I’ve been in the DevRel game for awhile…long before it was even called Developer Relations. I’ve seen lots of changes, from the introduction of non-technical, personal development talks to the growth of technologies, to the explosion of diversity in the subject we look at. Most of this, on stage at the big conferences.

It got me to thinking, though…what ever happened to the good ol’ local meetup?

WNYRubyBrigade/BuffaloPHP Cross Meetup circa 2013 (I’m there in the green hat)

When I first started speaking, I cut my teeth at the local meetups. Not only was it great, because there was a familiarity with the folks there, but my first ever talk was ABOUT MEETUPS (here’s a later iteration)! While there was a great deal of joy in going to conferences and (at that point) one day maybe speaking at one, my local meetup was there to make me feel like I could develop a talk and have people give real feedback about it’s worth or value to them.

But time marches on. Since that first talk, I’ve spoken at well over 200 conferences, events, corporate workshops, and meetups. Subjects have ranged all over the place, but I’ve never lost my love for the local meetup. I loved meetups so much, it was once part of my job to help develop meetups in areas that might not have one. I even “write the book” (or small pamphlet) on how to start and revitalize your local tech meetup!!

There’s a tremendous amount of value in the meetup. Small audience, great interaction, the ability to touch a small part of a community for low or nearly no cost. Why wouldn’t this be the focus of Developer Advocates and DevRel teams across the board?

That’s a question I can’t seem to answer…

I see my colleagues, excited to be speaking at conferences or running a circuit in specific tech or for a given region, but rarely do I see the same excitement, or even effort, applied to meetups. This saddens me greatly.

Part of the reason may be the corporatization of Developer Relations. More and more teams are being built by the marketing wing of mid-sized startups and large enterprise entities with the goal to profitize the community. With that in mind, there is little ROI (Return On Investment) for a meetup in the eyes of people looking to profit.

And that’s kind of the point, community interaction isn’t ABOUT profit. Or at least it shouldn’t be the main goal. Meetups are great ways to reach into communities and find new waves of innovation, different perspectives on how things are done in that area with that technology. And you get he chance to speak with EVERYONE — not just the few who wander by your booth.

The secondary issue may be the idea of the branded meetup. Sponsoring meetups is great — they need the help! But when you come into an area that is a “target market” and start a “Company X Technology Y” meetup, don’t expect success. Tech folks can smell the sales pitch a mile away. You’ll likely be abusing a trust and setting yourself back for years.

Here’s the point: if you truly want to build rapport with a community, you cannot simply show up at the big conferences with a talk and a sponsorship and think you’ve done your job. You need to engage the people where they are — show interest beyond “potential ROI” and meet folks where they live.

My advice to all the DevRel folks out there is, if you truly want to get the pulse of the community, go to meetups wherever you can. Show them you value their time, and they’ll value your contribution.