Do you know if there is a user group in your area? And if so, have you been there? If you answered one or both of this questions with „no“ and you are wondering why you should care? Let me tell you a little story.
A couple of years ago I had the crazy idea to write some code and release it as open source for everybody to use. Probably like most people doing something like this I thought I wrote something that could be of use for a lot of people. I put my code on GitHub for everybody to see. Doing so was a big thing for me. I was already writing code for most of my life and I did some open source work before, but only in form of patches or mini features for other peoples projects. I’ve never published something I wrote before, so this was huge, at least for me. And of course, nobody cared.
I knew if nobody would notice my little side project my motivation to keep this thing up to date and improve on it would be close to zero. I was thinking about ways to tell people about my project and I’m not sure why and when, but I came across Nomad PHP a pure online PHP user group. At that time it was run by Cal Evens & Joe Ferguson. Nomad PHP does regular online „hangouts“ with two 40 to 60-minute presentations and up to two 10 minute lightning talks. They have an online form where you can propose talks so I thought why not talk 10 minutes about my project. I put my idea into the form, submitted it and thought: That’s it! I will never hear from them again. Boy couldn’t I’ve been more wrong.
Only hours later Joe contacted me to schedule my lightning talk for one of the upcoming meetings. This shit just got real.
A couple of weeks later I did my Nomad PHP lightning talk at about 3 am in the morning, because time zones are a thing. Cal and Joe where super nice and besides my improvable English and my German accent I would say it went quite ok’ish.
Afterwards I immediately looked up my local PHP user group in Munich and checked their schedule. Roughly 3 weeks later everything started to change. And I literally mean everything.
Not only have I met a lot of awesome people over the time, but my whole career was also turned upside down. But first things first.
The user group in Munich is organized quite similar, they meet every two months, they have two main talks and optional lightning talks. I remember sitting there listening to a talk, thinking that it must be quite difficult to get to speak at a meeting like this, but at the end, one of the organizers said they were always looking for speakers and would love to get new speakers involved. You might guess what happened next. I contacted one of the organizers and proposed my topic and two months later I talked about my project in front of about 40 people. The good thing was, I didn’t realize how scared I was until it was too late and I already stood there. I somehow managed to do it anyway. I got great feedback for my project and went home with some new ideas on how to improve it. But I didn’t stop there. I went to visit a lot of user groups all over Germany, and after being there for the first time I asked the organizers if I could speak there at a future meeting. All of them were happy to welcome me as a speaker and since then I’ve been to Frankfurt, Mannheim, Dresden, Cologne, Münster, Stuttgart, and Karlsruhe. What once was a necessity to promote my project became a passion. At some point talking to people became fun. It still isn’t easy but hell it is fun. I started talking about other things then my side project and it became even more fun. After a while, I started speaking at conferences but that’s a completely different story for another time.
So how did all of this turn my career upside down? After a while of speaking at user groups, I started to do talks and short sessions at my company. I did this stuff mostly under the radar, but sessions became workshops and finally, my boss noticed because of a request he got for me to do a workshop. From that point, it could have been very difficult, but my boss embraced the idea and he gave me 50% of my time to do stuff like this. Another lucky coincidence is that the company I work for has offices all over Germany so I could combine this perfectly with my user group obsession. After another year I switched to 100% of my time and moved into a completely new position. So this is what I do now. Training developers, product people or even CEOs. Doing talks, workshops and consulting and I really love it.
At this point, I have to give a shoutout to all the user group organizers I’ve been to and thank them for being so nice and welcoming. Hope to see you all soon.
So why should you care, you might not want to change your whole career as I did and you don’t have to. But being part of the community is great. You don’t have to give talks to be part of the community. Showing up is the important part. Everything else like getting new input and new ideas, help someone with a problem or getting help to solve a problem just happens naturally. I enjoy going to user groups, even or especially if I don’t give a talk, to meet new people from different backgrounds and different perspectives. And besides the fun, it helped me to become a better developer and even a better person.
So thank you PHP community.