Alastair Lockie

Nuggets of JavaScript

Starting a Coding Meetup

One of the best ways to increase your enjoyment as a coder is to attend a local meetup. You will make new friends and contacts with the same passions as you. You will swap stories of coding horrors and triumphs over a drink. You’ll learn the latest technologies and see them in action. Plus, it’s a great environment to test out your own ideas and public speaking skills in a safe, supportive environment.

I have been attending Async in Brighton since I moved down here, and indeed it was one of the reasons I was keen on moving to the city. We’ve had some cracking speeches in the last year or so, from such luminaries as Addy Osmani and Jake Archibald to name just a couple. I’ve certainly learned a huge amount, and would recommend anybody in the vicinity with even a passing interest in JavaScript to pop down.

But what if you don’t have a local meetup? If this is the case, I’d strongly urge you to consider organising your own meetup. Async was started by the inimitable Premasagar Rose, and when his fellow organisor Aron Carroll flew the coop to Berlin, I offered to help out. It’s been a great experience, and given me a behind-the-scenes look at how it works, and how to go about setting up such a meetup.

As with most things in life, the hardest part of organising a meetup is the start - ‘blank canvas’ syndrome. As such, here are my top tips for how to go about getting the ball rolling:

Find your audience

There’s only one crucial ingredient for a meetup and that is attendees. Chances are, you already have a few friends/acquaintances that you chat to about nerd-matters. Ask them if they’d like to have a local meetup, and if so recruit them to spread the word. Whilst you’re at it, ask if any of them would be willing to do the first speech.

If you are new to the area, try to find out who The Local Influencer is. Most places have a guy/gal who ‘just seems to know everybody’ in the community. Find them and talk to them; chances are they have already thought about starting a meetup and will either want to help, or will at least be able to put the word out for you.

Lastly, it’s worth tapping any sizeable companies in the area. Send an email explaining what you’re planning, and ask if any of their developers would be interested.

Track down a venue

Async is hosted at The Skiff, a coworking space in Brighton. If you have a coworking space nearby, this is an obvious port of call. If not, ask either your company, or one you have contact with, if you can host it in their meeting room after hours.

Function rooms at pubs could be an option, especially if the owner is happy to lease it for free on the promise that attendees buy a drink or two.

Churches, town halls and hotels could be a last resort but try to avoid having to pay for the venue as keeping the meetup free to attend is important.

Procure equipment

You might assume that you need quite a lot to get a meetup up and running, but really the only key piece of technology is a projector. Your speakers can bring their own laptop, you can just use the wall instead of a screen. A camcorder to record the talks is a nice to have, but not essential.

If you don’t have a projector yourself, and can’t borrow one off your company or the venue, it may sound obvious but just ask around. There are bound to be some other clubs in the area that have presentations - get in contact and see if they’d be willing to lend you their projector for a night. Put the word out on Twitter, people can sometimes have an old projector they bought for an ill-fated home cinema dream.

You can always buy a projector later on once you’ve had a few meetings and established a routine, but it’s good to borrow one to begin with if you can.

The first speech

Once you’ve got an audience, a venue and a projector, you’re all set. You just need a speaker for the first night. If nobody else is willing to step up to the plate, show them how it’s done! It can be a little nerve-wracking to get up in front of a bunch of professionals, but it’s easier than you think.

Talk about what you are passionate about, whether it’s a new technology, a tool that you love, or a process you’ve found really helpful.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you aren’t an authority on a subject and thus have no right to speak about it - people are hungry to learn, and you know more than you think. You owe it to your audience to share your knowledge and experience, and they’ll be very grateful you did!

The secret to a great speech is the old adage ‘proper preparation prevents piss poor performance’. Write your speech with plenty of time, and then practice it repeatedly. Run through it with your partner or a family member, and again with a fellow geek.

Most importantly, try to relax. Nerves are all in your head, everyone there wants you to succeed and is encouraging. Take a deep breath, and before you know it you’ll be well into your speech and having a whale of a time.

To infinity…

Once you’ve had a few meetings, consider setting up a page on Lanyrd, or Eventbrite. It can be a good idea to set up a simple website as well.

Depending on the size of your village/town/whatever, you may find that you start to run out of speakers. If and when this happens, cast your net further afield. Ask similar meetups within spitting distance if they would like to share speakers. Don’t be afraid to reach out to leading figures in your field, the worst they can do is say no.

Above all, just keep the ball rolling. If you can’t find a speaker for a particular evening, why not do a ‘Show and Tell’ evening where people just speak for 5 minutes on what they’re currently interested in? Or a hacknight? It’s important early on to keep the show going so people come to expect the meetup to be happening at a certain time on a certain night, and can factor it into their schedules.

That’s it, go forth and organise! Feel free to get in touch with me for any questions, guidance, or suggestions.