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Java User Groups: A Holistic Review

Reflections as a First-Time JUG Host

I’d like to build on the notion Simon outlined in his post last week. I hadn’t attended a Java User Group (“JUG”) meeting until I started with Azul. I got sent with two days of prior notice to speak to the Metro User Group in Dallas. As a speaker, I was raw, green, and not all that good. Since then, I have attended JUGs in a handful of cities (one in Rio just last month), and learned what works and what doesn’t.

Over the course of the last two years, I have had chance to improve my craft, speaking on an array of topics, always trying to balance education, entertainment, and a whisper-thin touch of Azul field marketing.

Walking into a JUG, where the host has everything all tidy, set, and ready, where all you do is take the stage and microphone, is awesome. Last week, however, I crossed over to the other side…the role of JUG meet up organizer. I’ll explain that in detail in a moment. I’ll make a few general JUG points first, then hone in what it entailed to run a JUG meeting.

Matt presenting at the Guadalajara JUG in Mexico, August 2015

JUGs meet all over the world, in all types of cities, in all types of venues, with varying regularity.

When I figured out Azul wanted me to keep going on the JUG circuit in spite of my rocky start in Dallas, I decided I needed to study the JUGs in my patch, which basically covers North America. The public data on each JUG is great, typically on Meetup or a hosted web site, but I found nothing current that pulls them all together succinctly.

JUG meetings vary in size and scope.

The really big JUGs run like media companies: they sponsor frequent events, even some as big as commercial tradeshows, with Atlanta, Chicago, and London as leading examples. Smaller JUGs can be very intimate, potentially just a dozen people around a table, over a pint at the pub. Some JUGs vie for corporate backing, which often mean can mean posh meeting space and even catering.

A common theme I see in JUG meetings is they remain free for attendees, open to the public, and, most importantly, are a valuable use of time for those who participate. The cool aspect of JUGs, no matter big or small, is they can be positive learning experiences, and a comfortable chance to chat with fellow enthusiasts outside your workplace. I loved speaking to the nine-person JUG in Victoria, British Columbia, and the 12-person JUG in Dallas (DJD, not MUG), because the venues were intimate, the conversations genial, and discussion interactive. I also enjoyed the chance to speak at the NY Java SIG, at the London LJC, and in Austin at the University of Texas, playing the role of professor at the front of bona-fide auditoriums.

A JUG meeting can be shabby chic and scrappy simple.

This brings me to my story from last week. I started to work with my hometown Detroit JUG group last year, giving one talk, attending a few meetings, and answering questions on the Meetup page. This year, I agreed to try running some meetings, and for the Fourth Wednesday in January, I was on task: I got the venue space lined up in downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan, ordered eight pizzas (including one gluten free), hit the grocery store for soda and chips, got a box-load of Azul marketing giveaways set out, arranged the chairs for seating in the room, hooked my laptop to A/V equipment, set out the flatware and food, welcomed everyone in, pointed out all facilities, and then got the meeting started.

In all, we had about twenty attendees. The conversation remained interactive. I know from other JUGs that you cannot use a JUG for a direct product pitch. However, showing off the work Azul is doing in Zulu and especially in preparation for OpenJDK 9 got my Detroit pals fired up! That was certainly gratifying, as it validated my talk topic choice. Also gratifying is at least three attendees came a long distance to participate, one from Windsor in Canada, and two more from Traverse City, Michigan, almost a four hour drive, and all indicated attending was worth the long drive.

I put together the recurring supplies in a tote, so now I have my “JUG-in-a-Box” ready to roll for subsequent meetings.  The session ended on time, though breaking down the meeting room revealed quite a bit of leftover food.  Before leaving Ann Arbor, and acting as a good University of Michigan alumnus, I dropped off two whole unused, leftover pizzas, chips, and soda to the brothers of my fraternity. College kids remain eternally grateful for free food.

JUGs open doors, and build bridges

People are genuinely interested in Java. In planning the rest of the Detroit JUG meeting calendar for 2016, I have been successful in lining up a handful of venues and sponsors. I have also been fortunate to line up talent, including about a half-dozen popular individuals often seen on the Java trade show circuit. Attendees come to JUGs to learn, to exchange stories, and to network, but the generosity of those speakers to come in is a bit overwhelming, knowing their steep travel and time investments. I always felt that way going to JUGs as a speaker, but now acting as host and emcee, recognizing the generosity is a more evident feeling.

In summary, the universe of JUGs is alive. While they often share DNA, each group has a different flavor. I hope you can find one that suits you, in your region, meeting regularly. If you don’t have a local option, as Simon mentioned, you can try the Virtual JUG. Plus the Zulu Community site aims to foster a similar resource for Java people to socialize and discuss Java, JVMs, OpenJDK, and JUGs. Lastly, you are always invited to join me in Detroit: let me know you are attending and I can save a slice of pizza for you.

Detroit JUG:

Zulu Community:

Matt’s Talk Slides: Download presentation