If the thought of starting conversations with strangers at meetups scares you, it’s ok. Whether at fraternity rush dinners or meetups, meeting people can be daunting. But attending meetups is a huge benefit when compounded over the course of a career. If you’re serious about accelerating your career or honing your craft, you need to start going to at least one technical meetup per month. Why? I’m glad you asked.
1. Identifying areas of improvement
It takes ~2 years for engineers to be self-sufficient on a new stack and become the team’s subject-matter-experts for their domains. In the bubble of their teams, some grow complacent in their roles and experience the big fish, small pond syndrome.
Think of what happens in basketball as you move up in competition. A high school star from Alaska may ride the bench at University of Kentucky, while a Kentucky star rides the bench for the L.A. Lakers. As you grow in your career, you’re measured against better competitions and forced to identify and improve your weaknesses.
Same goes for your career as a software engineer. Meetups will introduce you to software engineers that are better than you; you’ll meet engineers with more experience, more talent, or better work ethic. But great news — you can talk to them and pick their brains on how you can improve to their level!
Whether it’s a new functional programming paradigm, a best-practice for commenting check-ins, or cool technical blogs, I always learn from people at meetups ways to accelerate my growth as an engineer. This cross-pollinating of technical minds at meetups is highly beneficial for your development and is a great segue into the next reason for attending meetups.
2. Broadening your horizons
Unless you’re a consultant working on new projects every 4 months, the tech stack you work with now is probably the same one you worked with 3 years ago. Being an elite software engineer means you’re aware of new and important technologies, and can use them appropriately. You wouldn’t expect the President to skip on his daily briefings, so why would you expect an engineer to not be aware of the state of the industry?
Forums like HackerNews and /r/cscareerquestions help you keep up-to-date, but you need to attend meetups to gauge how the latest buzzwords are impacting the industry. For example, machine learning is the hottest thing these days, but interacting in-person with engineers working on machine learning will help you understand the scope of work being done in the field. Now, you have a more accurate understanding of industry’s future, and can use this knowledge as a data point in your career planning.
Just like week, I attended an AR (augmented reality) meetup at PTC’s Needham office where I tried out a HoloLens application that assists field engineers with power generator repairs. It was eye-opening to see how companies like PTC are actively investing in AR which made me realize that AR is here to stay.
Meetups also expose you to new technologies and skills that can immediately boost your productivity. I recently attended a meetup at Boston’s Microsoft office on the benefits of Docker. I had never used or heard of Docker prior to that day, but thanks to the meetup, I can now use Docker when needed and be a more productive engineer.
3. Honing your craft
At the end of the day, our computer desks will always remain as our code-dojo. But there are other critical aspects to honing our craft. Basketball players spend a majority of their training time in the gym working on the fundamental aspects of the game — free throws, layups, passing, and footwork. But that’s not enough. They need to spend just as much time watching film, learning the plays, running on the treadmill, lifting weights, and properly resting to maximize their in-game performances.
It’s no different with our craft. Yes, we should be coding a lot. But we also need to learn new technologies, frameworks, proven best practices, etc. and meetups are perfect for discussing these topics with people to gain new perspectives.
Last month I attended a New England Software Quality Group (NESQG) meetup where we discussed every aspect of code reviews. Engineers from various companies shared insights on organizing and running code reviews. I walked away with tangible ideas I could implement in our team’s next code review to maximize the ROI and my contributions during the review. Meetups like these are especially helpful for young engineers like myself, or for teams that have less established development processes since meetups provide a forum to share ideas from more experienced engineers.
4. Insuring your career
These days, engineers switch companies after 3 years. Even if you have no immediate plans to job-hop, you will be in the market soon enough and meetups will help you build your network and learn about companies that interest you. This is especially great if you’re looking to join a promising startup. Unless a startup has just closed a round of funding or released a product worthy of media attention, it can be difficult to get exposed to what may be thriving startups, even with the help of sites like AngelList. Luckily, most cities have meetups that feature some of the most promising startups in the area. For example, Boston’s MassChallenge and Bolt both hold meetups for startup founders to showcase their products. These are phenomenal opportunities to learn about hidden gems in your area and connect directly with founders, CEOs, and CTOs.
“It’s not what you know but who you know.” I know it’s not fair. But neither is life. So embrace it. Attend meetups and build your network. Meet and greet people, primarily because people are great! No one likes the sales guy at meetups whose primary motivation is to take your money. It’s easy to spot these people at meetups that attend solely to network. Give value to people and learn to appreciate learning from others. Develop genuine connections — such connections are what often result in meaningful references that help you get the jobs you want.
To master our craft, we are told to ABC (always be coding) and ABR (always be reading). Just as important to our development is connecting with like-minded people in real-life via meetups. So RSVP for a tech meetup in your area this week and make monthly meetups a staple in your diet.
I saved the best for last. Who doesn’t like free pizza and drinks?