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Cleaning the room, turning off the lights and walking to the parking lot, but still thinking about the last question from one of the attendees to the just finished Atlassian User Group meeting: “Why are you an AUG Leader?”. I probably answered too quickly, but it was a sincere response: “Because I enjoy every minute, I like to share time with other users and learn new concepts around Atlassian applications and about how to better organize these meetings”.
If you are considering or thinking about being an AUG leader, you probably have the same question or looking for an answer that could be the final push to complete the application. On this blog-post I will share some information that I hope will help you to see that it is not too hard and the most important of all, to understand that you don’t have to be an Atlassian expert to be an AUG Leader. As a matter of fact, you are not alone, what you need to have is the passion and the desire to organize and execute at least 4 meetings per year. The rest will come and it will fill any existing gap, there is more under the hood then what you can see from the outside. Let me share with you some thoughts.
Social event in Palm Beach Florida, the Duffy's team provided an excelent service and a good desert!
My first contact with Atlassian applications was in 2009 and it was a good one. As I was looking for a platform to support an Open Source Electronic Health Records initiative (www.vxvista.org). I found Confluence, the right tool for that purpose and with that product I met for the first time Atlassian, a company that have a program to support Open Source and non profit efforts. It was the perfect fit at the right time.
In fact, as I was using Confluence, I realized how great was the contribution from Atlassian and how good their people were supporting my efforts. I had the feeling that I need to give something back but I didn’t know how until I found out about their program for Users Groups.
However, it was not easy for me to apply right away due to the location where I live in California and the difficulty identifying and contacting other Atlassian Users. Just with a quick search in Google Images about “California traffic” will give to anyone a glance of how hard attending to these meetings could be.
I live in South California, 2 hours from Los Angeles and probably 90 minutes to San Diego. For many of us that live here it is very common to commute from my area to both cities for work . Long commutes complicates the planning and organization of local AUG meetings. In one opportunity, I decided to attend to a meeting in Los Angeles, it was a good one. I drove 90 minutes to get there and then after the meeting it took me three hours to get home. I didn’t know that during the night they had freeway maintenance and it was my luck to get stuck in traffic while they were painting a couple of lanes.
If I was waiting for “the reason” to start a new AUG, I can say that I found it!, It was time to start an AUG close to my home, but I didn’t know where so I started two to see if can find and invite some local users. At that time we used Facebook to promote our events. I tried with Orange County and Inland Empire.
For all the Atlassian Groups that I managed I had to start from scratch, I was not lucky enough to be in a local company that uses Atlassian at that time and I didn’t have a location for meetings as I have now. So, in June 2011 I started promoting the Orange County California group in Facebook and then in August the Inland Empire, California. Part of my strategy to find new members was to design and distribute some promotional postcards while interacting with Meet Up groups related to Software Development and Agile Development. It was successful and I was able to find a co-leader for Orange County and now under new leadership they just had the re-boot event. For Inland Empire I narrowed the area to Temecula Valley and I am still running this group.
Potscards developed to promote the user groups and one that I did supporting Chicago AUG as part of an EHR Open Source Conference.
I also launched two user groups in Argentina, one in Cordoba with the first event in May 2012 and the second event in November 2012 and another AUG in Buenos Aires with the kick off event in November of the same year. For South America my idea was to plant the seed and try to identify a co-leader that would like to drive the local meetings while I was providing content in person or remotely. However, for those two, instead of Meet Up I relied on local Atlassian partners. They helped me with location and snacks as well as content delivery.
Events in Cordoba, Argentina (Auditorium - Universidad Tecnologica Nacional - Regional Cordoba). Soported by Atlassian Partners
The last group launched was the Palm Beach County, Florida. In this one I have the opportunity to count with the support of DSS, Inc. They were in the process of adopting Atlassian, so we are using the conference room for hour meetings and workshops. The launch and maintenance of this particular group was better than the other ones that I tried before. And, as recommended by Atlassian, I was able to find a great co-leader (Carl Allen) to assist with our meetings.
