Main image of article Getting the Most Out of Tech Meetups
Meetups have become increasingly popular among tech professionals over the past few years. What’s not to like about them? Engaging face-to-face with local professionals who have similar interests, passions and skills is stimulating, and the connections you make can ultimately lead to a new career path or a job at a cutting-edge technology firm. Although many professionals think that simply joining a group is enough to reap the rewards, you need to be fully engaged and participate in all of the various activities in order to obtain the maximum benefit. To make sure that you’re getting the highest possible return, we asked some organizers to share their tips for getting the most out of participating in a tech meetup.

Make Learning Your Primary Objective

Bring a fresh, inquisitive mind to an event, advised Cian Mac Mahon, a senior software engineer with HubSpot and co-organizer of the ReactJS Dublin Meetup. “Don’t aim for being a thought leader or presenter right off the bat,” he said. “Make learning and the exchange of knowledge your primary goal, and over time, the other benefits will come your way.” While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to expand your network or rub elbows with startup entrepreneurs, prioritizing professional growth can help you feel more at ease in an unfamiliar crowd. Meetup formats vary, but teaching and learning through social interaction is fairly consistent across tech-related groups.

Bring Questions

Study the meetup’s core topic and the backgrounds of presenters and attendees in advance, and bring a few questions to ask during the Q&A session (or comments to share with the group). Being prepared gives you the confidence to weigh in on a technical discussion, and active participation also helps out the presenter, explained Sandra Zawacki, division manager at Jobspring Partners D.C. and co-founder of the D.C. Security Meetup. Plus, reading someone’s blog or GitHub profile in advance makes it easier to strike up a conversation when you meet them during social hour or a discussion circle.

Come Early, Stay Late

“Wear your social hat and circulate,” Zawacki noted. One of the advantages of a meetup is the opportunity to meet people from the local community. The events are meant to be fun and informal, she added, and the crowds and spaces tend to be small to encourage interaction. If a startup has a demo table, stop by and offer technical feedback, suggested Lindsay Lewis, lead marketing and events specialist for Workbridge Associates: “It’s a good way to get your name out there.” Plus, sharing your opinion on an upcoming release may impress a CTO or founder, or get you a referral. If the meetup doesn’t dedicate time for “mingling,” chances are that some participants will head over to a nearby bar or restaurant after the session. Talking shop over a cold drink is a great way to build relationships. Be sure to bring business cards to exchange with other attendees. That way, you can follow up with key contacts by referencing your conversation, sharing an article or following them on social media. And keep moving. Don’t get stuck talking to one person for too long; excuse yourself and build your network by meeting other people.

Try a Lightning Talk

If the thought of giving a presentation on a technology you barely know is intimidating, why not cut your teeth on a lighting talk? “You don’t have to talk about a complex topic or advanced project,” Mac Mahon said. “It can be as simple as describing a problem you solved using a particular tool or library. Our organizers offer coaching and technical tips to lightning presenters who are new to ReactJS.”

Become Part of the Community

As you become more comfortable with a meetup’s format, suggest topics or volunteer to showcase your code at an upcoming meeting or facilitate an interactive computer lab. Most tech meetups have a homepage where members can discuss technical topics or recruit like-minded professionals for projects. Write a follow-up blog post to get your name out there (or Tweet about events); build your network of influencers by thanking presenters afterwards. Getting on the radar of organizers can lead to speaking opportunities and the chance to be known as an expert in a particular technology or field. You never know when someone you encounter at an event will refer you for a job or give you a reference.