Professional development is something that we all need to spend a lot of time on if we want to keep up with the advances in technology and try to advance in our career.
Most of the time this is a pretty individual and lonely task. Did you know there are many technical groups that meet up on a regular basis? This could be a great way to learn and also network with others.
Meetup is an easy and straight forward place to start looking. Make an account on Meetup, add in your interests, go to some interesting meetings and thanks to the machine learning algorithm, a lot of interesting suggestions will come to your inbox every week.
Fear, time commitments, not exactly knowing what is available and whether it will interest you are all barriers that might be holding you back. I will share four fears that might be holding you back from going to a meetup and will explain how to overcome these fears.
But … I don’t know anyone!
For everybody there has always been a first time going to a Meetup and changes are high that you won’t be the only new person going. You can also just ask whether a friend can join you.
If you are not fond of hours of networking, you can pick a Meetup with a lot of talks in it. In case you really fear talking with a lot of unknown people, look at the agenda and arrive just a few minutes before the talk is scheduled to start. In case there is no real agenda available for the meeting, talks normally start 10 minutes after the start of the meeting and in case the talk is started when you arrive just sneak in at the back. If you enjoyed the talk and would consider going a second time, there will be certainly already a lot of familiar faces.
But … I don’t know enough about the topic!
On the internet there is probably months worth of reading material available on your favorite topic. Every week a few extra months worth of reading material will be added and there are a lot of books in the library and e-books for your tablet available too. I even forgot to mention all the online courses that you can take as well as all the podcasts that are available. If you are studying alone and try to read everything available, you don’t really have the feeling that you are progressing, because indeed there will be always that extra piece of information that you haven’t consumed yet. Do you think the people at the meeting have really read every piece of available information? Nope!
Therefore, it is also important to talk with people who share interests in a similar topic. In this way you can share ideas about what you have read and compare your knowledge levels. You can determine what you are good at and which parts you still need to improve on. You also can get hints about material that you should explore further.
Listening to a presentation or watching a demo, will allow you to remember more about the topic. You also have the possibility of immediate interaction if something is not really clear.
You will also learn about various speaking styles. These you can try out at your job when you are discussing your own work. In case the meeting is not in your mother tongue, it will also allow you to learn these terms in your new language. It will also help you to learn the correct pronunciation of the terminology.
But … I won’t find the location of the Meetup!
It might indeed be a challenge to find the location of the Meetup. There might be construction going on. The signs to the correct location might be missing. But please don’t let this be a reason for not going to a Meetup, because you already have gotten this far. If you have a hard time finding the location of the Meetup, you are probably not the only one. Just briefly mention to the organizers when you eventually arrive that the place is not that easy to find. In this way they can make sure that they give better directions for other people still coming and they can make accommodations for future meetings. Also make sure that you have your smartphone charged with you in case you get lost, Google Maps is your friend.
But … I will be the only woman there!
This is a reason that might be holding back a lot of women unfortunately and will eventually become a self fulfilling prophecy. You actually might be surprised about how many technical meetups have at least one woman in their organizing team. In these Meetups you never need to feel alone as a woman. Also, by going to such a Meetup, you are supporting them.
But also don’t be scared if you are going to a Meetup where you might be the only woman, the men will be really happy that you are going and will be really friendly and welcoming. Imagine the power that you have in this case, just by you attending, you enable gender diversity in the group.
Another approach might be to send a message to one of the women in tech initiatives in your area and ask whether there is anyone who wants to join you to a certain meetup. In this case you can convince other women to join who were struggling with the same objection.
Fast forward a few months …
I am convinced, I went, loved the meetup, can I give a talk myself?
Congratulations! You certainly can give a talk at your favorite Meetup. Let the organizers know and they will give you a time slot. Good luck with your talk.