Scott Hanselman

Community is not just Cold Pizza

December 14, 2007 Comment on this post [20] Posted in Musings
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Man Eating Pepperoni PizzaUPDATE: I've removed some negative quotes that I felt overshadowed the goal of this post. It's meant to be about successful community events in general. 

Cold Pizza is not a good way to create community. We had a KILLER time in Portland at our InstallFest. Our DE, Jason Mauer, and the crew at PADNUG had 250 people show up - our largest crowd in PADNUG history, I think, and did many things right:

  • Keep it Different with More than Cold Pizza: You can often get nicer food than pizza by having a locally owned business (not franchise) cater, We had Pasta Pronto come by and setup a buffet. A few months back we had Chef Randy from the Fresh Thyme Soup Co. We partnered with Cinetopia for the Diabetes Fundraiser. This is a great way for nerds to give back to their local community.
  • Keep it Fast with Micro-Presentations - Jason and Rich called a pile of local nerds and said "come and give a 5-10 minute talk on VS2008." These "groktalks" are low effort, high-return and high-energy.
  • Keep it Clear with Multiple Projectors - Everyone's got a projector at their company that they could check-out one evening and borrow. Local community events should never want for projectors. Engage with everyone and don't be afraid to ask the group for help. PADNUG had the event at Corillian and had three projectors going so everyone could see.
  • Keep it Fresh - Bring in guests. I try not to present too much locally because folks get tired of hearing me jabber on! Rich and Jason brought Charlie Calvert to talk about C#!
  • Keep It Interactive - Local Community events should never be "push content into their brains." Everyone's got a wide variety of experience and thoughtful heckling (thanks Chris Sells for heckling me and keeping me on track, considering that I was presenting on 2 hours sleep!) is part of the camaraderie that makes technical communities engaging.

The InstallFests in the US are usually being run by your local Developer Evangelist or .NET User Group. Call him or her and ask how you can help make local events better! If you have an InstallFest coming up in your area, how can you make Stone Soup out of your event?

Talk to your local evangelist and see what can be done to fire up future events.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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December 14, 2007 9:51
[tips the hat]

People in Portland really enjoyed your presentation as well, and Erik and Monica Mork's on Siverlight, and Stuart and Charlie's LINQ talks... I thought my talk on PLINQ was pretty cool too. :) But I agree 110%... you've gotta do more than just get people in the room.

It's funny you mention pizza. I'm in my fifth InstallFest right now (in the Mountain View campus), four of which I was involved with planning. None of these events out West were we serving pizza, cold or otherwise. One of my side missions is to get people to eat less junky crap at these user group events, so I avoid it whenever possible. And I've found people appreciate the food much more when it isn't the same old thing every time. Serve real food!

By the way, we have an InstallFest coming up in Seattle on Monday and we've ordered some kickass grub... if anyone is in the area and not signed up already ,check it out (and bring your stomach). Go here for more info and to register.
December 14, 2007 9:55
That's funny, everything you describe about what an InstallFest *should* be, our was! Catered food, a crapload of giveaways (including XBoxes, Zunes, books, etc.), ad-hoc "demos" (anybody could sign up to do one at the event, and the demo-er voted best won a zune), etc.
It was a good time.

Oh yeah, and we got VS2008 for free. :)
December 14, 2007 10:00
Where was your 'Fest, Aaron?
December 14, 2007 10:07
Sorry, should've mentioned that. :)
Indianapolis, Indiana. Dave Bost was our DPE and Brad Jones (with his IndyNDA "entourage") was the user group planner. They did an absolutely fantastic job - huge turnout. Dave's blog post (with links to our real-time posts (to win extra raffle tickets :) ) is here:
December 14, 2007 10:24
Dave Bost and crew did the Chicago/Downers Grove InstallFest and it was great. Pizza, as usual, but tons of raffles for merch, incentives to blog and take pictures of the event, pros and attendee presentations, guitar hero/rock band and a good group of enthusiastic developers.
December 14, 2007 14:28
Jeff Blankenburg (Heartland District DE) did a great job in Detroit last week with a bowling night for the Installfest. We did have 2 XBox's hooked to HD projectors going with Guitar Hero. But I have never seen so many happy faces as when we broke into teams and bowled 2 or 3 games. It was a time to get to know people in the community and exchange dialog about all types of ideas.

