Farewell RockNUG!

Last week was the final monthly meeting of the Rockville .NET User Group (aka RockNUG) after a seven-year run. I greatly appreciate the leadership of Dean Fiala. It takes a lot of effort to find sponsors, meeting locations, and speakers consistently, and he always came through. Fortunately, the name and domain will live on for future use in special events (like another Robocode programming contest).

Being part of this group made an important impact on my career as a software developer in the DC metropolitan area. I learned a ton from the different keynote speakers over the years. The n00b talk portion of each monthly meeting gave me opportunities to present shorter talks of my own. In these, I learned a lot from the research needed to give a good presentation and from the audience who received it (through their questions and other information they volunteered). I’ve met a number of friends in the industry through this group, and even recruited one of them to join me at my current employer.

A lot has changed since RockNUG first started. For one thing, there are far more user groups now than there were 7 years ago. This means a lot more competition to find speakers. The other change has been in web development on the Microsoft stack–it requires fewer Microsoft-exclusive technologies today than in the past. The increasing popularity of web applications and the success of frameworks like Ruby on Rails, jQuery, node.js, knockout.js (as well as languages like JavaScript) has broadened what those of us working in Microsoft shops need to know in order to be successful. So very few of the talks over the past couple of years have had a .NET-specific focus. Finally, there is a lot of great learning material available on the web now. Between companies like Pluralsight, WintellectNOW, and conferences that post their keynote presentations online, there are a wealth of learning opportunities for developers that don’t even require them to leave their desk.

None of these online options can replace the in-person interaction, networking and opportunities to build friendships that a user group like RockNUG can provide. So even though RockNUG has come to an end, I still believe in user groups. I’ll be on the lookout for groups just like it (or perhaps even create one).