Building Community at the Northeast User Group Leader Summit

Reception in the 10/11 Floor Atrium On Saturday, May 2nd, O’Reilly Media and Microsoft partnered to host the first Northeast User Group Leader Summit (NEUGLS) at the Microsoft NERD campus in Cambridge, MA.

The event brought together about 100 community leaders, representing over 70 user groups (listed here) in the northeast, for a day to network and discuss community. A wide variety of tech areas were represented (.NET, PHP, Linux, Hacking, Ruby, and others), and leaders came from as far away as northern Vermont, Maine, New York City, and Philadelphia.

The Concept

Tech community groups face many of the same challenges – “Where can we meet?” “Who will speak?” “Are there legal concerns?” “How do we pay for this?” With so many shared concerns, it seemed there was a chance to strengthen the northeast community by getting together to talk about community (yes, very “meta”.)

Hallway Conversations and Book Giveaway BrowsingBy leaving behind the specific tools and technologies our groups represented, everyone found there was a great deal in common to discuss. 

The diversity of groups was key, helping leaders forge new connections and exchange many new ideas. 

David Christian (leader of the NYC Python group) captured the essence in his blog post:

I'd like to see these same connections form around the country. This type of event benefits particularly from having many local meetings as opposed to one national one, due to the benefits of simply getting tech leaders in the area to meet and exchange information in ways they might not do if when siloed into their particular communities.

The Event

The Session Grid The goals for the day were to share ideas and to make connections. The content was facilitated with an “unconference” approach, where the schedule had no fixed sessions and attendees created and scheduled sessions as conceived throughout the day. Ideas were posted off the schedule/grid, discussed, and popular ideas were moved to open slots.

All told, there were 24 sessions ranging from converting members to leaders, to finding venues, to dealing with finances. 

Like many, I was sad not to have a clone who could attend every session, but “scribes” volunteered for each session to record notes to the event Wiki so people could benefit from the ideas in sessions they couldn’t attend (up to seven sessions were run concurrently). You can view the full list of sessions and notes.

Jeff Potter Cools Things DownThere were three primarily social parts of the schedule. After some initial networking, everyone introduced themselves (name, group, and three descriptive words) in the opening session then adjourned for lunch and to create the schedule.

The afternoon break was a relaxed chance to break into smaller groups to make meeting others easier. The break featured technologist and “food hacker” Jeff Potter hosting an extreme ice cream making social, where teams made different flavors using liquid nitrogen to quickly freeze the mixtures. The event closed with an evening social with drinks and appetizers to relax, share a few more ideas, and make some final connections.

Discussing How to Find/Grow Speakers

Buzz and Feedback

The hashtag for the event was #NEUGLS, and it was good to see the general buzz on Twitter.

Thanks to these attendees for their summary posts:


Sincere thanks to the team who made this event possible:

  • O’ReillyMarsee Henon, Laurel Ruma, Laurel Ackerman
  • MicrosoftChris Bowen, Gus Weber, Jim O’Neil
  • CommunityJeff Potter, John Ross, Ron Thibeau, Jon Pierce, Shimon Rura 

First, thanks to our fantastic event partner O’Reilly Mediafor their monumental efforts in making this event a success.  They did a huge amount of work to help bring this together, and I can’t wait to work with them again on another event!

Shimon Rura and Darius Kazemi on Running Large GroupsSpecial thanks to Jeff Potter for hosting the incredibly fun (and tasty) afternoon ice cream social break!

Thanks to Jon Pierce and Shimon Rura for sharing ideas on the event and for a great job reaching out to community leaders, and to John Ross and Ron Thibeau (of for helping with planning and registration.

Thanks to O’Reilly’s own Rachel James for taking and sharing a wonderful set of pictures from the event.

Thanks to O'Reilly, Pragmatic Programmers, Sams, Que, Peachpit, Addison Wesley, Make, and APress for donating the many books used as giveaways.

And finally, thanks to everyone who took precious weekend time to attend and participate in the event!

Next Time?

Based on feedback from attendees, it’s clear there’s a need for this kind of event and an interest in holding another one of these next year, if not sooner. 

Reception on the 10th Floor at the Northeast User Group Leader SummitIt would be great to hear your feedback.  When should this be done again?  Would you change anything about the logistics?  What would you like to see next time?

For more on the event, including participating groups and notes from each of the sessions, see the NEGULS wiki.

If you live elsewhere and are interested in hosting something like this in your area, feel free to contact me and I’ll share details on how the team organized this event.