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Death of a user group, or “How to give up”

Bahamas Software Development User Group, we hardly knew ye.

It’s been just over a year since I started the short-lived group but alas! It is no more. In this post-mortem, we discuss What Went Wrong by providing smug pieces of advice fueled by 20/20 hindsight.

Know what you’re getting into

As much as you’d like to keep the process lean, there is always work to be done. Initially, you may be required to give the majority of the presentation. There may be sponsors to solicit, presenters to organize, and government officials to appease when you try to explain that that box of lasciviously-shaped USB keys is for an upcoming “code camp”.

Get help

If you want to follow the Ozark Symphony Orchestra around on its whirlwind tour of Athens, Prague, Vienna, and Paris,  you’ll need someone to fill in for you. A group run by a single person isn’t a group.

Be prepared for skepticism

Okay, this one surprised me when I made up my list. And since I recognize the perils of having unwavering optimism, it shouldn’t have. Many people I talked to came up with half a dozen reasons why it wouldn’t work: people are too secretive, it’s just another marketing tool for Company X, I work all day so why would I bother coming out in the evening.

The culmination of this was when one person accused me of using the group as a front to bring my “cronies” in to steal jobs from Bahamians and threatened to call the immigration department on me. Which is odd since I don’t work for a local company. Short version: some people will always look at what you aren’t doing rather than what you are.

Be flexible

I started the group as a .NET-specific one. In the group’s death throes, I broadened the scope to software development in general to account for the small size of the population and the wide variety of skills and interests. Many people are web designers who have had to learn programming to meet customer demands. And a session titled “Integrating Sharepoint with BizTalk” probably won’t have much relevance.

Know your public

This was, I believe, the one that effectively killed the group. I’ll have a follow-up post on it with more specifics when I’m able to keep my frustration at bay and can talk about it diplomatically.

 

In the end, whatever external factors exist, the primary reason the group didn’t work is because I didn’t have the fortitude to see it through. Maybe it was arrogance, maybe it was naiveté. Probably a bit of both. I wish this was only the first time I started something without anything more than good intentions. I doubt I’m the only one that starts things like this with an optimistic “let’s see what happens” without giving much thought into the work involved but it’s still kind of embarrassing that I folded up effectively because I didn’t feel like putting in the effort anymore.

I’d call it a lesson learned but we all know better…

Kyle the Unimproved

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  • John Smith

    Kyle, Thanks for answering my question.
    Travis, are you sure it is not your favorite language that scared people away:)

  • http://www.phillynj.net Travis Laborde

    Sorry to hear it Kyle. I got “picked” to start a NJ SIG of the Philly.NET group, and it’s been hard. We do have a few regulars but our monthly attendance is low enough that finding speakers and sponsors is a challenge.

    Thanks for trying!

  • Eric Bock

    I’m sorry the group didn’t work out. The “agile” version of the Ft. Lauderdale group met a similar fate. It seems like both groups never gathered enough like minded people for critical mass.

  • http://codebetter.com/members/kylebaley/default.aspx Kyle Baley

    John,

    I had nothing but support from Microsoft and other sponsors. There is no regional MS office nearby but I got plenty of encouragement from both Florida and the Caribbean branches. And we had a regular venue in the form of IPBS.com offices. Given the small number of people coming out, I forked out for pizza myself.

    But it’s still a lot of work. I did most of the presentations myself and even the ones I didn’t do required some coordination. That’s where the “Get help” section comes in. It wasn’t because I liked hearing myself speak but because I wanted to be very cautious over the types of topics I’d like to cover.

    Which is a point I forgot to bring up. I had no intention of turning this into a monthly demofest. One or two product talks a year was allowed but my goal was to talk about technology and software practices, not products. That limits your cache of potential speakers somewhat, and unfortunately, your potential market. On an island of 250,000, it was probably too ambitious.

  • John Smith

    I am wonder if you get support from Microsoft local branch, if there is one. I think that is very important factor for a stable user group. So your time can be spent on finding topic and speakers, instead of finding venue and refreshement.

  • clayton collie

    Sorry to hear that. I was looking forward to attending a meeting on a trip back home.

  • http://www.comm100.com Tim Robson

    It is not a easy job to run a user group. You do need a group of people to take care of the things.

    I participated in many user group events and really appreciate the work done by the organizers.