The UG Rollercoaster

User Groups are today one of the greatest driving forces behind PHP, together they form PHP’s greatest triumph, the community. Around the world everyday we see new groups coming together and starting new activities, sharing knowledge, promoting PHP, contributing to PHP Projects, or just plain having fun and drinking. Its really a wonderful environment, especially for the members, who get to experience and benefit from various perks brought to them by the UG.

In this whole scenario we have a few unsung heroes, the UG leaders. Fearless souls that sacrifice whatever free time they have to give back to the community and make our PHP world a better place. Ok, so they are not generally unsung, most of the community knows their names by heart, great leaders and trend-setters like Ben Ramsey, Michelangelo van Dam, Stefan Koopmanschap, Lorna Jane, Er Galvão, Silvano Girardi, Adler Medrado, Sandro Souza, Bruno “Porkaria” and countless other I have no space to mention here. I’m also a community leader, working along with my colleagues Augusto Pascutti, Anderson Casimiro and Ivan Rosolen on the PHPSP UG in São Paulo, so this may very well be a biased post, but I recon its worth the writeup, not for myself but at least for all these other dedicated people who are making a difference out there.

I say unsung heroes because we are all used to see their success stories but hardly ever get in touch with the other side of UGs, the hard work and dealing with failures part of it. I have recently seen a trend of reactions to leaders which worry me in regard to the role of these leaders in the future of PHP, a flow of comments and acusations stating that leaders do it all for self-gain and self-promotion at the expense of the community at large. This seems to walk hand in hand with the fact stated above, that members rarely see the dark side of this story, due to the fact that we do not share our internal workings.

Leading a UG if often hard work and more than often leaders need to deal with failures, big and small. When you see a successful UG meeting you may fail to see other related events, like the drama to get a meeting place, find interesting speakers and topics, get the necessary gear, getting prizes to give out, finding partners and even getting food for the coffee break. All these are are pushed under the rug when the event is a success, even by us leaders.

Its not your regular pot of gold under the rainbow, and with it comes a lot of hard work, a sudden lack of free time and a not always positive raise in interest from everyone around, you will be in the spotlight, be it for good or bad. On the other hand, all efforts are worth it to get that feel-good feeling we get when we see people growing, learning and participating as a result of our efforts in whatever action we organized. That feeling is our objective, not just to feel it, but to spread it around, get more people to contribute and share that feeling with us.

This year’s testfest is an example, efforts to put it all together we enourmous from the core dev team to all UG leaders involved and everyone in the QA team. But the utter joy of seeing that percentage going up, new people filing for SVN accounts and new QA enthusiasts was worth the hassle to get it all underway.

All of these actions lay the path down for future PHP developers, new leaders will replace today’s leaders or join them in leading the groups, lack of work is definatively not a issue. And yes, UG leaders will get the spotlights but from all the leaders i have met, this spotlight is the last thing on their mind, its always about getting the next event underway, the next podcast out the door. They will benefit from their work, that’s inevitable, but I’m sure any of us can find at least one point where that leader’s work made our life easier/better, and these leaders were all in our place at some point, until they decided to act and do something. This goes further then just UGs, you can apply the same for frameworks, applications and X other initiatives, they all begun at this point.

So next time you attend a UG meeting, take a second to appreciate all the hard work put into it and ask yourself, “What can I do to help?”.

3 thoughts on “The UG Rollercoaster

  1. I think DCPHP is a good example of this one. A few years ago, it was me alone trying to organize things, promote us within the community, and attending conferences. Two years ago, it was usually me and one other person doing those things. But then a few others started stepping up doing *little* things that have caught on elsewhere and brought other people in.

    In the last year+, it’s gotten amazing. We’ve had DCPHP speaking at php|works, ZendCon, CodeWorks, the CMSexpo and a number of other things. We get 4-5 people at each of the major US conferences. We have major authors and Open Source contributors coming out of the group. We’re getting attention from bigger and more groups.

    It all comes down to just a few people doing something little. And then the next person doing that next little thing. And so on and so on.

    It’s a big spotlight. There’s room for lots of people, they just need to step into it.

  2. As the co-organiser of a user group that’s almost 18 months old, I think I’m a little behind Keith on the curve. There’s an important element though – as organisers, we need to be able to allow others to step in and find their way, its too easy to get into a routine as organisers and not make space for that new blood. Personally I am hoping that at PHPNW we’ll give our members room to grow into organisers as they become ready, certainly this seems to be key to the successes of the more established user groups.

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