The Future of the User Groups (SQLPort)

SQLPortWith SQLPort approaching it’s 6th birthday (21st of April), I have to admit that the works on the user group have already started around 2 months before that date. The moment when the SQLPort was announced at the last TechDays conference in Portugal – we have had everything set up – the location for the meetings, the speakers & we were already promoting the event before the pubic announcement.

We have spent the past 6 years with a lot of work & innovation – we have had 80 user group meetings with meetings being done in 3 different cities – Lisbon, Oporto & Coimbra. In less then a year after starting the user group, the first international SQLSaturday was organised in Lisbon, plus 5 more since have followed. We have started a user group in Oporto (for the first 2 years, I was travelling to Oporto almost every month just to make it work, but now Ivan Campos took over leading the group to amazing successes), we have launched SQLSaturdays in Oporto (2 are done, 1 is coming later this year).
I have also stepped away from the leadership position in both of the SQLSaturday events, because growing new leaders is something that is extremely important for the future of the any user group or association. I am still on the board and I contribute with all I can, but the responsibility is not mine any more – it’s André Batista’s & Ivan Campos who are running the show.
Naturally, the most important work of course is something that is coming later this year: in less then 2 months we shall have a first major multi-technology event in Lisbon – Tuga IT 2016. This conference is joining Microsoft Data Platform, SharePoint, Office365, Azure IT Pro, Integration & Programming all together in a huge 3 day event.

That is what I would like to share with you about the past & present, but the real focus in this blog post is about the future.

The Future

Even though around the world, the number for all possible user groups is on a great rise, I see that there are a couple of extremely important things that should be addressed, before we start getting into the potential trouble.

The Communication

First of all is the communication between the user groups, especially those who are competing for the same space (location or technology are the most common criteria). The locations, the companies sponsoring the events, the focus of the events (might have the same topics, and with technologies crossing the borders of the respective discipline make that possibility quite realistic).

TUGA Association has a plan & a proposal on this matter for the local Portuguese user groups, which we shall be setting in course very soon. This is not something for the general public, because it is targeting the user groups leaders, but between the lines its all about cooperation & communication. It is about how together we can achieve more then each one in separate.

I do not believe in a need of authority for exchange & communication for the user groups in a small country like Portugal, the common objectives (helping the others)

The Content

The content is the king. Well, sort of. Kind of. Sometimes.
Let’s be direct & honest, for the Data Platform the most of the content is available through Microsoft Virtual Academy, PASS Website, SQLBits, MSDN and all those amazing technical blog posts that can be found on the net – provide you with more detailed and qualified information than 80% of the speakers will ever be able to do.
Plus, there are so many commercial offerings, such as Pluralsight, UDemy, etc.
You can read those blogs or watch those videos it on demand, for free and at your convenience.

What you can’t do with a pre-recorded content is:
– to ask the speaker directly the question and ask again and then even take offline eventually :),
– to explain your doubts with a specific scenario without publishing it online,
– to discover a new exciting tech from a new perspective,
– to learn an exclusive non-blogged content
– to share your frustration with some
– plus so much more that is only possible when you talk to a person live, face to face!

Here we have a huge problem of the content quality and the wrong information, but the trust and the common sense will help & guide you. Test everything before your apply it, be critical are some of the basics that one will eventually learn if he/she is building a long-lasting career in the area.
How can a user group achieve a recognition from the people? By delivering a unique, non trivial content with the speakers that truly passionate about what they share.
In order to achieve that, one of the key is to create the next generation of speakers and for that purpose a successful user group should promote new speakers, giving them enough opportunities to develop. Mixing them with the experience speakers will give them a path to grow and this will ensure the next generation of the local speakers.
The new generations of the speakers will challenge & eventually overtake the established places for the current speakers – this is an important thing, which is what progress is all about.
Looking at the SQLPort past 6 years, I can assure you that over 90% of the local speakers have not had a chance before to deliver a presentation for the technical specialists.
Plus every major event we promote at least 1 new speaker for the main lineup of our major events, such as SQLSaturday or Tuga IT.
Oh, and by the way – in Portugal, 6 years ago we had a range of established speakers, with no availability for the new ones. This is so different now – and we have had waves & generations of speakers with some coming into the scene and then fading away.

