Tech community events are changing

Not only is tech itself changing, but so are the community events people attend to learn about it.  While specialist user groups are still popular, so are their younger but larger relations – data and tech meetups.  This article shares some of my recent observations from presenting at them.

Larger audiences

Compared to the traditional user groups, such as those for SQL Server and .NET which I’m used to, the data and tech meetups I’ve presented at this year are much larger.  Instead of 20 or 30 attendees, it’s normal for me to have audiences of 50, 60, or 100.  Larger audiences coupled with much broader event themes, such as data instead of SQL Server, means my audiences could now have 60 people who each have a different job role or technology focus.

That breadth of audience background has become obvious to me when I’ve been presenting my artificial intelligence session recently.  It’s not uncommon for me to now have an audience with venture capitalists and students, as well as expert data scientists and even someone with a PhD in artificial intelligence!  Not only is this reminding me to keep all my audience engaged, but also to assume there’s someone in the audience who knows far more than me about the subject I’m presenting about.  My next observation explains why I don’t present expert level content at these events.

People like introductions to new topics

Recently I’ve found that people like to learn small amounts about new topics at these events, as well deepen their knowledge about subjects they already know about.  Not everyone can take time out of their professional schedules to learn about something that may not be directly relevant to what they do, but it's still important enough for them to know about.

Presenting a one hour session about how a relational database engine works to data scientists is a good example of me helping them to take that time.  While I spoke specifically about SQL Server, the audience could appreciate how similar products work, and why their queries run much slower than they’d expect them to!  60 minutes was just enough time to help them begin to demystify the world of structured data.

Demystifying complexity

The tech industry is full of jargon, and while it’s sadly often justified, it’s still difficult to work out what some of it means.  Something I’ve appreciated recently is the value audiences get from me verbosely explaining a complex sounding concept or technology by using generic terminology and examples that they’re familiar with.  It took me several years to get around to learning what the difference between a CPU and a GPU is, and why a graphics processing unit is used for data science.  It's something I now reveal in 90 seconds along with why there’s a GPU in the smartphone they take everywhere with them in everyday life.

Relating to everyday life

As I mentioned earlier, as the audiences at meetups get larger so do the range of job roles people there have.  Increasingly, I find myself presenting to people from business departments, product owners, and data analysts, as well as more traditional technical roles.

Because of their experience and knowledge about what matters to them the most, it’s no surprise that people from less-technical roles usually find it easier to understand something new with less-technical examples.  Fortunately, modern analytics lends itself to using real world scenarios rather than data science lab formulae - describing how a driverless car uses AI technologies is easier for most people, including me, to understand than trying to work out how the financial markets use algorithms.  The trick for me is to not oversimplify but give depth alongside simplicity.

Tech community events are still very technical

It’s easy to think from my observations that no one wants to hear or present deep technical sessions anymore.  That’s not true; most sessions are still very technical and cover a wide range of technologies from a wide range of vendors.  For me though, the excitement has been adapting my presentation deliveries and content to appeal to a much broader audience than a traditional user group.  Turning up as a subject matter expert to present on a subject the audience knows well is never easy, but I like the challenge of presenting about new topics to new audiences.  Something the new generation of tech community events is letting me do.

Gavin Payne is the Head of Digital Transformation for Coeo, a Microsoft Gold partner that provides consulting and managed services for Microsoft data management and analytics technologies.  He is a Microsoft Certified Architect and Microsoft Certified Master, and a regular speaker at community and industry events.

Comments (1)

  1. On the other side - as organizer - it is not that simple to turn a Usergroup into a Meetup by only changing the website. As a technical Usergroup like SQLPass which had grown over the last year's only announce your event/meeting via a new platform might be not enough... ok you might reach a wider range of attendees but you have also to change your texts to engage those other job levels.

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