At MageTitans Mini this past May, I did an impromptu talk entitled “Setting up a Magento User Group”.

Whilst most of that was me trying to remember why I’d even thought getting on stage was a good idea, I wanted to get down some thoughts in a post to share.

For the best part, I don’t have to remind people how great the Magento community is. You’re probably already part of it if you’re reading this. This great community comes together at events like Mage Titans, and other events, all across the globe. However, these events are spread out over a large geographical area, and unless you have a very rich boss or you’re Ben Marks, chances are you might get to visit one every 6 months.

This is where a local user group can play a key role.

As Cal Evans was once quoted: “Community Works! If I have a question, someone has the answer. If I have a problem, someone has the solution. If I just need to vent, there‚Äôs always someone out there willing to be my rubber duck.”

Usergroups are fantastic places to meet like minded people. What’s better than Stack Exchange? Stack Exchange in real life.

Rewind a year, and I worked for a company on the outskirts of Leeds. Leeds is a big digital hub, and there were a large number of events to pick and choose from. LeedsPHP, https://twitter.com/leedsjs and WPLeeds to name only a few.

Whilst I worked in Leeds, I live in York; and whilst it’s not too much of a trek to Leeds, there are very few user groups here – and I was still missing the one important thing I was looking for – a Magento User Group.

When I moved jobs to York, my manager and I decided that it was about time to do something. So we set up MagentoYork. It does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a Magento user group, for people based in / around York, and we meet in York once every two months or so.

Once we had a venue sorted (a pub), we needed to find people to talk with.

We set up a group on Meetup.com, and I fired off a few emails and submitted the odd contact form to local companies that I knew produced Magento sites.

Luckily, our first meeting had more attendees than just myself and my team. Not many more mind, but, once we met and talked, we all had a better understanding of who we were, why we were there, and what we thought we could get out of the group.

With the meetings in Leeds, I was a nomad, only surfacing for the odd meeting, and really not getting behind them and being at one with them. However, my attendance did make me think about what I wanted from other user groups – and ultimately what I wanted out of MagentoYork.

So what kind of things can you expect to get out of a user group?

  • Talks. Usually the backbone of a “structured” usergroup. In the case of MagentoYork, we try to keep technical and marketing angles covered to give variety for developers and merchants. Essentially, all developers are merchants to some degree – and all merchants are developers.
  • Discussion. Discussing approaches broadens your problem solving skills. We’re a very open group. There’s no right and wrong a lot of the time.
  • Wider topic discussion. Magento is a huge topic to cover, but add to that running a department, running a company, finding business, discussing your favourite editor, your preferences for deployment and development – there is a huge range of topics that can be discussed.
  • Feeling part of something bigger. Giving back and helping the Magento community that supplies so much knowledge and power – all mostly free of charge.
  • Speaking experience for those so inclined. Usually to a lovely bunch of folk who, over a short number of meetings, can become friends

I would strongly encourage you to find a user group in your area for something you are passionate about. Can’t find one? Create one! Unless you’re into something very niche, there will be likeminded people out there.

It’s important that once you’ve found a user group, you contribute. That might just be turning up to each meeting, or it might be speaking, organising or promoting it to others.

Image Credit: Shipwreck of the Helvetia @ Rhossili 21st Aug 2013 (4)