When we have too many presentations at these meetings, sometimes we lose the community factor of them. Let's have a few community gatherings a year be more sharing in a fun activity and not the sit and listen/watch someone show. Nothing wrong and very valuable but sometimes we need to just get the people in the community to open up and get to know people.
December 14, 2007 17:25
I also went to the Chicago event and Dave Bost, Keith Franklin (and the rest of the crew which I'm sorry to not recall their names) did a great job at keeping the event cheerful and pleasant. The ad-hoc demos were interesting (says the guy that gave a 3000ft overview/demo of the MVC stuff)
December 14, 2007 18:42
Dang It! I missed the event in Boise...
December 14, 2007 19:32
Rob Bagby and the Denver user group did an excellent job with the InstallFest in Denver. It had most of the things you mention: good food, great presentations, guest presenters. Rob's demos were great and were were targeted at the things the community wanted to see.
December 14, 2007 19:35
Stone soup? Man I haven't heard that one for ages.

I think you hit the key here, it's an installfest not an installathon. I've done event coordination before and whatever Portman attended clearly had no fest involved.

A big installfest is going to attract more than just the blogging keeners who watched your MVC presentation. Installfests will bring out a different category of programmers: the type of guys stuck working on .NET 1.1 systems b/c their SysAdmins need to file 200 pages of documentation before rolling out the 2.0 framework. It's going to attract the people whose programming souls are hanging by a thread b/c they haven't done anything remotely interesting or "modern" since 2004.

For all of these guys (and even some of the keeners) you need to run talks at the very least. Geez, if I went to an installfest and nobody else was talking I'd start walking around and asking who's used LINQ or who's played with "whatever". Maybe the soulless ones just need to hear about the new tech that will "kick their brain into action" or give them the impetus to start moving forward. Maybe someone will find out the key piece of tech that they can sell to their bosses. Heck maybe someone will just show up and remember why they liked this programming thing so much.

What's that 8th habit again? Find your vision and inspire others to find theirs.

Stone soup indeed!
December 14, 2007 19:58
Hey Now Scott,
I think that any food is a nice perk we should be happy there was food (right?). In South Florida we had a presenter Joe from showing some new features of VS08. I didn't attend, I thought I' have it installed I'm going to skip this meeting'. I really wish I attended after I read a post from Dave ( who went. He said it was really good, lot's of interaction between people. In the end, it's all in your perspective, some may think its fun while the other person who attended the same event my thought is wasn't. I personally like to keep a positive frame of mind.
December 14, 2007 20:33
Jason did a good job with our install fest in Boise as well, also somewhere around 200 people, all spurred on by our two local groups (NetDug and BSDG).

Except for the food part (popcorn). But our event was at a movie theater, and they always have weird restrictions. But we will have to work on that. Pizza and Mountain Due seems to be standard fair around here for some reason.
December 14, 2007 20:41
Wait, we had pizza too (and it was warm). I have to remember to complain less and remember more.

And the local speakers we had were excellent -- wait, I was the local speaker. Does that still count?
December 14, 2007 21:03

Portland's fest was nice. Good food. Thanks for everyone's presentations.

A couple items need more attention. The registration check line(s) was pretty slow and it was outside. You guys were lucky it wasn't raining at the time considering it was raining a lot the previous days ( and I think earlier the same day).

The setup of the projectors was still going on even after we were done with the food. It looked like a last minute hectic work.

However good job overall. It was a productive gathering.
December 14, 2007 21:18
@ Gates VP
>>Geez, if I went to an installfest and nobody else was talking I'd start walking around and asking who's used LINQ or who's played with "whatever".

