders should have their focus on their members 100% of the time, thinking how the UG can be used to truly benefit their members, making all of us better developers, not just better .Net developers (Microsoft or ALT) and much less better MS developers.

The .Net Developer Community

We all know this community isn't exactly like other developer communities. I'd even go out on a limb and say that the use of the word community is a bit of a stretch, it's more like a demographic.

We grew up simply waiting what comes out of One Microsoft Way and attended MS-produced events and conferences. I think there are very few occurrences of organically formed community manifestations in .Net, like the Code Camps and ALT.NET.

That's something that can't be changed by just talking about it. As community members there are things we could do.

  • Look for developer events even if you weren't forwarded one of those MSDN emails (there's Community Megaphone, Meetup, EventBrite, just to name a few).
  • Attend non-MS user group meetings. Seriously. If you're a web developer, look for a JavaScript or Flash UG. If you're curious about the Windows Phone, check out the iPhone and Android users groups too. There's a lot to learn and much networking to be done.
  • Attend Code Camps, even if costs you a small road trip. There's no way you'll ever regret doing this.

We will only be a community when we start acting as such.

Microsoft

At least in my region Microsoft does a very commendable work in trying to connect the .Net developers with non-.Net ones. More and more I see MS interested in leaving the community organization to community itself, providing some level of infrastructure, access to good speakers and sponsorship when possible.

I'm not convinced MS knows how to measure the health of .Net communities. For me, even looking from MS' standpoint, a successful community is one where a novices have easy access to experts and where knowledge and opportunities are exchanged. It doesn't matter that you have tens of thousands of .Net developers in your region if you don't know where to find them for a question or business proposition.

Microsoft Products

Like any other technology company, Microsoft releases products that range from tremendously successful to niche applications to complete failures.

We can never dispose of critical eyes when analyzing a new product. The community members invest their time when attending meetings and events. We need to always demand perspective in addition to purely technical content.

Here I want to draw the line and separate developer tools from core technologies. As a developer I'm ok to be seen as a consumer of developer tools, like Visual Studio and Blend, but when it comes to the platform technologies, like IIS, SQL Server, Azure, Silverlight, etc I much rather be treated as a coworker that is trying to create high quality software with these products. Forget that there's money to be made by both of us in this process when we talk about core technologies.

Can we fix this?

I used to be more optimistic about this situation. I still hope we can stir the will to participate, produce, and consume all things .Net.

The one thing I know for sure is that I won't sit and watch until it happens. I try to do the tiny bit I can but I like this stuff too much and I have no problem in carrying my energy over to another platform.

But the question stands — Is there a way to make it work?


Posted 06-15-2010 8:17 AM by sergiopereira
Filed under: ,

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Comments

Ken Egozi wrote re: Events do not a community make
on 06-15-2010 2:09 PM

I totally agree with the sentiment about .NET user groups.

I am running the ALT.NET group in Israel, and also ran a community event a-la the UK's DDD days (idcc.co.il). on both efforts I got next to no help (besides minor mailing list push) from MS. The formal User Groups that are being hosted by MS, are 99% about Yet Another What's New in XYZ boring stuff.

sergiopereira wrote re: Events do not a community make
on 06-15-2010 5:18 PM

@Ken, I didn't explicitly mentioned it in the post but I do get a lot of support from MS in our bigger community events. Our regional MS guys (DPE's as they are called) do a very good job, showing genuine interest in making things better, not just louder/bigger.

Lethola Moeno wrote re: Events do not a community make
on 06-16-2010 1:31 AM

It' just that most people are born into the world of Microsoft products and thats the reason they use them. Microsoft even monopolises by making deals with some manufacturers.

In my opinion the open source products are the best, considering the fact that they operate in all operating systems. So I think you can just tell yourself that you change and leave .NET stuff......

Keoz wrote re: Events do not a community make
on 06-16-2010 2:12 AM

Lethola, no the open source does not neccesarily run in all oses, and there is .NET open source too and can be able to run in many platforms

Balaji Birajdar wrote re: Events do not a community make
on 06-16-2010 5:22 AM

Why hate Microsoft when it gives me the best software that helps me run my business.?

rich wrote re: Events do not a community make
on 06-16-2010 6:10 AM

@Balaji Birajdar - because Microsoft don't "give" you the best software - they might "sell" you the most widely used software, but that's a very different thing.

David Salgado wrote re: Events do not a community make
on 06-16-2010 6:53 AM

Hi there

my 2 cents

I've been member of .net communities since the first alphas, mvp and now ms dev evangelist in Spain. We try to help to connect professional groups  and student groups with same interests. But then the UG must act as a live organism, not just acting as an echo of MS driven events where an speaker presents about a topic once a month.

I understand that some times it's hard because of the passive profile of many members, but from my experience, many groups evolve from this situation and become a kind of geeks and beer groups... more useful and social than the speaker-audience approach :)

From our side, we try to help with the infraestructure, communications, resources, meetins, rooms... but then members must work to mantain the group live :)

In Spain, we are working to try to create relationships among .NET UGs and Agile UGs ... share experiences, topics... from 2 sets of exceptional people we can only expect an exceptional outcome :D

cheers

Jungle Jim wrote re: Events do not a community make
on 06-16-2010 7:08 AM

I agree ... That's why I've left .Net or MS products for PHP / Python - way better communities which are strong and supportive.

sergiopereira wrote re: Events do not a community make
on 06-16-2010 8:40 AM

This just occurred to me. Does anyone think the .net developers in general (not you reading blogs) assume the .net UGs are owned by MS?

