The Tech Meetups Guide: How to Find, Join, or Start a Meetup
If you want to jump into the tech meetup scene, this is the article to read!
We created a comprehensive guide to tech meetups. Not only do we share how to find and join tech meetups, but we also share tips to help you feel confident at your first meetup. Plus, we detail the step-by-step process for how you can organize your own meetup events!
Read on to learn more.
What does a tech meetup look like?
Tech meetups are events where like-minded people in tech can connect, learn new skills, and hear from experts and speakers. A tech meetup could be geared around a variety of topics, including software development, programming languages, blockchain, VR, or AI.
Tech meetups exist worldwide and can take place online or in-person. Depending on the group dynamic, expected attendance, and community activity, tech meetups typically organize an event once a month, if not more frequently.
During a meetup, there's typically time to socialize and network with other attendees. The event itself might include a PowerPoint-driven technical session or keynote speaker. Sometimes meetups offer workshops to get more hands-on, or they may consist of a few short talks where multiple people share key insights.
Why join one?
Learning a new skill or programming language is hard. Breaking into a career in tech is hard. Keeping up with trends can also be a struggle with the pace of the industry.
Whether you are looking to enter the tech industry, you're an industry expert wanting to share research and insights, or you simply want to dive deep into the "techie" rabbit hole on a topic, tech meetups provide tons of opportunities for community and personal development.
Tech meetups make learning easier and offer everyone a leg up at work and in their careers. Meetups are great spaces to learn more - sometimes in unexpected ways.
"I recently heard Maria Gutierrez speak about remote working at an event I only attended to keep a friend company. To my surprise, I came away inspired and impressed by both her passion and methods.
There were even new takeaways for me, and I’m someone who works with remote colleagues. So there certainly would have been a lot of info for those who have only ever been co-located."
For those new to the industry, tech meetups can also be ideal for getting brought up to speed on foundational terminology and processes.
Meetups are also great for those in non-tech careers to orient themselves in the tech landscape. For example, teachers might join meetups to explore edtech solutions, or a non-tech product manager may attend to dig deeper into the fundamentals of UX/UI.
For established experts in the tech world, tech meetups are a way to give back. Plus, the best way to master a subject is by teaching others. Whether a person is two steps or ten steps ahead in a subject, they can be a resource to someone who's looking for insight and answers.
Mentorship can be extremely valuable to both the mentor and mentee, and might look like connecting and comparing notes, or being a speaker for an event. Longer-term mentorship relationships can also form out of a casual interaction at a meetup.
Networking and connections
Face-to-face time is key, and tech meetups can lead to some amazing opportunities. Meetups are a great way to find job opportunities that haven't been posted yet, or start conversations before the need for a new job or career transition ever happens.
Plus, the ability to talk with someone in a future role of interest is the best resource for getting an idea of what a "day in the life" looks like. Interesting and unconventional career paths may also reveal themselves as you meet and interact with techies from different walks of life.
This reason is a little less important but worth mentioning here. Larger tech meetups typically offer food and drink options for attendees, which makes the event that much more enjoyable.
That doesn't mean that large, in-person meetups are the only events worth attending. But since delicious catered food is certainly a bonus, you may notice that it draws a lot of attendees.
Regardless of the food situation, it's important to attend events that are right for you. Let's explore the different types of meetups a little further!
What meetups should you join?
There are many tech meetups out there, and it can feel overwhelming in trying to figure out where to jump in.
What meetups should you focus on attending?
Before searching for tech meetups, it's important to decide what type of meetup theme is the best personal fit. There are several themes to consider.
- Tech meetups can be themed around companies or code schools like Google Cloud or CodeStack.
- They can also be themed around a particular programming language like C++, or a framework like Ruby on Rails.
- Meetups can be based on certain job disciplines, like data science, engineering, and DevOps.
- The focus might be connecting with a certain demographic, such as women in tech. For example, Women Who Code has 81 meetup groups worldwide.
- Picking a meetup might come down to picking an area of interest in the tech industry. This could be web development, robotics, automation, blockchain, or game development.
- Finally, meetups can be focused on the "techie" side of things, or lean on the business side of things. While going to a purely tech-focused meetup can be great for a developer, business meetups or broader startup meetups can offer connections for freelancing, finding jobs, or even insights that benefit product development.
Where to find tech meetups
Now you have an idea of available tech meetups.
How do you find and join an event?
First, don't be surprised if it's a little tricky finding an active group for in-person events. In a post-COVID world, tech meetups are slowly ramping up in activity. Many groups are finally coming back after putting things on pause for the last few years.
According to a meetup survey run by Technical.ly, 80% of tech meetup groups switched to holding virtual events during the pandemic, while 25% of groups pressed pause altogether.
