IndustryMastering Meetups for Maximum Merriment

Jim Withington
writes on September 21, 2015

Some advice that I received early on in my Treehouse journey came from our Student Success Manager, who advised me to look into tech meetups in the area. Portland-area coding resources and careers are really exploding right now, so it didn’t take much effort to get started. The connections I made in this process helped me get interviews (including my first for a coding position) and eventually led to me working here at Treehouse, where I help organizations be successful.

Okay, sure, but coding is a pretty solitary pursuit, and I can work remotely, right? So why bother?

It’s true! With the right hardware, software, and knowledge, you can code anywhere. However, getting out there and meeting people has a ton of benefits:

  • It can boost your confidence. The first time that I went to a PDX Ruby Brigade meeting, I had about three weeks of coding experience through Treehouse’s Rails Development Track. There was a talk about ClojureScript, and while much of it sailed over my head, I understood some of it, too. Combined with the seriousness that folks took me – people encouraged me and were welcoming of a fellow coder, new or not! It really made me think, “Wow! I can do this!”
  • …but not too much. Going to meet-ups can also make you realize how far you have to go. This is a good thing. You can use it as motivation to learn more, to push yourself to get better. If you’re following along during a talk with code examples and then hit a wall of confusion, you can take notes and learn the confusing parts later – and that can help you know what to pay close attention to in the future.
  • It can help you get work. Especially when you’re new to an industry, soft skills like being easy to talk to can help differentiate you from all the other junior-developers-in-training. Meeting folks can help you get interviews, even if it’s just because you can include their names (with permission) in your cover letter when applying. This is true once you’re already established, too. Here’s an actual conversation I heard last week at another Ruby Brigade meeting:

    Coder 1: I haven’t been to one of these in a while.
    Coder 2: Me either.
    C1: But the last one I went to, I got a couple of freelance gigs!
    C2: RIGHT?!

There’s a reason Treehouse recommends meetups for folks who are working on job readiness – meeting people in person works.

How to find folks

Once you know you want to put yourself out there and meet some people, here are some places to start. I’ll include links to examples here in the Portland, OR area to illustrate what’s out there.

  • Meetup.com and other online resources. Meetup is really the best starting point for anyone living near a city. Try searching by programming language, frameworkspecific industry, or just browse the Technology section. Beware: it will be super easy to get distracted and sign up for Epic Board Games or Basset Hound meetups (um, for instance) instead of those tech meetups you’re looking for. Some cities also have their own resources for listing tech-related events. Here in Portland we have Calagator – and hey, it’s open source, so you can grab it and start a calendar for your community!
  • Friends and contacts in the industry. Who do you already know working in the field? Look up the companies you might want to work for on LinkedIn and see if you know people who work there. These folks can help you find user groups, event listings, and opportunities to just say “Hey, I’m new to this, nice to meet you.”
  • Alumni associations. If you’re reading the Treehouse blog, chances are that you share our belief that folks don’t need degrees in computer science to become great coders. However, if you do have a degree already, check in with your alumni association and see if they can help you find meetups, networking events, job fairs, or folks already working in the jobs you’re considering.
  • Conferences. It can be a bit of an investment to go to a conference and meet folks, but with the rise of events like Alterconf and the idea of pay-what-you-can, you might find an affordable event in your area. You can also volunteer to help at a conference you’re interested in; this is a great way to meet some folks, prove you’re awesome to work with, get in for free, and even get some cool swag!
  • And if you’re not in a metropolitan area…that’s okay! Check online for groups (Google+ seems good for this, and Facebook seems to have a group for everything), start an online group with folks you’ve met on the Treehouse forums, and use the internet to build the community you want. If nothing else, this can be an opportunity to add something to your portfolio!

Then what?

Once you’re going to events and starting to meet folks, you’ll want to be sure that you use the knowledge you’ve gained. Here are some things you can do at meetups or afterward in order to make the best of your time.

  • Connect with folks in a non-creepy way immediately after events. Adding folks that you met on LinkedIn can show them that you’re interested in what they do and where they work. Try to avoid the temptation to add every single name you saw on a name tag. It’ll be far more useful to you to keep your additions to folks you actually interacted with. You can use the new notes field in LinkedIn to remind yourself how of you met them, too. This can apply on Twitter, too, but in a different way. Personally I like to add any interesting speakers and folks from meetups on Twitter (still, seemingly, the nerd social media of choice) because it helps me see what folks in the field are thinking about. Not only that, if you’re attending diverse conferences, this can help make sure the voices you’re hearing are diverse as well.
  • Follow up via email if you were asked to. Again, don’t be creepy. If someone said “here’s my email, let’s connect,” they really do want to connect. They aren’t, however, looking for four emails a day. Be friendly, be concise, and maybe do the things in this article to avoid overstepping.
  • Pay close attention during events, not just to the talks, but to the announcements, too. Some of the most interesting events I’ve attended I heard about the old-fashioned way: word of mouth. Coders who attend meetups are invested deeply in their craft, and it’s very likely you’ll hear about other events they are running. Take notes! Even better, grab your phone and immediately put this stuff in your calendar.
  • Share knowledge with the people you meet. Is that friendly new person you just met a beginner who might benefit from the mentoring meeting you’re attending? Share the wealth! It’ll make your group stronger and show that person you’re nice to work with.

I also want to point Python folks to this great post by Kenneth Love, who highlights some great Python gatherings. If I missed any resources for hearing about things, please include them in the comments. And get out there and meet some folks!

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