Maybe the reason for the passive attitude is that all the events are perceived as being produced by MS, even when they aren't. Also, other than blogs, I can't think of too many popular .net-focused websites that aren't maintained by MS.

corey coogan wrote re: Events do not a community make
on 06-16-2010 9:59 AM

I tried to organize an Alt.net UG where the community could come together and learn about and discuss any tool or technology that could help us do things better immediately.  It started with a decent first meeting, 13 people, but quickly fizzled.  Meanwhile, the .NET UG sees 25+ per meeting.

It seems that most MS developers just don't buy into what else is out there.  If it's not from MS, many think it's crap.  These are people who rather than learn about another way to hook a database table into a UI than understand what NHibernate is and when it might be a viable option.

I think it's ingrained in the community and it is very sad.  Although I gave up on the Alt.net meeting, I'll never give up talking about this stuff and trying to open the eyes of the die-hard MS crowd.

Lee Brandt wrote re: Events do not a community make
on 06-16-2010 11:17 AM

I agree with what you're saying about getting to together not meaning that we're working together. I think the .Net UGs should be (primarily) .Net focused. I am assuming that is why people attend the .Net UGs, but we should certainly do more to help cross-pollinate local UGs, and not just Alt.NET, but Ruby, RoR, PHP, SQL, Oracle, et. al.

Great Post,

Lee

sergiopereira wrote re: Events do not a community make
on 06-16-2010 12:46 PM

@Lee, I didn't mean to say the .Net UGs should necessarily include completely non-.net topics. As you said, that could disperse the group, even in ALT.NET groups.

What I meant to say is that there's a lot more to cover in .Net than just product tours. I'd like to see more discussions on OOD Principles, Agile, TDD/BDD.

I hate when I go to one of those UGs and the guy at the podium says everyone should learn EF because that's the future, completely ignoring the existence of the more mature NHibernate, LLBLGen, etc. That type of thing does not make us better .net developers, it just makes us bigger MS consumers and perpetuates the problems I wrote about.

Dana wrote re: Events do not a community make
on 06-16-2010 1:57 PM

The only .net focused website that I can think of is The Code Project. (The Code Project is how I found this article) I'm not sure if that meets your criteria. Of course, one example of a website is not "many popular .net-focused websites.

When I was doing Web Development and had to Google a problem, The Code Project seemed to have the best solutions.

Brad wrote re: Events do not a community make
on 06-16-2010 5:54 PM

.NET Web sites -->

I oversee ASPMessageBoard, VBForums and Codeguru, which are both heavily populated by Microsoft discussions and are both completely independent of Microsoft.  There are a lot of no-Microsoft .NET sites and forums out there that are strong and have great communities.

On the user group front - Indianapolis supports both Alt.NET and a .NET groups. Both are very strong. Neither are run or operated by Microsoft. Both group interact with Microsoft. I believe most people know the group are independent, but I'm sure there are a few that don't know that they are. When you cover Microsoft stuff, there is always going to be a bit of an assumption by some people.

As to topics - we tell our presenters to assume intermediate level developers and interests. We don't want to do 100-level stuff all the time. That is a quick way to make for a boring group because if you cover 100 level stuff, you find that you have to start over about every six months for the new peopel that come along. I did that with a SIG a decade ago and learned that you just can't make a great, vibrant group doing entry-level topics.

As to TDD, frameworks, and concepts - whether you are .NET or PHP, you still need to know the concepts too. As such, with our .NET group, there is always the addition of such topics along with the standard hard core .NET topics. Some of our best attended sessions have been topics like "Patterns & Practices" and approach ideas.

We've taken the focus that the local groups are about the community and not about the leaders or the sponsors. When you focus on the community and what it wants or needs, you end up doing the right thing more often.

Finally - as to Microsoft and working with Microsoft - In our area it seems that Microsoft is willing to help or stay away as best suits our group's need. They are never pushy and never set expectations, but are willing to help and do what they can. They know the group belongs to the community and not them and they respect that.

Jon Dalberg wrote re: Events do not a community make
on 06-17-2010 8:25 AM

I co-lead the Baton Rouge, LA .Net user group and have had the same feelings/wonderings as you for some time. We constantly struggle to get local speakers and often times end up with a topic on some shiny new MS product. How have you overcome that? Any ideas would be greatly appreciated!

Kris wrote re: Events do not a community make
on 06-17-2010 8:57 AM

So basically Microsoft views/organizes the Groups like it runs the Company.  Is that a surprise to anyone?  And of course the Groups are artificial and not organic; MS has been a leader for so long, and derided as an evil empire for so long, that it is difficult for MS to contain organic elements within let alone the Group extensions.

sergiopereira wrote re: Events do not a community make
on 06-17-2010 10:06 AM

@Kris, maybe you haven't read the entire post or the comments. MS does not organize any of the UGs.

.Net developers have no one else to blame but themselves, and I'm ready to accept my share of the blame.

sergiopereira wrote re: Events do not a community make
on 06-17-2010 10:11 AM

@Jon, keep in mind that the group I co-organize is an ALT.NET one, so we already have a significant bias toward .NET from outside MS.

It's not easy to get local speakers for those topics every month. We encourage group members to step up and present a topic they like. Sometimes we bring someone to talk about a general programming topic, like OOD or acceptance testing, and these speakers don't need to be .Net developers, so we reach out to other developer communities too.

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