As we enter the final quarter of 2022, in-person meetups are on the rise again. However, for those who live in a smaller city with few to no meetup options, don't worry! Virtual meetups are still offered and are still a great way to get involved.
Now it's time to find a meetup! Here are some easy ways to find meetup events near you.
As the name implies, Meetup.com is extremely popular for finding local meetups (tech or otherwise) This is the go-to platform for seeking out tech meetups. Just search your city, or the nearest large city, to find nearby meetups.
For example, if you're in New York, you might be interested in the 60,000+ member NY Tech meetup.
Here are a few groups to give more insight into tech meetup themes and communities worldwide:
Australia: Melbourne Ruby
Washington: Seattle C++ Meetup
Texas: Austin Diversity in Tech Meetup
South Carolina: Charleston Women in Tech
Austria: Google Cloud Meetup Vienna
Oregon: Portland Data Science Group
Illinois: DevOps Chicago
Joining these groups requires creating a profile on Meetup.com. From there, it's easy to search for and join groups, see group affiliations, and view upcoming and past event attendance.
The other bonus of Meetup is that, following an event, you can easily look up the names of those that attended (that otherwise might have slipped your mind).
Searching for meetups on Twitter can be a great way to get connected with meetup groups and interact with existing community members and organizers.
Many organizers share their upcoming events via Twitter, and sometimes you can get an idea of a presenter's work before the meetup just by scrolling their tweets. Twitter is also be a great way to connect virtually with other attendees before (and after) the event.
Techstars Startup Digest
While primarily focused on startups, these carefully curated newsletters do include a few meetups and events.
The digests are organized by city and tech focus. For example, newsletters are focused on topics like food tech, virtual and augmented reality, the internet of things (IoT), or climate tech.
Tech Meetups is a global tech community that has been around for the last 10 years. Their membership includes folks from over 1,200 companies and 65,000 students, graduates, developers, coders, and non-tech professionals worldwide.
Their specialty is tech meetup career events and job fairs, both online and in many cities, including London, Frankfurt, Dublin, Madrid, Paris, New York, and many more.
Their online events appear to typically offer free registration. In-person events are free for students who present a student ID, and those seeking employment opportunities (who don't elect to purchase a VIP ticket to bypass the registration process).
Gary's Guide shares meetup and event details on its website and weekly tech events newsletter. While it has sections dedicated to events based in the New York City and San Francisco Bay Area tech scene, anyone can register for their online events.
Event details are broken down by week and include free and paid meetups, events, and course opportunities.
Joining meetups and events is as simple as clicking on the event listing and hitting the "Register" button. From there, follow the steps for that particular event to sign up and join.
A quick search of "tech meetups near me" will return several meetup options in the local area.
Meetups associated with organizations, universities, and groups independent of Meetup.com can also be found this way.
If you're not having luck finding a tech meetup, don't be afraid to ask others in the tech community about groups they recommend. Local libraries can also offer recommendations, especially for beginners to the tech meetup scene.
Finally, for those who are feeling up for the challenge. There's always the option to start a new meetup yourself (we dive into this more later).
Now, let's jump into preparing for your first meetup!
Tips to enjoy your first tech meetup (even as an introvert)
Tech meetups can feel overwhelming, especially for job seekers or anyone nervous about meeting new people.
Here are a couple of simple tips to ace the experience and look like a meetup pro!
Before the event
- Take time to prepare by researching the group and attendees. Reach out to an attendee or the host to ask about what to expect for the meetup. Most individuals will be open to sharing advice and potentially facilitating a few introductions on the day of the event.
- For tech meetup events on Meetup.com, registrants can message event attendees. Don't be afraid to introduce yourself to others in the group.
- If a job opportunity is the main goal, do some interview preparation beforehand. Research common questions for the role to feel confident in any conversation.
- If you're feeling nervous, it can be helpful to bring a friend or colleague. However, Jackson Bates, the CTO of Grace Papers, recommends preparing to "act alone". Whether you bring a friend along or not, he shares that it's easier to meet people and be approached when networking solo. Split up and take time to walk around the event by yourself!
During the meetup
- If you're feeling alone, chances are someone else is as well. Be the one to start conversations. If someone nearby is standing alone, that's a perfect opportunity to walk over and exchange introductions. Chances are likely that the other person will be very grateful for the low-pressure connection, and they will remember you for it!
- If you're part of a group, Jackson strongly recommends observing the Pac-Man Rule. This is a concept coined by Eric Holscher, cofounder of Read the Docs. When talking in groups at events, keep the group circle open by including a small gap. This makes the group more welcoming to people who might want to walk up and be part of the conversation.
- Keep a couple of questions in mind to start and continue conversations. A couple of questions to ask might include the following:
- What projects are you working on?
