In my last post I mentioned getting a free education, with no extra time. If you are willing to invest just a little time, there are even more educational opportunities out there in the form of user groups and code camps.
A user group is a gathering of geeks, typically focused on a particular aspect of development. These are clubs that meet on a regular basis, usually one evening a month. Each meeting someone presents a technical subject of some sort that is of interest to the group. These are great places to network, find out what other developers in your area are doing, and get feedback or help on things you are working on. Most user groups are free, or at most charge a very small fee to join the club.
Code Camps are a little different. They are larger gatherings that are held on a weekend, usually all day Saturday. Local experts deliver sessions on a variety of topics. Most are free, a few may charge a small fee to help defray costs but it’s still a bargain for the education you get.
So how do you find user groups or code camps in your area? Google! Or whatever your favorite search engine is. Just enter the name of your town followed by user group and if you live in even a moderately sized community you’ll find a wide array of groups to join.
If you are lucky enough to be in the Birmingham, Alabama area here is a list of code camps / user groups in my area that I am personally affiliated with.
BarCamp – http://barcamp.org/BarCampBirmingham – Coming up August 25th and 26th, this is a code camp where the attendees have a lot of say over the presentations. (If you’re not in Birmingham be sure to check the main barcamp.org site as there are BarCamps across the country).
Birmingham Software Developers Association – http://www.bsda.info/ – A group of developers that meet to focus on primarily Microsoft .Net but do cover other topics. I’ll be presenting at the November meeting on Developer Tools.
Birmingham .Net User Group (BUG.NET) – http://www.bugdotnet.com/ – This is a large group that focuses exclusively on .Net related topics.
Internet Professional Society of Alabama (IPSA) – http://ipsaonline.org/ – User group that discusses all aspects of internet development. Does cover .Net, but not exclusively.
Magic City Technology Council – http://www.bhm-tc.org/ – This group is a nice departure from most in that it focuses on methodologies more than nitty gritty code techniques. Recent sessions have covered Extreme Programming and Project Management, to name a few topics.
Note the list above is far from comprehensive. Birmingham had over 30 user groups in the area last I checked, the groups I listed above are the ones I am a member of. A quick Google will find many more.
Getting involved in a user group is the quickest, most inexpensive way to get a good technical education, and at the same time keep the magic of coding alive!