I always wanted to blog about one key rule that we have for SQLSaturdays for all those years and now it is definitely the best moment.
If you are a local speaker and have not presented a session at the local user groups in the past 12 months, we shall not consider picking you up. We have 12 user group meetings per year in Lisbon for Data Platform, plus there are 12 meetings in Oporto. You have at least 48 possible slots per year, and given the Lighting Talks August, there are much more in practice (well over 60). If you are too busy for the local people, then you should not go to the important events, pretending that you really care about the others.
If you do not want to support, there will be enough people who wants to become something bigger then they are right now. They will start slow and low, but they will catch you eventually up and take over your place at the important events.

This is how I believe a user group can create great new speakers – by simply letting them in. Promote them locally and internationally. Support them as much as you can. One day you will have a lineup that will be too difficult to choose from. We had this situation this year for SQLSaturday in Lisbon – 29 local speakers for just 11(Main Sessions)+6 (Lightning Talks) slots.
I know that in a lot of places it is impossible to find new speakers, because people refuse – but I can only speak about my experience and I see that it is more then possible to find new speakers. Sometimes you might have to wait for them … Maybe for years, but in the end – it will be worth it!

The Connection

PASS has an amazing slogan: Connect, Share & Learn. At the last SQLKonferenz in Germany I was asked if the order of those 3 words is correct for me and if I can order by their importance.
Well, the most important word out of those 3 is to Connect. This is what makes truly different a user group meeting from some online content. You can connect to the speaker. You can connect to the audience. You can connect to everyone in the room. You can have a coffee and some snack in the break and chat about anything and everything. You can ask the speaker a question and tell him about your experiences.

A lot of people, myself included, have found working projects thanks to SQLPort existence and the connections created there. A lot of people appear on almost every single user group meeting for all those years, since the group inception and I consider the group to be more a group of friends with new ones appearing, then anything technical.

Without connections we are just some dots on the map, but with the connection we are a part of something bigger – maybe even friendship. One person can realise his/her-self through the peers, find a new professional challenge (moving from DEV to Analytics, for example), and most of all – stay in touch with the real problems and challenges in the current world of the stamped & senseless marketing presentations.
Most of the SQLPort old-timers became our most trusted volunteers, found their local recognition on the technical scene and created more friendships. The core of the SQLPort are the people I trust and value, people who I can truly call my friends.

The future of any User Group is in the communication between those who are coming to the user group meetings. It is in their happiness and integration. It is to be found in their possibility to grow as the technical specialists.
The future is in their professional, but even more importantly – it is in their self-realisation.

There are some very big & important changes coming to SQLPort this year and we are starting on the next user group meeting on 12th of April 2016. Be there to find out 😉

Final Thoughts

I am not afraid of the future, I welcome it. I am not intending to wait and discover how it will look like – I am going to define it: for myself, for those who share the same vision & values, for my country where i do run one of the most successful technical user groups and the non-profit association.

Please, join your local group or create one, if there is none!
Help us all building a better future.

P.S.: Well, just to make sure – this post is non-political, I am not running for any position, nor am I intending to.

2 thoughts on “The Future of the User Groups (SQLPort)

  1. Rodney Landrum

    Excellent post, Niko. We share a lot of the same feelings on this. As you may know, Karla and I have moved from Orlando back to our home town of Pensacola. It is a much smaller city but amazingly there is a growing turnout in out in our revived SQl Server user group here and out attendance has grown by at least 10 attendees every month for the past 3 months. We really try to promote local speakers and I know that the idea of having local speaker idol competitions that will move them up to a spot at SQL Saturdays (ours is June 4th by the way) is an attractive way to find and grow local talent. Along the lines of your article, I am speaking at our user group this week but I will not be speaking at our SQL Saturday, partly because I like to do a lot of the behind the scenes work but most importantly because we want to give other speakers slots. I too am excited about the future and it was nice to read your post here.

    1. Niko Neugebauer Post author

      Hi Rodney,

      thank you so much for the comment! It is great to hear that your local user group is growing,
      and I truly believe that if our headline is “giving back to the local community”, then we should focus on it, with all our forces & energies.
      I am looking forward to meet you again soon, at SQLBits or at the PASS Summit.
      Even though for a number of years, I was looking forward to attend Florida’s SQLSaturdays, 2016 is not the year when I will be able to do that.

      Warmest regards,
      Niko

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