- What brings you to the meetup? Are they here for work or is this related to their hobby?
- What tech stack do you use?
- Invite people to connect on LinkedIn to stay in touch. This is a great way to continue conversations. For local meetups, make it a point during the conversation to schedule a follow-up meeting or coffee chat.
- Send a message in the few days after thanking those you met during the meetup. Meetup.com allows you to send a DM to attendees of an event. Otherwise, connect and reach out if you have not already on LinkedIn or Twitter.
- Take advantage of your forward momentum by diving further into the tech meetup scene. Look at all the tech meetups you can attend next!
How to organize a tech meetup
Maybe you don't have many active options in your local area for tech meetups, or maybe you have an itch to start your own.
Here's a step-by-step process to organizing your first meetup!
1. Do early research
Before forming a meetup group, it's key to do some research. As you do research, take time to note down some of the existing local meetups and their organizers.
- Does the meetup you have in mind already exist?
- What is demand like for your meetup concept?
2. Create the vision
Next, it's time to outline what the meetup will look like. This involves considering the following:
Goals: Is the meetup about learning and sharing information? Is the event meant to help people network?
Attendees: Who is an ideal attendee? What motivates them to attend the meetup?
Format: Will meetups be held in person or online? Will there be workshops and lightning talks, or is the event more like a networking happy hour?
Cadence: Every meetup involves logistics and planning surrounding the venue, food, and other areas of setup. A solid rule of thumb for planning is 6 weeks. Bearing this in mind, will the meetup occur monthly, biweekly, weekly, or another alternative schedule?
Topics: Consider what people want to learn about at the event. Are they there to build foundational skills or discover new trends and solutions?
Engagement: You want to create a memorable, welcoming, and fun experience. Do you want to provide helpful introductions for "newbies", offer swag, or feature a giveaway for active participants during workshops or talks?
3. Gather advice
Now it's time to return to your prior research on other local tech meetups. Reach out to the organizers for these groups and see if they might be open to sharing advice, and giving feedback on your ideas.
When asking questions (in-person or via email) consider the following:
- Which local venues or companies offer space for meetup events?
- What costs are typically involved with hosting a tech meetup? (Venue, food, etc.)
- How are their events formatted? What's the agenda?
- Which events, topics, or activities have been popular with their attendees?
- What lessons have they learned along the way?
4. Choose the format
As mentioned above, one of the considerations is the format of the meetup. Bear in mind that a single format doesn't have to apply to all meetups. Changing the meetup format helps to keep attendees interested and engaged.
Workshops: These are highly engaging sessions where individuals can be hands-on. This often requires attendees to come prepared with items like devices and materials to take notes, plus a desire to do the work.
Talks: A speaker shares in-depth information on a dedicated topic. Typically this is followed by a Q&A session.
Panels: This approach allows for multiple perspectives to be shared on a given topic. A panel discussion can include prepared moderator questions or allow for on-the-spot audience questions.
Lightning Talks: Rather than a comprehensive presentation, these are 5-15 minute talks that focus on a few key points. Lightning talks can be given by a variety of speakers and can even take place back to back. Lightning talks are also a chance to promote more interactivity by inviting audience members to speak and share their work.
5. Find speakers
Now that there's an idea of the format, it's time to find some inspirational and engaging speakers!
This may take some time, especially when considering schedules. The ideal subject matter experts might be busy and hard to book. Booking speakers also becomes tricky when planning regular meetups and finding enough speakers for each event.
Given the time constraints, it's good to consider this step well in advance of a meetup. Anywhere from several weeks to a couple of months of advanced planning is useful for building a backlog of available speakers.
Finding speakers might involve reaching out to local companies and schools and connecting with current and previous work colleagues.
Once you have an idea of speakers, plan to dedicate some time to talk through topic selection. If possible, schedule a brief rehearsal meeting before the meetup. Be sure to discuss technology requirements to make sure the talk goes off without a hitch.
6. Choose a location and plan for food
Armed with advice, a vision, and speakers for the meetup, it's time to start planning out the finer logistics.
Picking a location comes down to finding a place that can handle a decent number of people, is easy to find and navigate, and can support the technological needs of the event (projector, etc.). Bonus points if the location will sponsor food and drinks, and has decent parking.
This is where having the inside scoop from other organizers can be great in learning which locations they use or ones they recommend from experience.
Otherwise, reach out to local companies and see if they are interested in hosting the event. Other options include meeting rooms in libraries, co-working spaces, and hotels.
Regarding food, it's also possible to secure food sponsors, though this is likely to happen with meetup groups that are more established.
7. Spread the word
It's time to market your meetup for the big day!
An important tip when sharing the event is to have an agenda put together. Note the topics shared, include titles of the talk and the time they'll take place, speaker information, and any info on the venue and sponsors.
