Setting the record straight on the .NET Wizards

Post ImageIt has been quite a while since I’ve said anything about the .NET Wizards, but I think it’s time. As some of you are undoubtedly aware, there is a new user group in town – the Edmonton .NET User Group (or EDMUG.NET). They’ve had a couple of meetings so far, and have two scheduled for the end of June, so they’re off to a good start. Now, before I get into what I want to say, let’s get a few things out of the way:

  • This is a really long post, so be prepared.
  • I love Edmonton, I love .NET, and I love meeting new people, both online and off.
  • I have become extremely busy with Paramagnus over the last couple of years, as has Dickson. We’re having a blast building our little software company though, so we don’t regret being busy at all.
  • There are a lot of great .NET developers in Edmonton, and they deserve a great developer community.
  • We always tried our best with the .NET Wizards to treat people with respect, cater to their varying levels of knowledge, and make the Edmonton developer community a great one.

My intent with this post is to set the record straight on the .NET Wizards. To clarify some things that I feel are getting confused, and to have on public record my thoughts and opinions on what has happened, what is happening, and what is going to happen in the future. To do this, I’m going to tell you a story.

Some History

The Edmonton .NET Wizards User Group began life back in the fall of 2003. Dickson and I were really heavily into .NET at the time (and still are) and we wanted a way to connect with other .NET developers in Edmonton. Additionally, we had just come back a couple months earlier from TechEd 2003 in Barcelona, Spain where we represented Canada in Microsoft’s first ever Imagine Cup programming competition, so we were especially excited about creating the user group. We registered the domain name in September and a non-profit organization in November, and got started planning events and stuff.

One of the first problems we encountered was a location for our events. As we were both students at the University of Alberta, we decided to host our meetings there as we could get a room for free. We still had to pay for use of the projector and computer though, and we did so out of our own pockets. Over the next year or so, we setup a user group booth at MSDN events to try and attract developers, and held many events on topics such as “J2EE and .NET Interoperability”, “Building Mobile Applications with the .NET CF and SQL CE”, “Web Services Security”, and “Whidbey and SQL Server 2005.”

Our events in 2004 and most of 2005 always seemed to have less than amazing attendance, though we did manage to have some great events with speakers like John Bristowe and Dan Sellers, and we gave away lots of books and other prizes to Edmonton developers. I think we probably gave away more stuff than other user groups did, because I also happened to be the Academic contact for Microsoft at the UofA, so I ended up receiving double the swag. We tried food a few times, but couldn’t seem to get an amazing turnout.

As a result, we had a “planning meeting” in the summer of 2005, to try and get some input from people on where they thought the user group should go. We held less of our own events in the first six months of 2005 than we did in 2004, and basically organized things around the MSDN tour events. Which did people prefer? After a while, we finally got a good discussion going, and it turned out that most people wanted smaller events, with presenters from the group. In September 2005 we got started. We put up a wiki as our website so that everyone could edit it, and we had a series of smaller events on things like Windows Vista, Visual Studio 2005, Generics, and Game Engine Design. We also started a certification group, though it didn’t last long.

EDMUG.NET is born

Which more or less brings us to March of this year. Our last event was March 14th, where John Bristowe returned to Edmonton to talk about WinFX. Shortly thereafter, the business plan competitions Dickson and I were in took over our lives, and we never planned an event for April. Then, on April 9th, we received an email from Donald Belcham, basically informing us that EDMUG.NET was starting. His email kind of surprised us, as we had been informed a few weeks earlier by MSDN that some people in Edmonton wanted something different. We decided to meet with Donald over coffee, and we felt pretty good after the meeting. Here is a summary of the outcome:

  • EDMUG.NET held no ill will towards us, they just wanted to try something different.
  • They decided to hold their events on Thursdays as ours were usually held on Tuesdays.
  • We discussed the future of the .NET Wizards, including one option which would make us a sub-group of EDMUG.NET, focusing on “the cutting edge” stuff.
  • We agreed that we didn’t necessarily want to compete.
  • We also chatted about our experience in creating and running a group, and the things Donald and his team had experienced to date.
  • Dickson and I explained to Donald that we felt it was time for someone else to take over and offer a different perspective on things anyway.
  • We wished each other luck.

Dickson and I decided to take a break, and let EDMUG.NET get underway, so nothing much happened until the first EDMUG.NET event on April 27th, which I was able to attend part of. It had great attendance, and was a pretty successful first event. I said hi to Donald and team, but didn’t get a chance to really chat with them.

Their second event was held on May 25th. Unfortunately neither Dickson nor myself could attend, but it seems they encountered some negative feedback – something all user groups will receive at some point.

Here is where things get interesting.

Get to the point Mack

I’m glad to see Donald handled the negative feedback very well, dropping the “fuck’s” like they are going out of style. Anyway, I don’t know his relationship with Mike at Sideline.ca who had the complaints, so I won’t comment any further besides my sarcastic remark just now. It is from their back and forth as well as some comments made offline, that I noticed some things that I need to comment on.

  1. Donald calls “the old user group’s content inadequate“. It has also been said that we tended to focus on things you couldn’t take back to work and use right away.
  2. Mike thinks the .NET community needs rekindling, and said that the previous group did not take action on feedback.
  3. Both Mike and Donald agreed to “hold EdmUG to a much higher standard than what the DotNetWizards had,” which apparently means a “stronger and more knowledgeable community.”
  4. When EDMUG.NET first launched, Mike thought it was “sure to kick the hell out of the previous excuse we had for a .Net user group here in town.” Donald says he was disappointed with our “inability to capture and drive the local .NET developer community.”
  5. I get the general feeling that the work Dickson and I did has gone largely unappreciated.

