I Am Here to Steal Your Education . . .

. . . Or, why the STL ALT.NET User Group kicks so much ass.

One of the best moves I ever made was getting involved with a developer user group, or “meet up” as they are sometimes known. Here’s why.

I am a self-taught developer, having been touched by the progressive disease of code addiction a few years back, in conjunction with a project at work. I have had to learn most of this addictive trade the hard way, e.g. long bouts of going down the wrong road to a solution, and hours spent surfing the web, seeking solutions to problems which, for an experienced dev, would be rudimentary.

In all this, I have learned much.

One of the biggest lessons I learned is, hijack the education and experience of others, by whatever means necessary. The other thing I learned is the old saw “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” I’ll come back to this in a minute.

I had lived in Portland, Oregon for most of the past nine years. As my coding addiction grew worse and worse, I found myself joining some local user groups, and regularly attended the PADNUG (Portland Area Dot Net Users Group, of course). I found here a group of like-minded individuals, who all spoke the same language (that would be C#, for the most part, but I will generalize and use “.NET” to represent all the .NET languages – yes, I KNOW .NET is a framework, not a language, but this is MY blog, and I can call things what I want!).

I moved, rather suddenly, from Portland to St. Louis, Missouri in October of 2011. Before I was on the ground more than 24 hours in my new neighborhood of Clayton, I was scouring the inter-webs for the St. Louis version of the PADNUG. I found the Saint Louis ALT.NET group. Upon following the Google link to the group’s home page, the very first thing I saw was THIS:

The ALT.NET community is a loosely coupled, highly cohesive group of like-minded individuals who believe that the best developers do not align themselves with platforms and languages, but with principles and ideas. “

See my previous note about hammers and nails.

I loved this. As I continued my scan of the page, I found the following list, describing the “Alt.Net philosophy” espoused by David Laribee:

The Philosophy

1. You’re the type of developer who uses what works while keeping an eye out for a better way.
2. You reach outside the mainstream to adopt the best of any community: Open Source, Agile, Java, Ruby, etc.
3. You’re not content with the status quo. Things can always be better expressed, more elegant and simple, more mutable, higher quality, etc.
4. You know tools are great, but they only take you so far. It’s the principles and knowledge that really matter. The best tools are those that embed the knowledge and encourage the principles (e.g. Resharper.)

The STL ALT.NET Meetup

The St. Louis ALT.NET meetup group is a place where .NET developers can learn, share, and critique approaches to software development on the .NET stack. We cater to the highest common denominator, not the lowest, and want to help all St. Louis .NET developers achieve a superior level of software craftsmanship.”

THIS was the group I had been looking for. While I had enjoyed the single-minded focus at the PADNUG group, I found the above ideas refreshing. As soon as I was settled (and learned my way around St. Louis!) I attended my first meet up, How Ruby is Making Me a Stronger C# Developer and a Better Man, presented by Darren Cauthon. The group itself was welcoming, and relaxed. Pizza and refreshments were on hand, and the monthly meet up is a Bring-Your-Own-Beer type of after-work affair.


The next month was a presentation by Jessica Kerr on Powerful Pattern Matching in F# / UX Techniques. Loved this too.

Since joining the STL ALT.NET group, I  have been consistently impressed with the organization of the meet ups, and the energy with which Nicholas Cloud, the group’s principal and most visible organizer keeps the group moving. In keeping with my personal quest to expand my know-how, steal the hard-won education of others, and broaden my technological horizons, this was exactly the group I needed.

New Challenges to Face

It has been difficult for me to attend the group in the past few months, as a result of a heavy work travel schedule. I am hoping to get back in the swing of things in July now though, because I believe that participation in user groups (especially good ones) is of prime benefit to both the individual and the developer community. Even more, I believe that maximum benefit is obtained through consistent participation, and making a contribution. Even now, I am trying to find a topic on which I might present to the group. For me, the challenge in this is there is very little I might share with the experienced pros that they don’t already know. But I am going to try, BECAUSE of the challenge this represents.

Why YOU should Join a User Group

If you are a new and inexperienced programmer just starting to figure things out, or if you are an experienced pro who has never attended a user group or meetup, I strongly recommend you GET OFF YOUR ASS AND JOIN ONE. Yes, the initial social interaction thing is uncomfortable for most of us (we are, after all, geeks, right?), but there are few things which can bring a new vigor to your work more effectively than “getting involved” and “Giving back.”

And if you are in the Saint Louis area, I strongly recommend dropping into the STLALT.NET group. There will be pizza. You can bring beer. You WILL learn something. Plus, you probably have an education and professional experience I can steal while you are there.

If you are not in the St. Louis Area, or this specific group is not what you  are looking for, you can most likely find one that IS what you seek HERE: Meetups in your area

If you are intrigued by the STLALT.NET group, you can find more info HERE: STL ALT.NET

You can follow the group on Twitter at : @stlaltdotnet

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