Hi!  My name is Sarah, and I’m a programming language junkie.

If only there were a 12-step program for that… maybe then I wouldn’t feel so odd.  Every time I meet a developer who doesn’t understand how to switch between languages or paradigms, I wonder what’s wrong with me.  Every time I meet a developer who doesn’t get that I enjoy coding and really have no problem going from coding at work to coding at home, I feel sad.  Every time I show my excitement for learning more about programming and the art of software development, I feel weird because people around me don’t understand it.

Silly me… I went into a field that I actually enjoy!  There are 9-to-5ers who just don’t get me – they go to work, do their job, collect a paycheck, and go on their merry way doing other stuff.  For me, I’d go home from work only to write more code, working on a side project, or blogging about what I found intriguing or frustrating.

Finding Geeks Like Me

While studying at the University of Toledo, I got involved with the student Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) group.  It gave me a chance to network with fellow EECS students and find others who were just as passionate as me when it came to programming.  It gave me the opportunity to meet minds much smarter than mind and learn from them.  Even when I changed to the CSET program, I still stayed in ACM, as I had found like-minded individuals and CSET really didn’t have a group like that.

I also learned about the local Linux users group that happened to meet on campus.  My then-boyfriend, now-husband’s best friend is a hardcore Linux guy who came up to Toledo for the meetings.  So the group of us ended up going to many of those meetings.  While I was obviously the odd one – female and *gasp* could work with Linux tools even though I loved Microsoft products, I found it great to be in another group of minds that I could understand.  These guys were passionate about Linux, and I was able to show my passion for tech in general by speaking at their group a couple times.  This “user group” thing, I decided, is a good thing.

User Groups – Other Geeks!

Once I moved back to Cleveland, I figured I’d get a job, settle in, and then eventually figure out the user groups here.  Well… I took a tech support job and got settled in, forgetting about the user group thing.  I did talk with a co-worker about the local Linux user group, but I just couldn’t convince myself to go.  I had too many other things keeping me distracted – moving home, finding a job, buying a house, getting married – that I lost interest in the whole user group quest.

After my first job here, I moved on to an IT job – one that felt very much like a dead end.  I felt as if I was isolated from the world, going to work and coming home in the dark.  Add to it that the only windows that were in my office overlooked the shop floor or overlooked the “fun” neighborhood outside.  The passionate developer in me was feeling suffocated and losing hope.  I just had to get out, and I did after almost 4 years there.

The next job, I returned to development and played with .NET a bit.  One of my co-workers mentioned that there was a user group meeting coming up and that I might want to check it out.  “User group” triggered all sorts of memories and started me back down the path of finding the answer to Where are the technical groups in Cleveland?  Back then, they were scattered and I spent a lot of time looking up local user groups in Cleveland.

The first group I attended was a .NET group that did a lot of face-forward presentations, where there wasn’t a lot of interaction between the speakers and the audience.  While I didn’t mind learning a lot, I had hoped to find others who were social like me.  Many months later, that .NET group had a holiday gathering with a SQL group, and I started to see some people talking and I slowly started feeling in my element.  Soon, I found another .NET group that was more social and that group had a WPF group form out of it.  It was nice to finally meet geeks like me – not only did they like learning about new stuff but they liked talking with each other.

The Formation of a User Group List

That question of Where are the technical groups in Cleveland? plagued me for awhile.  Then, in October 2008, I had serious health issues that kept me from going to work.  Since my employer didn’t let us work remotely and since my mind wouldn’t slow down, I had to put it to work.  With about 4 or 5 user groups in the list, I launched Cleveland Tech Events.  Now, over 3 years later, there are over 60 technical user groups on the list.  The site is still solely maintained by myself, but there are many groups out there promoting the site, all through word of mouth and social networking.

Why this “User Group” Thing is Good

If you’ve ever found yourself excited about the technology you’re working with or even playing with, you’ve probably wondered if there were others like you.  User groups are great for finding like-minded individuals who share the same passions and excitement.  It’s great for bouncing ideas off of like-minded individuals and learn from each other.  Also, being able to network with others, you never know where the networking will lead.

Conclusion

So… looking for other geeks like you?  If you’re in the Cleveland area, you can always check out Cleveland Tech Events.  However, if you’re elsewhere, do a search for “{insert tech here} user group near {your city}” in your favorite search engine and get out there today!  (And if there isn’t a user group in the area… you can always check a site like Meetup.com to see if there are people in the area with similar interests and form your own group!)