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I'm a .NET developer, but I've never been to a .NET user group meeting or anything like that.

I might have the opportunity soon to start attending one, but I'm wondering. What happens at user groups? I'm not looking necessarily for info specifically about .NET ones, but they are preferred.

What do you get out of it excluding the opportunity for networking?

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I attend my local .NET User Group every month. Here are some things that go on besides networking:

  • Giveaways: Win books, licenses of ReSharper or CodeRush, etc.
  • Presentations: Speakers from all over the country (and world) give talks on development best practices, new technologies, etc.
  • Eat food: Pizza...of course! (Sponsored by a local business)
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Yeah, that's about what the Delphi User Group meetings I go to are like too, except the group buys its own pizza. – Mason Wheeler Oct 8 '10 at 19:08
The exact same experience at the .NET user group I attend in southern Ontario. Great place to network, learn something, and eat pizza. – ysolik Oct 8 '10 at 19:18
@Kate Gregory: Good point, it belongs as an answer, so that I can upvote you for rep :) – Steve Evers Oct 8 '10 at 19:33
Yup - FWDNUG does all that. As a hiring manager I hired two people out of that group. – Todd Williamson Oct 8 '10 at 20:07

In addition to the items listed by @Ryan, sometimes employers make a quick "I am hiring; please see me after the meeting if you're looking for work" announcement. Or someone talks about the conference they are having in a month or two, maybe asks for volunteers with some project related to the community. It's a great way to stay connected.

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+1 Even if you don't go to "network", even just showing up can get you in the first advertisement of jobs. Lots of employers know if you take the effort to get out to a user group meeting on your own time, you're probably at least not in the bottom half of developer candidates. – Ryan Hayes Oct 8 '10 at 19:45

You can also add this to your resume: show potential employers that you are involved in the programming community outside work.

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This is an elaboration of the second point in Ryan Hayes' answer as I have attended a few local .Net group events:

  • Preview of upcoming stuff: There can be cases where an evangelist comes to show off some functionality that is coming soon.

  • Demonstration of tools or practices: I remember attending a talk where connecting Biztalk and Sharepoint was illustrated. Using jQuery in ASP.Net MVC would be another talk I attended for a specific example.

The giveaways and food are good too. :)

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What happens at a user group meeting is whatever the user group organizers organize. There is no rule.

Go and find out. You have nothing to lose.

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I don't have the opportunity to attend one ATM. That's why I'm asking. – Steve Evers Oct 8 '10 at 20:56
Where do you live? If you're anywhere near any reasonably sized city, chances are there's some sort of user group meeting you could go to. – Andy Lester Oct 8 '10 at 20:57
I live in Saskatoon, and there was a user group here but it was closed down. The nearest is 100km away. – Steve Evers Oct 8 '10 at 21:01
As a side note: I'm a big fan of your book. After much frustration, 1 read through and plenty of work, it may very well have helped me find a job that I'm looking forward to. Thank you. – Steve Evers Oct 8 '10 at 21:01
Why not go hit a user group outside your normal area of expertise? For instance, Googling on Saskatoon "user group" turns up a VMware user group. Even if you don't use VMware, you'll still learn something and meet other people. – Andy Lester Oct 8 '10 at 21:08

I used to belong to a Ruby users' group. At meetings, we mostly caught up with Ruby/Rails news (the group was heavily Rails-centric). Members would show off cool projects or brainstorm solutions with the group if they were stuck on an issue. A couple people would give a mini lecture or presentation on some piece of technology. It wasn't even Ruby-specific: sometimes we'd talk about, e.g., Scala, Clojure, or Cocoa programming, too. One time a guy even gave a presentation on using zsh, and another gave one on using vim.

And, of course, we drank beer and ate pizza. :)

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Ah, I do love the user groups that drink beer at their meetings. One of those location-specific rather than technology specific aspects :-) – Kate Gregory Oct 9 '10 at 15:30

one good part of users groups are the mailing-lists. here, you briefly get informed about trends, news, frameworks, etc.

drawback of user-groups is the "club" behavior in some cases. if you are new or outsider, the hierarchy in some user groups can be disturbing. also, the hidden recruiting strategies of companies may be disturbing for technical subject matter.

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