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User Group Malaise?

What are you seeing as far as user group activity in your area?

Read an interesting article about the .NET Developer Association user group in Redmond, Washington. You would think that the user group in Microsoft's backyard (the meetings are held at Microsoft's offices) wouldn't have any problems lining up guest speakers and drawing a crowd. Well, it looks like they do because they've had to cancel several recent meetings and have proposed taking a six-month break to try to determine how to revitalize the group.[1]

It had me wondering why such a group would have difficulty holding meetings. Of course, the issue may be specific to that particular group. I don't know enough about the group to judge that. However, assuming that is not the case, the most likely causes would either be (a) a malaise setting in for .NET groups in particular or (b) a lack of interest in software developer tool user group meetings in general. It wouldn't seem to be an issue with the demand for .NET developers. According to data from indeed.com, it doesn't look like the demand for them (at least of the C# variety) is diminishing.[2]

Which of those might be the cause should be of interest to us as PowerBuilder developers. PowerBuilder has always been closely aligned to Microsoft's ups and downs. Obviously, as a Windows application development tool, the health of Windows in general has always been a factor in PowerBuilder's success. Recent versions of PowerBuilder have also closely aligned PowerBuilder with .NET, so that the health of the .NET environment is now also a factor in PowerBuilder's success. If the problems with the Redmond .NET Developer Association represent a malaise in the .NET development environment, then we could be affected as well.

One possible issue if the problem is malaise in the development community was the recent apparent downplaying of .NET as a development tool for Windows in the upcoming Windows 8 release, to the degree that one columnist recently asked "Is .NET really such rubbish?"[3] Microsoft's poor communication about the future of.NET, particularly with regard to Silverlight, may have disheartened .NET developers. They could be asking themselves: "Why continue to invest time and effort staying up to date with a technology that is headed out the door? Wouldn't it be better to start learning the new tools?"

Something similar seems to be going on within the Adobe Flex development community, which has experienced their own rather dramatic open sourcing of their product by the vendor. In response to the poor way the communication about the future of that development tool was handled, Adobe is conducting a user group tour, starting in North America.[4] What's interesting to note is that at least in my area (Los Angeles) the two user groups that they are supposed to be working with for the tour seem unaware of the event. As of this writing, neither lists the tour, nor does the user group in Dallas. It's also worth noting that one of the Los Angeles groups and the Seattle groups have rebranded themselves as ‘enterprise UI' or ‘web development' groups rather than Flex groups.

The .NET development community at least doesn't appear to have that much malaise going on. The other option though may be just a diminishing interest in user groups in general. User groups and online forums were popular when that was about the only way to keep up-to-date with technology changes. Today, though, the presentations that are normally done in a typical user group meeting can be done almost as well through webcasts or virtual user group meetings. Certainly, involvement in online forums seems to be diminishing rapidly. Back when these avenues were popular, people trying to resolve a technical problem or trying to find the best method of implementing a technology might post a question in an online forum or raise it at a user group meeting. Nowadays it's much simpler to simply conduct an online search based on key terms, and you'll very often find the answer immediately. In addition to presentations and problem solving, user groups offered networking opportunities. However, developer tool focused groups on social media sites like Facebook and Linked In provide much the same networking opportunities.

I'm afraid I don't have any answer, just more questions. What are you seeing as far as user group activity in your area? Are you involved in a user group or interested in becoming involved? If not, why not? Are the online resources enough to meet your needs? Or do you no longer feel the need to continue to keep current on the latest developments particular technological areas (e.g., .NET)? If you've considered researching some of the new technologies (e.g., HTML5), how are you planning to start learning them, if not through user groups?

References:

  1. http://www.geekwire.com/2012/flagship-net-developer-association-considers-break-citing-general-malaise-community
  2. http://www.indeed.com/jobtrends?q=C%23&l=&relative=1
  3. http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/blog/2012/feb/17/winrt-windows-8-microsoft-programming?newsfeed=true
  4. http://blogs.adobe.com/flex/2012/01/announcing-flex-user-group-2012-tour-north-america-dates.html

More Stories By Bruce Armstrong

Bruce Armstrong is a development lead with Integrated Data Services (www.get-integrated.com). A charter member of TeamSybase, he has been using PowerBuilder since version 1.0.B. He was a contributing author to SYS-CON's PowerBuilder 4.0 Secrets of the Masters and the editor of SAMs' PowerBuilder 9: Advanced Client/Server Development.

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Most Recent Comments
mark.maslow 03/28/12 03:17:00 PM EDT

The San Francisco Java User Group is doing just fine. They put on 1 or 2 meetings per month, and often have over 100 attendees plus a waiting list.

I wonder if the situation you are seeing with MS is a reflection of a move away from proprietary development tools.

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