Jason Haley

Ramblings from an Independent Consultant

Ways to get involved in the local tech community (2 of 5)

Volunteer to speak at a user group

User group leaders are always looking for speakers. The more often a user group meets, the more speakers the organizer needs to line up.  For instance, I organize two user groups (North Boston Azure and DevBoston) which means in order to meet monthly – I need to find 24 speakers a year … that isn’t easy to do – and that also doesn’t capture day long events we do during the year too where we need multiple speakers for that single day workshop.  Keep in mind, the more narrow focus/specialized the user group is – the harder it is to find qualified presentations (like my Azure user group … there are only so many people presenting Azure topics in the New England area).

Pick your topic and write an abstract

Related to last week’s post on Attending a user group – I suggest you pick a topic related to where you want to take your career (and are really interested in) … even if that isn’t what you do day-to-day (yet).

Once you pick a topic, you need to come up with an abstract to submit to the user group organizer.  I suggest working backwards and coming up with a rough outline of what you think would make a good presentation and fill in the details as much as you can.  Then come up with a summary that captures what you have outlined.  It may help to look at some other meetup descriptions or events like VS Live session abstracts to get a good sense of how good abstracts are written … it is an art form and takes practice and effort to write a good one. 

Submit your topic to a user group

Hopefully you’ll have an idea of user groups in your area that your talk would fit with – if not see last week’s post about attending a user group.  Depending on how the meetup.com site is configured for the meetup/user group you should be able to contact the organizer and/or suggest your topic on the website … however I would not suggest using meetup.com for this. 

I suggest you personally contact the organizer - just like finding jobs, submitting a resume through a website may go into a black hole and never get looked at … the same thing happens when submitting a talk through meetup.com.

Once you’ve attended the user group you want to present at, make sure you introduce yourself to the organizer and let them know you are wanting to do a talk – and get their contact information.  Once you’ve successfully introduced yourself to the organizer in person, you can then email them your abstract.

Then wait for the thumbs up or thumbs down.  If your talk isn’t accepted, don’t be discouraged.  You can either ask the organizer if later in the year would be better or at least get an idea of why it wasn’t accepted.  If it is a hard no, then find another group to submit it to or try a local code camp.

Create the presentation

Once your talk has been accepted - find out date and length of time you will have to present. If you are not used to putting presentations together you may need a little more time to prepare – keep this in mind when submitting your talk and committing to a date.  There is plenty of material on the internet about putting a presentation together – so I’ll leave this step to you … besides I’m not an expert and can always use help on putting presentations together too.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Once you have the presentation prepared (or at least drafted), practice it – and time it.  if the thought of presenting makes you nervous – realize you are not alone … and keep practicing.  I used to be really nervous in front of a crowd but have mostly overcome that with years of presenting to groups.  Here is the strategy that has worked for me:

  1. put the slides together into the flow you think will be a good presentation
  2. practice it – don’t memorize it or read the bullet points – talk to the bullet points.  If it is too long trim some slides or bullet points. Maybe rearrange the slides if you think the flow would be better.
  3. practice it again using slightly different terminology and different ways to explain things – again don’t memorize it
  4. practice it again and using yet slightly different terminology and ways to explain things

At this point you have practiced it three times and should have a general idea of how much time it takes to present it … however the biggest advantage of this approach is you have now described the slides in three different ways – so when you are nervous and have some problems during the presentation there is a really good chance you will remember at least one of the ways you described the slide in the practice sessions. 

This approach has worked well for me over the years.  The first time I gave a presentation at a code camp, I had practiced it 7 times and knew the material and timing so well it was really easy to present it even though I was still really nervous.

Ways to get involved in the local tech community (1 of 5)

Attend a user group

For you readers who have already attended user groups, this is a no brainer.  You know this … but when was the last time you attended a user group?

For those of you who don’t know - user groups (or meetups as they are often called these days) is a type of club (or organized meeting) focused on a specific technology topic.  Usually meeting on a monthly basis. 

If you live near a large metropolitan area, your easiest way to find a user group (or meetup) is to go to https://www.meetup.com/ and search for a topic you are interested in.  If meetup.com doesn’t have groups near you (or you are not near a large metropolitan area) it is going to be harder to find these groups.

If meetup.com works for you, then register for an account and rsvp to the user group you wish to attend and then GO TO IT!

