San Francisco Perl Mongers: 12 months, 50% growth

A Timeline

On June 21st, 2013, Fred Moyer asked whether I’d like to discuss becoming a co-organizer for San Francisco Perl Mongers. On July 5th it was made official. Earlier this year I was promoted to primary organizer, Fred stepping aside to focus on some real life matters (though he still very much loves and is involved with SF.pm).

SF.pm: One Year In

Therefore this marks, more or less, my one year anniversary of SF.pm organizing. That seems as good as any reason for a recap. So, what’s happened in the past year?

  • We’ve held ten events.
  • We’ve been honored to host 16 different speakers (thank you, Lightning Talks, for bumping that number 😉 ).
  • We’ve added five new sponsors. (though we’re always on the lookout for more!)
  • We’ve started recording all events and making them available in our SF.pm collection on Internet Archive. (a post about how we do this is in the pipeline)
  • We’ve added 208 members, going from 394 members to 602.

That one bears repeating: San Francisco Perl Mongers has increased its membership by over 200 people in a single year.

What gives? How’d we do it?

First of all, let me be very clear: I don’t believe for a moment that these are 602 engaged members. Many are lurkers. But they’re lurkers who took the initiative to sign up and who receive our messages about Perl and its community. It’s 208 more people seeing those messages than were before, which—engaged or not—is a win in my book.

Also, another thing to get clear: I did not do this alone. While I am now the primary organizer of SF.pm I am by no means the only organizer. Fred, Joe Brenner, and Jeff Thalhammer deserve equal share in the credit.

Now, how’d we pull off this feat? As you’d expect, it was a multi-faceted approach:

  • Flexible scheduling. After Fred asked me to lend a hand, I started meeting with some local Mongers to get some feedback on where SF.pm has been and where they’d like to see it go. A lot of them said they were no longer attending because there were too many other meetups which landed on the usual SF.pm meeting night. So I scrapped the set “last Tuesday of the month” date in favor of a monthly event which would float to wherever it worked best that month. This allowed for a more diverse pool of potential attendees. Rather than just seeing the same faces each time, we now were seeing people who hadn’t been able to attend either ever or for several months at a time. As well, having a flexible meeting date made it easier to mesh our schedule with that of potential speakers.
  • Diverse content. How many of you work with Perl and only Perl, no other technology? No Javascript, no ops, no continuous integration framework, just Perl? Bloody well none of you, I’d wager. So why was our SF.pm content 100% focused on Perl? We’ve changed that. We still feature Perl in some way in almost every event but often the primary focus of an event has been expanded to “of interest to the SF.pm community.” Some of our most popular events in the past year have been about Data Science, MongoDB, and Docker.
  • Cooperation and collaboration with other communities. Our content is great, our community is amazing. Why should we keep these things to ourselves when others can benefit? Therefore in the past year we’ve been cross-posting many of our events with several other local tech community user groups. We’re Perl, so there’s more than one way to do it. That includes choice of language, so we’ve been thrilled to welcome new members coming in from the local Ruby and Python communities. The additional perspectives help enhance the experience for everyone and we’re very grateful for it. Special kudos go out to SF Ruby, who’ve been particularly welcoming of messages coming in from an external group. The SF Ruby gang really groks that we’re all stronger together than apart and that great learning opportunities can come from anywhere.

Someone else who groks this: John Anderson, aka genehack. I was really thrilled, when watching his YAPC::NA 2014 keynote, to hear him espousing many of the same steps which we at SF.pm were already taking. If you watched that talk and thought he was smoking mad crack, I’m here to tell ya: OK, maybe he was, but his suggestions work and we’re proof of it. Thank you, John. You’re my kind of crazy.

SF.pm: The Future

This post is already taking longer to write than I’d hoped, so I’ll try to wrap it up quickly. What’s next for SF.pm? What will the next year look like?

Right now there are no official plans, but here are some of the things I have rolling around in my head:

  • Update the website. The SF.pm website is…yeah. It’s dated. The only thing standing between us and a nice, clean, Bootstrap-y site on GitHub Pages is me carving out half a day to futz with the thing. It needs to happen, and it’s firmly on my radar. Perhaps I’ll stockpile a lot of round tuits at OSCON this year and use them for this purpose. 🙂
  • Engage more of the membership. We have 602 members, but they don’t really communicate that much. I’d love to get them talking a bit more, both among themselves as well as in front of the group. 602 people represents a vast amount of knowledge and I’d love to tap it so they can share their experiences with everyone.
  • Develop some sort of newbie program. Back in January 2013 I griped that SF.pm (and Perl in general) needs better outreach for newbies. I still stand by that statement. Another way I’d like to engage that burgeoning membership is to get their assistance to develop some sort of program to introduce more people to programming in general and Perl in specific. This is definitely a place where I won’t be able to go it alone.
  • Strengthen and increase collaboration with other communities. That assistance for knowledge sharing and new programmer development doesn’t necessarily have to come from our membership exclusively. When learning the fundamentals of programming (loops, functions, MVC, etc.), it doesn’t really matter which language you use. The concepts are easily applied anywhere. As well, other communities have a lot more experience organizing things like hackathons and workshops than I do. I’d love to collaborate with them to help the entire SF tech community expand their horizons.

Those are a few of the ideas I’m having. Maybe they’ll happen. Maybe they won’t but others will. Hey, that’s cool. All I know is that thanks to its amazing members SF.pm will continue to be a strong and growing community for years to come.

2 Replies to “San Francisco Perl Mongers: 12 months, 50% growth”

  1. The first thing I thought when I read your section on flexible dates was, that sounds like a great idea … as long as I’m not the one who has to figure out when the meeting is every month. ;->

    I would really love to see a post about the process of working out when the date is going to be every month, making sure it’s picked in time for everyone to make plans around it, getting the words out to everyone, etc. That whole process is sort of mundane on the one hand, but so vital to get right for that concept to work that I’m sure you must have come up with tricks and insights, and I can’t help but believe those would be valuable to other struggling PM groups.

    1. Tee hee…”process.” That’s cute. 🙂

      There really is no process for picking the date beyond:

      1. When is the speaker available?
      2. Can I find a room for that date? If not, GOTO 1.

      That’s really all there is to it, but I’m interested in others’ experiences with scheduling. It could be I’ve over-simplified?

      Regardless, this approach seems to work for us for now.

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