For those who have been active in the Dallas-Fort Worth Windows Phone developer scene for some time, the headline here may seem odd. After all, the Meetup.com group has been gathering on occasion since this time last year.
But what’s been missing, according to the most common feedback I receive, are semi-social gatherings with a focus on Getting Stuff Done. Attendees have had enough consumption; they’re ready to create.
With that in mind, I have spent the past few months scouring DFW for good venues for this activity. I put together the following criteria for sites:
- Should be free (or at least low-cost)
- Should have easy facility access (preferrably no security hurdles)
- Must have decent, dependable WiFi
- Must have easy access to power
- Must have comfortable seating for at least 15 attendees for 3+ hours
- Should have easy access to food and drink (including catering)
- Must be available weekends and/or evenings
This is not an easy bill to fill. I encountered many potential venues that had one or more of the must-have items but lacking something critical (usually weekend/eveing access). To increase our prospects, I asked community members to aid in the search. Pointing out a possible location wasn’t enough– I needed these foot soldiers to compare sites against the requirement list, talk to managers, and even take pictures.
It may come as a surprise to readers that grocery stores turned out to be generally good locations. Specifically, the Tom Thumb flagship stores, which meet every Must and Should. The only drawbacks I’ve run into were man-made… such as the strange reluctance of one store manager (who was worried about us displacing customers, when I saw only 3 people occupying a 35-seat area) and human mistakes. Mostly mine.
I had scheduled a meetup for May 25 at a Tom Thumb store in Arlington after one member, Dallas .NET’s Omar Villarreal, got clearance from the manager. Unfortunately I misread Omar’s instructions and secured the wrong store. When the group arrived, we discovered that there was no WiFi or Starbucks.
We waited for stragglers to show before moving to another Tom Thumb a few miles north. This cost us an hour and a half of valuable time. Lesson learned: read the fine print.
The second store turned out to be acceptable. WiFi was mostly reliable (I had a couple of brief drops) and the deli sandwiches were excellent (I recommend the pulled pork). The 5 other attendees seemed fairly pleased. However, the late start combined with another error on my part got in the way of getting any work done.
I had set aside the beginning of the meetup for introductions and announcements, which would be okay for social meetups but took way too much productive time from this one. Socializing is certainly useful, but we’ll hold separate events for that.
I would like to think that the attendees at least benefitted one way or another, but I welcome constructive criticism to help shape future get-togethers. I definitely need to arrive early to get things set up.
The good news is that this somewhat-rough experience was useful in certain contexts, especially since we had new members attend, and allowed me to get a good idea of what works and doesn’t work. Going forward, I will put together a handout for updates and trim the initial verbal presentation down to about 5 to 10 minutes. Less time of me chatting, more time Getting Stuff Done.
Ideally, we will see a good mix of skill levels and experience at these sessions. I really want to pair mentors and experienced app publishers with beginners, for one. Same with bringing in more data modelers and UI designers. To motivate members in that regard, I am offering a recruting incentive: bring in any new member with any useful skills for app creation, and get a $10 gift card. Bring in any new member with at least one published app, and that amount goes up to $20. Stipulation: new members must agree to sign up at DVLUP and also provide me full contact information before I award the gift cards. This promotion runs until I am broke or we have too many members. ;)
Speaking of DVLUP, I’m also considering holding specific “DVLUP Days” events with the goal of just tackling DVLUP challenges at the event. XP building opportunities, if you will. I’m also working on partnering with various companies and instructors for educational meetups– stay tuned!
My intent is to “bounce around” the metroplex and hold these sessions in various parts of the area, with a preference for central locations. If you know of any, let me know! By all means, ask the managers about the items on my list, and pictures of the venue are very helpful. And ask your employers about hosting!
We’ll probably hold another such event in North Dallas next, at an office near highway 35E and Beltline Road. Registration will be at the Meetup.com website, and I will announce in the usual social channels.
Ultimately, we’ll get into a rhythm that will benefit everyone involved. I can’t wait to see the results!