I’ve been known to have a short fuse at times, but in general, I’d like to think I’m a fairly easy going guy. That said, there are some things that just piss me off, and the list above is one of them. Here are my thoughts on each point:

  1. I think the idea that our content was inadequate is totally wrong. Contrary to what seems to be popular belief, we had some great speakers with great topics here in Edmonton with the .NET Wizards, as I mentioned above. And while our topics at the end of 2005 and first part of this year were definitely “cutting edge”, the same simply cannot be said of our previous events. Look again at the list of topics I mentioned earlier, many of them are things you could use right away. I also couldn’t help but notice that one of the two upcoming EDMUG.NET events is about “Atlas”, a beta product, otherwise known as “cutting edge” or something you probably can’t use at work the next day.
  2. Mike is right, the .NET community here in Edmonton needs to be rekindled. He’s dead wrong though, that we never took action based on feedback. The very reason we had small user group events in the last year was directly from feedback! The wiki we replaced our old site with was a direct result of feedback. If anything, we couldn’t get enough feedback. In my experience, people are generally happy to say everything is fine and go start their own group than give any constructive feedback when it’s needed.
  3. I never go into anything without setting my standards extremely high. For this reason, I sometimes come off as arrogant, when really it’s just that I always try to be confident that I can reach for top and make it there. With a reply like Donald gave him, I don’t know why Mike thinks that EDMUG.NET’s standards are so much higher than ours. Dickson and I always wanted our user group to be the best. That said, I don’t think a “more knowledgeable” community has anything to do with high standards. Setting your standards high for a user group is trying to please everyone, which as we all know, simply isn’t possible.
  4. Depending on your metric, we may have failed to “drive the developer community” forward. On the other hand, we created a place that Donald and his team could get together to plan and create EDMUG.NET, did we not? We held events and had some great speakers, did we not? We managed to connect some developers from Edmonton, which is much better than what existed before we came along.
  5. Sure Donald said in our coffee meeting that he appreciated what we did, but never once has this been said publicly by the EDMUG.NET team. People like Mike are quick to bash us, but don’t seem to appreciate that we attempted to create something good in Edmonton for .NET developers. I don’t need a pat on the back, because I’m happy with what Dickson and I have accomplished with the .NET Wizards, but I really hate unfair and unbalanced commentary. A simple “they did some good things for a while” might have been appropriate.

So what now?

I think EDMUG.NET will probably be pretty successful. They’ve got some very well-connected developers on board, and they seem much happier to spread the word about EDMUG.NET to their colleagues than they did about us. Donald recently started a series of posts talking about his experience starting EDMUG.NET, so check them out if you’re interested. I wish them nothing but the best of luck moving forward, as I think Edmonton deserves a great user group.

Dickson and I have discussed the future of the .NET Wizards a few times, and right now we’re happy to focus on Paramagnus and attend the EDMUG.NET events when we can. At some point in the future we might revisit the issue and decide to hold some events on really bleeding-edge stuff, things we can do some interesting demos with, just as an alternative to EDMUG.NET’s events. Or, we may revisit things and decide that we’re happy with the .NET Wizards no longer existing. Don’t expect anything until at least the fall though.

I think the only way to measure the success of a user group is to look at the community it creates, online, offline, it doesn’t really matter where. Attendance is not the right metric, because there are hundreds of reasons why people attend or don’t attend events. Content is not king, because you can get content pretty much anywhere these days with books, websites, blogs, and more. You might think speakers are a good measure of success, but they are tied very closely to content, and at the end of the day, it might be easier to get in touch with a local developer than an extremely busy speaker across the continent. It’s the community that matters.

It’s also extremely hard to measure the success of a user group based on community, which is why the attendance metric is always used. There are other things that matter though besides the size of the community. Are people being connected? Did you learn something about a fellow user group member that you didn’t know before? How “vibrant” is the community? Are people attracted to the community? Do people want to get involved? Do people want to improve the community? There are lots of things to look at.

Were we successful with the .NET Wizards? I think we were. I certainly have no regrets about anything, and I believe we created a great community here in Edmonton. EDMUG.NET have now taken it upon themselves to take it to the next level, and as a member of the .NET developer community here in Edmonton, I hope they find success.

.NET Wizards October Meeting

Post ImageEarlier tonight was the October meeting of the Edmonton .NET Wizards User Group. We usually have one of our members present a topic, and tonight Dickson did an excellent presentation on Visual Studio Tools for Office. He’ll be posting the code and materials he used on the wiki soon.

I also got around to fixing up the .NET Wizards redirects today. That means that all of our old domains now point to the Edmonton site at http://edmonton.dotnetwizards.org, and my former .NET blog is no more – it simply forwards here. I figured that I really didn’t need a separate blog after all, as I don’t post about .NET often enough to warrant it, and most people simply read this blog already anyway.

If you’re in Edmonton and you’re into .NET, you should come to one of our meetings! And be sure to register for the Launch Tour 2005 event taking place on November 15th – it’s going to be huge! If you want to get on the mailing list, drop me an email at mack@dotnetwizards.org.

Read: Edmonton .NET Wizards