Palm Beach County, Florida AUG Meeting
There is golden rule that you need to keep in mind when you engage Atlassian Partners, an AUG meeting is not a sales opportunity, instead, it is a great space to share expertise and best practices as well as to provide education and customer experiences. Most of the Partners are aware of the golden rule, but you could face the situation where it is not clearly understood and your members will complain about the outcome of the event.
To be safe,
Atlassian partners are part of the ecosystem and they like to interact with Atlassian User Groups, they can help with the venue, food, swags, etc. Besides that, I personally like to manage my regular meetings with the budget provided by Atlassian and ask for extra help from sponsor at the end of the year for a special event.
Some partners that understand the importance of the AUG effort will be with you right away without asking for anything in return. In some cases, just their logo as sponsors. On the other hand, there are potential sponsors that will request their products to be mentioned, having their logo on prominent locations, etc. I avoid the second group because it is impossible to comply with their request, we don’t have a website and we are not a company that organize events. At the end, we are just volunteer users trying to help other Atlassians from our area. Although is good to have more support, there is no need to be engaged on extra nightmares. Bottom line, adjust the event to what you have in hands.
Active sponsors as it is displayed on the AUG page (aug.atlassian.com)
Without a doubt, It is a topic to keep in mind weeks before the day of the event. As AUG leader you need to submit your swag request to Atlassian 4 to 6 weeks before the event date. They need time to process and ship the request and If you mention the topic to be presented the swag could be related to the theme of the meeting.
Keep the special swags for those that excel on your meetings, the one that drive more miles to be present or the one that always answer questions or propose new topics. They deserve it and you can be the one that make their day. It is important to establish a good relationship with key members of your local group, they are instrumental to the growth of the group.
Another source for swags are Atlassian Partners that are sponsoring the meeting, they can help with their own swags and also with Gift Cards, books, etc. Despite the difference type of swags, they all accomplish the purpose of providing an extra token of appreciation.
Special swag done with the help of partners
Sometimes finding the right venue for an AUG meeting is a challenge, more if you are a remote employee and not able to use your company’s conference room. In that case, to start, you will need to rely on public libraries, sports bar or restaurants. The dynamic of the meeting will need to be adjusted in consequence to the venue. I rented Public Libraries, had breakfast or dinner in restaurants, worked with city members to use their facilities or local universities interested on supporting technology presentations until I found companies or users able to allow the use of their facilities.
Company's conference room
Winery - AUG Meeting and Wine tasting event (end of the year social event)
Warfighter Made Shop - AUG Project Kick-off
Warfighter Made Shop - Open House - Volunteers and Members registration
At the event day, be sure you are on time, verify security restrictions and have signs to direct attendees. It is common to have the door locked after a specific time,adding a cell phone number to the sign on the door can help to those arriving late. (Traffic is always an issue in certain areas). If attendees need to be registered or if they need to present an ID to access, it is critical that you mention that on the event page (aug.atlassian.com). Some facilities request that the host need to be with attendees.In certain areas proof of citizenship is also required. The AUG leader needs to be aware of special requirements to avoid a negative experience to those attending to your meeting.
The meeting development will need to be adjusted to the venue. Conference room are great for presentations, TV or projectors will be needed and if your presenter is remote, a good phone line and speakers will be a “have to have”. If the venue is a restaurant or a public space, consider that the type of presentation will need to be light. During one of our meetings in a sport bar (and despite of having a private room) we were interrupted by a group of friends having a “noisy” birthday party. It was hard and I am glad that the presenter was flexible enough to pause and adapt the way of presenting the content.
Be aware that some venues have restrictions on the type of food and beverages that can be served, specially if you are using company conference rooms or break rooms, it can be a problem if it is not addressed in the right way. The message on the invitation needs to be clear and follow those restrictions as well to avoid false expectations to attendees.
It is important to gather feedback from attendees to monitor their willingness to attend again to the same location. The location and weekday rotation helps with participation, but it is a good idea to discuss the topic with those regularly attending.
Fabian A. Lopez (Community Leader - Argentina, Florida, California)