Upcoming Changes to NDDNUG

Two weeks ago we announced some changes to the North Dallas .NET Users Group. A summary of these are posted up on the website now but I’m going to discuss them in brief this weekend here on my blog.

More of a focus on hands-on practice, group activities, and mentorship; less of a focus on large group lectures. You learn to be a better developer primarily by developing and interacting with others. We are going to change the format to focus on activities where people are primarily doing, not listening.

This isn’t to say that we won’t ever have meetings centered around someone speaking. Sometimes those meetings can be very valuable. But they will no longer be the norm.

The goal: provide more effective learning opportunities for developers, helping them accomplish their goals and improve their careers.

As someone who has spoken many times at local users groups and meetups over the last several years, this is a change for me as well. But it’s a good change. For much of the things that we discuss in our meetings, there are more effective ways to learn. More on this tomorrow.

Provide more ways of learning for people in each meeting. Our gatherings will usually no longer be one-size-fits-all. Rather, we’ll use the nice facilities that we have to be able to break into multiple groups, hitting topics useful for people at different levels.

One explicit goal in this regard is to provide more opportunities for younger developers. As an industry, we don’t do a great job of mentoring and helping those who are young in their career. This is not something we can solve, but is something with which we can help. Of course there will be material for the more mature developer as well.

The goal: help a wider range of people improve their development skills.

When there is one topic per month, we limit our impact. No single technical topic appeals to everyone. If we can find a way to help more people, then we should do it.

But that’s true of more than just topics covered. As not only a former junior developer, but also a former instructor of junior developers, I can tell you that work needs to be done to help people get into the industry. But then again, this is fairly well-known. If we can, we should make sure we bring value not only in more subject matters but also to more people at different levels in their career.

Provide training for those interested in teaching, creating labs, writing materials, and mentoring. What we are proposing above is more work than the leadership team can do alone. On top of that, to create effective activities and curricula, you need more than just knowledge of programming. You need to dig into theories about learning and learn about education generally. In other words, you have to learn more about being a teacher. To solve this, we will provide training for the trainers. We will talk about principles, discuss practices, dig into exercises that worked (or didn’t) in real teaching scenarios, and develop curricula together.

The goal: help developers grow into better teachers to prepare them to mentor others with us, hopefully improving the community and their careers.

There is a small group of officers who make sure speakers get found, meetings get posted, pizza gets ordered, snacks get purchased, space gets reserved at the host, and the space gets setup correctly. I don’t think that we can do what we do and also have more topics and mentors as-is. So in other words, we need help. And I am making a bet that there are people out there that would be interested in helping mentor, teach, and write curricula if given the opportunity.

But being a good developer doesn’t make you a good teacher. Crazy, right? Since this is true (and it most certainly is), then we need a plan for helping people be the teachers that they want to be. So I’ll be putting together a curriculum to teach what I know about teaching tech. This should be useful for anyone interested in doing more mentoring in the community or at work, for those interested in creating Udemy or Pluralsight courses, or for those who want to teach at a coding bootcamp. I’ve got plenty of mistakes for people to laugh at and a number of things to share. And this whole endeavor is going to be quite the learning experience itself.

Finally, we will be (subtly) changing our name. We will now be the North Dallas Developers Group. At our user group we frequently talk about .NET, but we also talk about general development practices, web development, Node, git, et al. Given the change in direction and how we have broadened our topics over time anyway, it is time we changed the name. The whole leadership team still does .NET development so expect to continue to see .NET frequently. Perhaps even more frequently. But we are explicitly broadening what we cover.

Not much to say about this :)

Okay, big changes are afoot! Starting tomorrow I’ll dig into this a bit more but reach out to me if you want to chat in more detail about any of this.

Update: the follow-up posts:

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