Once you find a group to attend, here is what you might expect:

  • other people who are interested in the topic of the evening and/or regular attendees of the group
  • food is often provided - but not always so if you will be showing up hungry make sure you verify there will be food there (otherwise being hungry the whole meeting won’t be a good experience for you)
  • a networking period (usually before or after the main talk)
  • a main event – sometimes a small intro or short presentation happens before a longer topic specific presentation
  • going out for drinks afterwards (sometimes)

Why attend a user group?

If you want to grow personally, grow your network and help grow your career, I suggest attending user groups that are related to where you want to take your career – even if that isn’t where you are in your day-to-day career yet.

Example: I like Microsoft Azure – so I attend Azure User Groups (there are 2 of them in the Boston Area - Boston Azure and North Boston Azure).  A lot of people at these Azure user groups are passionate about learning Azure but just don’t get to use it at work yet.

Other common reasons to attend a user group:

  • If you are looking for a job – often times hiring managers and sometimes recruiters attend user groups
  • If you are looking to hire – people who attend user groups show a level of commitment their career simply by giving up a weeknight to attend
  • New to an area and want to meet other professionals – with meetup.com you can now locate groups of people who are interested in the same things you are
  • Get to know more people in your industry – it is nice to go to meetings where you know people and sometimes get to meet big name rock star speakers

For me, user groups is where the local tech community starts, whether you are new to an area, starting a new career, looking to learn something new or a seasoned professional wanting to broaden their span of influence.

Career Update: Running 100 miles a month and still not losing weight

This entry is a personal/career update mostly mid-year reflections about how I’m hitting some goals but not able to reach other goals.

For those of you who know me, you know I’m a runner and usually run two races a year (half or full marathons). This is because I have a life goal of running either a half or full marathon in all 50 states – I’m now up to 10 states.  I also organize two user groups in the Boston area (DevBoston and North Boston Azure) and speak at several other groups in the New England area.

Reflecting on some of my accomplishments and failures this year:

Running

  • I am averaging over 100 miles a month in mileage (goal achieved)
  • I ran a half marathon in Montana in July and beat my best time for a half by 6 minutes (goal achieved)
  • Have not lost any weight around my mid-section this year (fail)

Career

  • Passed the third Azure exam 70-534 to get my MSCE: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure certification (goal achieved)
  • Became a Microsoft Azure MVP for my community efforts in the past year (goal achieved)
  • Have not blogged (fail)
  • Have not worked on my list of open source projects like I wanted (fail)

Thoughts on why I can hit some goals but not others

Running
Running is easy.  I can make myself go out for a five mile run – it is just a habit and I enjoy it.  This means the miles add up quickly and the 100 mile mark is not a hard goal to hit for a month. 

However, controlling my diet is hard.  I know if I don’t do non-aerobic exercise or control my diet, I simply don’t lose weight.  If I add resistance training and/or eat better dinners and no snacks – then I do lose weight.  I know this.  I know what I need to do.  I am simply not doing it.

Career
I love learning.  Learning more about Azure and playing around it is easy and I enjoy it.  When studying for exams, I have a list of topics to learn and can make myself do it.  This means as long as I stick to learning the topics the exam covers, it is not hard to pass the exams. 

I also like organizing and speaking at user groups and community events.  I’m not great at it, but I can make myself do it.  I am working on improving – but that is a blog post for another day.

However, blogging and consistently working on my open source projects is hard.  Hard in the sense that it is not a habit I currently have … and I can come up with many reasons to stay in the “thinking” and “planning” phases … which will never deliver anything.

Today is Tuesday August 1, 2017.  Today I am starting to take the next steps in reaching more of my goals that require me to change what I do and create new habits. 

NOTE: this entry is a bit rough … actually it just isn’t written well at all.  However, I will improve the more I write – and today it is more important to put it out there than to get it right – no more putting it off.

Talk: WebApps and WebJobs

Last month (December 14, 2016) I presented at the Western Mass Development Technology User Group.  The group meets in Agawam, MA about two hours west of Salem, MA – if you are in the area you should check out their meetup site: https://www.meetup.com/Western-Mass-Development-Technology-Users-Group/

I was a fun time and a great group of people interested in learning more about Azure. 

I split the time between WebApps and WebJobs and tried not to make too many comparisons with Cloud Services (since only one person was familiar with them).  We spent most of the time in either the Azure portal or in Visual Studio, but for anyone interested my power point presentation files can be downloaded from this link: https://jhaleyfiles2016.blob.core.windows.net/public/Western%20Mass%20Dev%20Tech.zip