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User Group Meetings Brought Out the Best in Me

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I am a fairly junior developer with just short of 3 years commercial experience in an office where the average experience level is 10+ years.  I love to read and learn about software development nearly as much as I love to actually write code and I have lots of ideas and opinions on code, style, design, etc,. For several years I’ve been trundling along nervously squeaking up to more senior staff members and often being shot down or told “that’s a great idea but we don’t have time/resource/it doesn’t fit in with what we do.”.  This has all lead to a mixture of frustration and self doubt as to if what I am learning is right or even unprofessional at times. Enter NxtGenUG Manchester.

What Is It?

NxtGenUG is a .NET users group that meets once a month.  The meetings generally consist of a short member ‘nugget’ (~10 minutes), a longer ‘featured’ speaker, eating pizza, giving away swag and most importantly, yes even more important than pizza, socialising with other interested developers.

The nugget is a short talk from a member about something they are learning about or know about.  A wide range of topics have been covered from printing in SilverLight to the Pomodoro technique.  While ten minutes is not a very long time it does give a wonderful little introduction to a topic and provide a talking point over pizza.

The main attraction, as it were, is a full hour long presentation on a topic. There has been some quite interesting presentation from varying quality presenters.  The highlights including a crash course in TypeMock and a tour of PLINQ.  Even if the topics are not things you work with directly, it’s a great way to learn about new things and keep up to date.

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Why Has It Brought Out The Best In Me?

While all the presentations and information have been great what has really helped me is the social side of things.  I do a lot of reading and learning and I form opinions based around it.  What I really want is place to voice these opinions and get a good debate going with like minded people.  I am a true believer in “Strong opinions, weakly held” and from this point of view the conversation I’ve had while at the user group have really challenged me and changed my thinking, for the better.

Don’t get me wrong people at work are interested as well, but it’s nice to see and hear other people in the community talk about their experiences and the challenges they’ve faced introducing Agile, TDD, etc,.  This type of information sharing is invaluable and really allows you to see things from a completely different point of view, than chatting with colleagues would normally do.   For example,  I’ve gotten several invaluable tips for guerrilla tactics to introduce things in a resistant culture.

More importantly for me, it’s given me the confidence to fight my corner more in the office and really push forward.  Listening to other people talk and talking to speakers, I’ve realised that you don’t have to be right all of the time, just open minded and have confidence in your own knowledge.  I have taken this to an extreme level by presenting my own member nuggets at the user group, starting this blog and running several training sessions/OpenSpaces discussions at work. Now I’m looking toward getting on the amateur speaking circuit.

In summary, just being around other people from different work environments and cultures to mine has really driven me and given me the confidence to push forward with change.  User groups aren’t just about the presentations, they are about the community and improving yourself and workplace through other peoples experiences.   For me this has been a massive success so thank you Steve, Andy, John, Joel and countless others.

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