Consider partnering with other local tech meetup organizers to share your event details. See what options there might be for cross-promoting meetup events.
Harness social media. Share the meetup on places like Twitter, Facebook, Telegram, and Discord. Create posts sharing a signup form or driving people to a Meetup.com page. Post about the meetup event in forums and social media channels where you originally conducted your research on the potential demand for the meetup.
Additionally, if you can offer free food to attendees, this also sweetens the deal and helps spread the word!
One thing to note for marketing future meetups is that Meetup.com will share newsletters and notifications to group members and attendees. This can be useful for building a recurring attendee list and keeping active members informed.
8. The big day
Make it a point to arrive early. Review the event setup and make sure to test the equipment beforehand.
Even with all the proper preparation, things do happen. Be prepared to get creative and improvise on the spot. For example, if a speaker can't make it last minute, see if audience members want to give a lightning talk. If there are technical issues with a presentation, see if the speaker is willing to do a Q&A session during troubleshooting.
9. After the event
Gathering feedback and measuring success is the final step on the list.
Time to reflect! How many people were in attendance? How long did people stay after the main activities? How did people participate?
Send out forms (Google, Reform, etc.) to get feedback from attendees. Gather suggestions on the format for the next meetup or future topics to cover. Ask about people's thoughts and comments about the event. What went well? What didn't? Where can things be improved?
Whether positive, negative, or constructive, all feedback goes toward creating successful future meetups.
As mentioned before, tech meetups are returning and building back their communities after several years of being on pause or organizing online meetings.
A key consideration moving forward for both tech meetup attendees and organizers, is how the lessons learned from the pandemic will shape the future of the tech meetup community.
One point is whether the rise and persistence of Web3 communities during the pandemic could offer some insight into building stronger, and more engaged relationships in the world of tech.
In such communities, there are multiple attributes:
- Having a shared vision and future "roadmap"
- Inviting two-way discussion and promoting active communication
- Allowing members the ability to help dictate the focus and direction of the community
- Partnering with organizations and brands to connect to a wider ecosystem and create an impact
On this note, several tech meetup groups have pivoted during the pandemic to build partnerships and create new points of connection and support during transformative times.
For example, Code for Philly went virtual and dug into hosting hackathon events for PHLASK, their ecosystem for finding and sharing life-sustaining resources in the Philadelphia area. In light of protests and BLM events, they have also partnered with the Philadelphia Bail Fund and Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity. They also aim to help those in underrepresented groups gain access to more paid work experiences in tech.
The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) pivoted to a virtual approach after its main meetup venue shut down. This allowed the group to jump into a new way of connecting with members that they had wanted to experiment with for some time. Since March 2020, they have been able to hold monthly virtual meetings. In the future, they look forward to holding both in-person and virtual events.
That leads to the next point. Going forward, is there an optimal balance when it comes to remote versus in-person meetups?
Doug Meil is a portfolio architect and the founder of the Cleveland Big Data User Group meetup. Since its start in 2010, the community has grown to over 3,600 members. He shares a few insights from meetup management during the pandemic, and his take on a new hybrid model.
During the pandemic, Doug switched to online events. He noticed that attendance dropped substantially when compared to in-person events, even though online events were far more accessible.
He chalks this up to Zoom fatigue, and attendees missing the organic networking potential. He believes most people missed the ease of connecting face-to-face, versus attending a virtual event.
"Face to face is where the deepest trust is built, not just in the resulting decisions but in mindset and thought process."
Prior to the pandemic, he had considered the idea of remote gatherings but had reservations based on the challenges of missing certain key ingredients in live talks and presentations.
"My favorite meetup presentations are when the average nerd gets a chance to present something they had been playing with or researching, or giving a demo of something they were coding a few hours (or minutes) before the meetup.
When these types of presentations occur in an In-Person meetup, there is context and the presenter is understood to be curious and brave. If that same presentation is seen later on a recording and out of context, it could come across as unprepared and perhaps slapdash."
He shares how larger group gatherings impacted the quality of the online meetup conversation during the pandemic:
"Video frameworks like Zoom can be incredibly useful, but are best used as an augmentation of real-world relationships.
Once an online meeting gets above 5-10 or so, it effectively turns into a one-way presentation and not a discussion, and there aren't any opportunities for serendipitous breakout conversations."
All said and done, Doug looks ahead to a hybrid future of meetups, and believes there can be a "best of both worlds" approach:
"As a meetup organizer, I am going to try my best to support a hybrid environment as soon as is reasonably practical and support the best attributes of remote and in-person meetings. I encourage other technical leaders and engagement organizers in the industry to do the same.
I don't know what will happen in the future, but technical communities and relationships are worth fighting for."