A little less than a year ago, the Sherpa and I started thinking.
I know, dangerous stuff. I promise it didn't last long.
But during that brief moment we mused that we were spending a LOT of time driving to Portland to attend PDXCFUG (now known as PDXRIA) group meetings. When I lived in Salem I attended CFUG (Coldfusion user group) meetings off and on. Now that I was back in web development, and for once full time, I enjoyed the meetings for both their informational and social/networking opportunities.
Now, during the summer it's nothing to leave around 3pm and enjoy a leisurely, often sunny drive from Bend to the big city. And to make it worth our while, we spent some time visiting our favorite Portland restaurants... which sometimes made for a very late night drive home.
But winter was on the way. And at times it's bad enough driving over the pass during the shortening daylight hours, let alone in the dead of night.
So we asked that question: "Why isn't there anything like that in Bend?"
I looked around and didn't find any established groups of people in our field. But from working at other organizations in Central Oregon, and reading Bend Blogs I knew that we weren't the only web geeks in Bend - though we might have been the only Coldfusion-slinging, Adobe-kool-aid-drinking ones.
And we weren't!
Our first meeting was in October 2006. We didn't have a presenter but we did have a meeting room and food. Things started slowly, and during the following months folks started to come out of the woodwork. Developers, bloggers, C++ engineers and graphic artists - we welcome each and every one. The membership has grown and evolved. Many of our members are small business owners. There are many hardcore developer types who like to talk about Ruby, Coldfusion, and Flex - but not all of us do. Heck, we even let a .NET guy come to the meetings (in fact, I think we have him convinced to present at the September meeting). One member is a potter and printer by trade, but runs his own website and just seems to think we are fun to hang out with.
And we are! (Just check out that wild party picture. Aren't you jealous now?)
Yeah, at the end of the day we are a bunch of geeks.
But we are a bunch of geeks that care about one another and (to some degree) seem to want to watch out for one another. We are a bunch of geeks that are paying close attention to the ups and downs of doing business in Bend. We are a bunch of geeks that like good food, good beer and good wine.
While we don't have the lofty and admirable aspirations of BendTech (you go, Matt!) hopefully we are filling a niche. Members seem (mostly) happy with how things are going. And if they aren't - I am not shy about recommending they lend a hand for the good of the group. ;)
I have learned some things along the way too:
1. Geeks are girls. There are growing numbers of women in this line of work. Yea!
2. Geeks like food. Good food. Pizza, meh! Maybe it's because we are in Bend, but our geeks definitely have a refined palate.
3. Geeks like prizes. It can be a coffee mug donated by a member, an O'Reilly book, or a pair of goofy effectiveUI boxers. It don't matter.
4. Geeks travel a long ways to meet other geeks. You already know that the sherpa and I drove to Portland. Well, some of those Portlanders drove to Bend to be guest presenters. (Thanks, Sim and Nat!!!) Several of our members make the trip to Bend from Sunriver. A lot of us travel to exotic locations like San Jose, CA ... just to hang out with other geeks.
And that's just the beginning
As COWPU matures, expectations are rising. Personally, I don't need a large membership to feel like the group is successful. I would rather have a core of folks of any size that will show up at meetings than 100 people "interested" that never come to meetings. Because to me, that's not what a usergroup is about. As it stands right now we have achieved a small "core" - six or seven members have been to most, if not all, of the meetings. And that "core" is growing.
In short, we aren't going anywhere. People have asked if BendTech, WoTech, or SAO will "take over" COWPU. I don't think so. I welcome the diversity and think that Bend and Central Oregon deserve to have a number of networking choices. I am in touch with the managers of other local organizations and we all seem to feel that way. Everyone agrees that we need to work together to demonstrate that this region has the talent and the desire to be a place where technology-oriented companies can be successful.
Find out more about COWPU
Disclaimer: yes, I manage this motley group. So why didn't I post this on the official site? Because this is also a very personal subject for me so I feel that it belongs on my personal blog.
That... and I just really wanted to post that pic of Tom, Owen, and the Sherpa geeking out with their Crackberries or iPhone or whatever, Twittering at the BBQ.
That is so. classic. geek. :)