You're totally right. In hushed tones, my colleagues and I considered it. We were afraid we might be violating some unwritten rule about Installfestathons. We decided to leave instead.

After reading about the other events around the nation, I now realize that we should have taken it upon ourselves to play Emeril and kick it up a notch. The lesson is clear: we shouldn't rely on our DEs or our RDs or any other two-letter-acronym-people... it's on us to make our community successful.
December 14, 2007 21:24
I went to the Silicon Valley Installfest last night (Thursday, December 14, 2007) at the Microsoft campus and was impressed with the food, giveaways, presenter. Unfortunately, so many people showed up that it was hard to partake in any of it! The room was packed, and I was left to watching the presentation out in the hall, where, after about 20 minutes, I finally gave up and left.

I'm really glad that MS sponsors these, and it is a great way to meet other devs. And I'm grateful for the free copy of VS.

Just wish it was in a bigger room!

December 14, 2007 23:05
I had the standard pizza and coke, we had 2 sessions in the same day and it was full of people who just wanted the software and left as fast as possible. The speaker kept asking if anyone wanted to demo anything and everyone just sat there stoned faced waiting for the presentation to end. I made an effort try and network with some of the people that were there, but almost everyone was gone as soon as it was finished. It even got to the point that I struck up a conversation with some one and then turned my back for a minute and he was gone! This event was really an after thought, it was disappointing.
December 15, 2007 20:10
The installfest in Indianapolis was a blast! They had catered food, lots of give aways (including 2 xbox 360s!), Guitar Hero, and a Toys for Tots donation center.

I have to give props to the organizers of this get together. Great time!

Chuck Wuthrich
December 16, 2007 18:52
The InstallFest we ran in Des Moines had a great turn out as well. We had about ~125 plus 10+ on the waiting list. The place for our event was a local community college, so we had plenty of room for the people.

Unfortunately, we didn't have catered food at the event, but it was worth it for our "trade." As you might know, Des Moines is not the "mecca of technology" so at times it's hard to get "love" from MS (although our DEs Jeff Brand, Mike Benkovich and Steve Loethen, do an awesome job on keeping us in the loop). So instead of having MS pitch in for the food, we told them that whatever money they were going to spend on food to spend it on extra swag for the event. Since our UG has sponsors (which give us money), we just flipped the cost for the pizza and soda. At the end, everybody was pretty happy.

We also had two 360s in the same room were the installs were running, so could you either play Rockband or Halo3 once you got tired of staring at the progress bar. During that same time, we had a "demo contest" running in the main auditorium. This was a way for people to show their "stuff" when it came to .NET. We had about ~50 in the room watching 6 presenters (10 min each). At the end, we had drawings for the winners and the attendees.

Afterwards, we had a PubClub at a nearby bar and grill. This was the social part of the event were people who were the last ones left, got a chance to make new friends and talk with old ones.

Overall, we had a great community filled event!
December 18, 2007 20:12
First, I have much gratitude for the complimentary copy of VS2k8, the T-shirt, and the roadshow event that ran for the entire day prior to the installfest in Hartford, CT.

This was my first installfest, so I didn't have any expectation at all - excepting a small desire to maybe try out Guitar Hero, which didn't pan out.

[aside: I missed the whole computer gaming thing, growing up on pinball (ahem, pre LED-readout pinball).]

Anyway, the 'fest at MS Farmington, CT was packed, included 3 or 4 raffle items, although it seemed like half the winners left before the raffle. The food was corporate cafe deli sandwhiches, cookies and soda.

I chatted briefly with a few folks sitting nearby, and briefly with an MS staff member (sorry, I don't recall your name).

The Chris Bowen and Bob Familiar roadshow event was the usual high-quality MS presentation and demo with Q&A and swag. Being the lone developer on-site at my employer, the roadshow events serve to inspire and light up the neurons in a very pleasant way.

This was my first attendance at a CT .NET Developers Group event, and I hope to participate more in the future.

Lastly, many thanks to you Scott for the blog, podcasts, screencasts, and most of all the forum and conversation you faciliate.


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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.