The last Java.net poll asked "Do you belong to a Java users group?" and of the nearly 300 votes (at time of this writing), well over half of the respondents stated that they are in someway affiliated with or have participated in a local Java users group. I have blogged before about my appreciation of user groups and I have definitely benefited from the existence of Java users groups. In this post, I'll look at some concrete ways that participation in Java users groups has directly benefited me.
The most obvious Java users group that has been of benefit to me is the Denver Java Users Group (affectionately known as DJUG). DJUG typically holds one meeting per month with two technical sessions in each meeting. The two sessions are billed as "Main Meeting" and "Basic Concepts," but I have definitely attended when the "Basic Concepts" was every bit as important, useful, and informative as the "Main Meeting." I have always felt that my investment of time and effort to get to these meetings has been well rewarded.
A few years ago, when DJUG still met in the then-Qwest building on 17th and Curtis, I attended around over half the DJUG meetings for a while. It so happened they were covering many subjects of interest to me and the meetings fit my schedule fairly well. Unfortunately, since then increasing work and personal demands have made it more difficult to attend. I am still able to benefit from DJUG, however, thanks to their posting of presentations online in their archive and thanks to the blog posts of people who do attend.
I have definitely learned and re-learned/remembered some useful concepts from attending DJUG meetings. I have also been able to see and listen to speakers well-known in our industry. Many of them speak at major software development conferences, but there is a certain advantage to seeing them locally and in that environment. The cost (free) is also difficult to beat.
There are other local users groups as well that, although not Java-specific, are often useful to me. One example is the Rocky Mountain Oracle Users Group (RMOUG). Their meetings have covered several Java-related topics and products over the years.
I have also benefited from other non-local Java users groups. For example, there have been occasions when I have found a useful presentation on the NYJavaSIG site where they post some of their presentations.
How Java User Groups Benefit Java Developers
Java users groups can benefit Java developers in many ways. They obviously provide benefit by providing free or low-cost training, but they also provide benefits of regular meetings (throughout the year) and opportunities to meet and network with other Java developers. In addition, many Java users groups provide book reviews, newsletters, web sites, code samples, and other items that benefit Java developers.
Java Users Groups Are What Their Members Put Into Them
Any user groups, including those devoted to Java, depend on their users for success. The user groups need people to run the group (officers) as well as other types of volunteers and speakers. Even meeting attendees provide value to the user group by providing an audience, by asking good questions, and by answering each others' questions.
Characteristics of Successful Java Users Groups
The success of a Java users group is largely dependent on the base of involved and participating users. Large cities with large numbers of Java developers have an advantage here because a larger pool of Java developers often means a larger pool of enthusiastic Java developers to power the user group. Successful Java users groups tend to be run by energetic and enthusiastic individuals with a vested interest in sharing Java knowledge and learning more about Java and related topics.
What I've Learned from Java-Related User Groups
Here I list a few examples of some of the things I first learned or was exposed to thanks to a Java-related users group.
• JMX - My first solid exposure to Java Management Extensions was at a 2004 DJUG meeting (during what was in many ways JMX's heyday) and via a Dr. Dobb's magazine article.
• Ruby on Rails - David Geary's July 2005 DJUG presentation on Ruby on Rails was a big part of my learning and using Ruby on Rails.
• Software Development Methods - Al Davis's October 2006 presentation What's New About New Methods of Software Development? reaffirmed my belief that there is very little that is really all that new in software development and that most of the "new" processes and approaches are really just old ideas returning to fashion.
• Software Development Tools and Libraries - I have observed that I often learn about presenters' and attendees' favorite tools and libraries at user group meetings. In fact, it is often the mention of these new (to me) tools and frameworks that really makes me happy that I attended.
• Things Not to Use - I have attended user group meetings where the main thing I learned during the presentation was that I did not need to invest any more time in learning about the subject of the presentation. Although it is always fun to attend a meeting and learn about a new concept that I can apply quickly, it is just as worthwhile (albeit a little disappointing at the time) to learn about things that won't work for my situation or that I should not spend any more time on.
In the end, successful users groups rely mostly on peoples' time. It takes a few dedicated individuals to make it happen and many committed members to make it worth while. For developers willing to invest the time, users groups can be valuable sources of new information.