At the end of this month our local user group, PHP Antwerp, will hold it's third meetup. It'll be sponsered by Spatie, of which I'm a co-owner. In this post I'd like to explain why we are sponsering this event. Of course as a company it's good to get our name out there but there are other more important reasons.
In our daily work we use a lot a free software. Just on the top of my head I'm thinking of Nginx, Ubuntu, Laravel and of course PHP. These are the big pieces, but looking at our composer.json and various awesome lists there are a lot of small projects that create tremendous value for us as well. More often than not those projects are made by a people who are spending time on it after hours.
There are various reasons why they do this: some do it for fun, some for fame, some for learning, but probably it's a combination of all those reasons. I'm pretty sure that an important prerequisite for doing this is that the creators all have a sense of community.
A few years ago Cal Evans said this in an interview: "The only way to get better is to surround yourself with people who know stuff you don’t." Just like attending conferences, visiting your local user group is one of the best ways to do this. More often than not there are very interesting speakers. Even if the content of a particular talk is not applicable to your work, it's never bad to be exposed to new ideas and technology.
If listening to sessions was the only benefit you could just watch some tech videos at home instead. Unlike watching a video, you can ask the presenter questions during or after the talk. The Coderabbi once said: "The timid does not learn", so do not be afraid to ask questions. Another great value from a user group comes from meeting people. Talking with other people about their projects, how they go about doing things and what drives them can be highly beneficial for your own growth as a developer.
User groups also offer the chance to speak yourself. User groups offer this opportunity. If you think you've got nothing to say, you're wrong. Talking about your latest project, a package you're using (or making), or just giving your opinion about a topic are all valid subjects. Researching the topic of your talk and will make you understand your subject better. The length of a talk does not matter. Five minutes is just as good as fifty minutes. User group organisers are constantly searching for speakers, so step up.
Just like taking free software for granted it's easy to take the existence of a user group for granted. PHP Antwerp is still pretty young and there's still lots of room for growth. I'm sure that organisers Dries en Frederick could spend their time on a thousand other interesting things, but still they want to devote their time bringing the Antwerp community together. I hope that they will continue to do this and they can consider our sponsoring as a big thumbs up.
If you're living near Antwerp and are in any way interested in or using PHP be sure to join the meetup. If you are in a position in your company to sponsor your local user group I highly encourage you to do so.