How to Attend Your First Programming Meetup

Attending your first programming meetup can leave you a little apprehensive. I felt the same! So, I thought it may be useful to break down my first meetup experience and how you can start attending meetups yourself.

Why did I want to go to a programming meetup in the first place?

The primary reason was the people. I think it’s always a good idea to network with people who you could potentially be working with and learn from them. There is always something you can learn from someone, regardless of their ability — and I embrace this principle heavily at these meetups by attempting to talk to as many people as possible.

The most fascinating aspect, in my view, is hearing about how companies are working on a structural level and the technologies they are utilising. For example, I spoke with someone who worked at a bank and was working on rewriting their entire stack using Node. I found this intriguing because Node is a relatively new technology. I quizzed him on a how they were handling the key areas for banking software, scale and security. Since I myself had never used node in such a critical environment, it was fascinating to gain such insights.

Talks are also a great way to learn about new technologies. My first meetup had a talk entitled “Machine Learning for Muggles” and walked you through how to use Azure’s Machine Learning capabilities as well as a broad overview on how machine learning works. Being on the very bleeding edge of technology, it was amazing to get industry leading teaching and far outweighed any content I had found online. Furthermore, having an expert on the subject delivering the talk allows you to ask questions that may be challenging to find answers to online.

The third and final reason, is that any good meetup will have free pizza! 🍕

How did you find your meetup?

There is an easy answer to this: I looked up all programming meetups in the area and found one that looked active and had a history of talks I was intrigued by. I signed up for a few, I would recommend any “first time meetup” folk to do the same — spread yourself out, you never know what you may like. Despite being a PHP programmer at my present job, I ended up attending a Javascript meetup! Don’t limit yourself to a meetup targeted at a language you currently use. Take a look at the talks and see if they interest you. As I say, my first meetup was the Nottingham Javascript group but the talk itself was about machine learning, far related to Javascript.

Generally, talks will be geared around a certain technology, let’s say Docker for example — with tips targeted at that meetups language. As an example, a talk about Docker at a PHP based meetup may be titled “Setting up a PHP development environment in Docker”. Even if you don’t know PHP (or whatever language the meetup aims at), you’ll find the talks valuable and lots of people who, like you, don’t use that particular language.

What should I do at a meetup?

Now you can only go for the talk but that’s only half of the experience. I would highly recommend (after grabbing some pizza of course) just approaching people and introducing yourself. Programmers are generally a shy bunch, but ultimately, we all share a common interest so there will be plenty to talk about.

Initially I found that everyone seemed to be in their own little circle talking amongst one another; if that is the case, just go up to them and say “hi, how ya doing? I’m Josh” (obviously substitute your name for mine but you get the idea). Ask about people’s jobs and what they are doing there, what exciting technologies they are using, and if they found the talk interesting. Almost every programmer you will talk to will have some kind of side project they are working on — talk about that! That can lead to some of the most exciting discussion as usually people are experimenting with cutting edge technology that they would not be able to use day-to-day.

Be thinking all the while about what questions you can ask them based on what they are saying, it show you are listening to them and are genuinely engaged in the conversation.

Other talking points may include, asking them about the company they work for, how big is it, where are they based and so on.

When wrapping up a conversation, don’t make excuses about going to the bathroom (unless you actually need to), simply say “I’m going to introduce myself to some other people now but I’d love to continue this conversation, perhaps I can take your email and we can talk”. Since this is work related, people may get a little cagey about handing over their phone number, so opt for business related avenues of communication, email, twitter and LinkedIn.

All in all, don’t be scared. These are your people, just as shy and nerdy as you are. So put yourself out there and see who you meet. There are lots of interesting people out there! If all else fails, see if you can convince a coworker or friend to come along.

👋 I am available for hire as a freelance web and application developer. Contact me at [email protected] if you would like to discuss any projects you have in mind.