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Technical Meetups Evolve in the Shadow of COVID-19

By Kavita Viswanath

Technical Meetups have become a community staple in the lives of many information technology professionals. Traditionally, Meetups have been an in-person, live forum where like-minded individuals continue to learn about specific technology trends and expand their professional network. While the Covid-19 pandemic has brought live Meetup events to a halt for the time being, the desire for community interaction remains. How have Meetups evolved to meet this need? To answer this, let’s look back at some historical milestones.

The term “Meetup” became a household name for Technical User Groups in the aftermath of 9/11, when was established for members of the community to meet and get to know one another better. Many consider the first formal user group to be SHARE, which was established in 1955 to connect mainframe programmers specific to defense industry. The traditional format was similar back then, but meetings were less frequent due to geographical challenges and the technology realities of the time. The late 70s and early 80s saw the microcomputer revolution, and as a result technology user groups began to flourish. One of the most well-known examples was the emergence of Apple Computers. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak shared the precursor of the infamous Apple I with The Homebrew Computer Club in Menlo Park, CA.

Since then, technical meetups have been formed and have evolved throughout the world with technological influence from the world’s most prestigious technology companies. From Google to Microsoft, Infosys to Mindtree, JFrog to GitHub, IBM to Linux, Amazon to Intel, corporations have both supported and provided sponsorship to foster these growing communities. Midsize and startup tech companies have also invested time and resources to become better known in these communities as well, in order to promote their cultures in an age where the supply for technical talent is low, but the demand for technical skills set is very high.

While each Meetup has its own unique personality, the formats have a lot of similarities. Typically, each meeting will start out as more of a social gathering and networking time. This is usually done with food and drink that the sponsor of the group provides. The heart of the evening is typically the talks which are either one to two full length talks about the technology the group is focused on, or “lightening talks” which are multiple 5 to 15 minute talks that also get directly to the subject at hand. After a Question and Answer session, it is very common for members of the group to go out and have another meal or drinks together.

With the novel Coronavirus disrupting the world, Meetups are currently evolving to meet the desire for community which is lacking when public venues are all shutdown. While virtual meetups have become the norm for most Meetups during the pandemic, many Meetups are holding out until they can meet in person again. Virtual Meetups will be successful if everyone in the group follows certain guidelines and adheres to them.

Ironically, there has been a rapid paradigm for technology meetup groups to embrace the latest meeting technology platforms. While it is not the same social interaction as being there live, popular online platforms like Zoom, Google Meet allow for the virtual replication of a familiar gathering. While there have been some challenges like awkward silences upon entering a zoom room, muted people speaking, screen sharing mishaps and bandwidth issues, many groups are using this as an opportunity to overcome these barriers and enjoy each other’s company.

The future of how meetups will conduct themselves in the shadow of Covid-19 is still unclear. While many technologists are familiar with the need to make a paradigm shift when necessary, perhaps some Meetups will allow for a hybrid model of in-person and live meetings to provide for the needs of the entire community as the world returns to a “new normal”.

(The author is General Manager JFrog Indis and the views expressed in the article are her own)

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