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I was stuck in Florida for an extra 4 days due to hurricane Frances. The speaker that night was another first timer, Dave McMahon – the lord moves in mysterious ways.
Richard Costall
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NxtGenUG Article
Richard Costall Friday, January 21, 2011
It recently occurred to Richard Costall he'd been running user group meetings for over 10 years. Richard reflects on some of the highlights.
The Article 
10 years in the saddle

It recently occurred to me that I’d been running user group meetings for over 10 years. It all started back in 2000, when after attending a VBUG Annual Conference, I got speaking with Graham Parker, owner of VBUG. When I asked about a local VBUG region in my area, he suggested I start one. So that’s what I did.

My first meeting had just 8 attendees. That night I took on the role of Speaker as well as Coordinator and presented a session on XML/XSLT and XPATH. That was actually my first venture into speaking, and a step I’m glad I took

Looking back over the 10 years, I think I only ever missed one meeting. I remember ringing John Price to tell him I wouldn’t be able to make a meeting in 2004, as I was stuck in Florida for an extra 4 days due to hurricane Frances. The speaker that night was another first timer, Dave McMahon – the lord moves in mysterious ways.

Dave, John and I had formed a strong bond, whenever we were together we’d be coming up with all sorts of ideas, some quite bizarre. One of these ideas was for a not-for-profit User Group across the UK, called the Next Generation User Group, NxtGenUG as we’ve come to know it as. The name was important as it had to be timeless.

We spent a couple of months of our evenings and weekends, planning, and then building the site, most of the development was done in my car whilst watching my son playing football. The site has played a crucial role in NxtGenUG’s success as a group, even though it’s a bit long in the tooth now.

All of this culminated in the Coventry NxtGenUG Launch meeting on the 15th May 2006, featuring, Speaker and Author, Dave Sussman. This was followed a week later by the Birmingham NxtGenUG Launch ran by Dave McMahon, and featuring a Code Access Security talk by Chris Seary. The feedback from these events confirmed that we were doing the right thing. You can read them for yourselves here…

Coventry Launch Meeting – May 15th 2006
Birmingham Launch Meeting May 22nd 2006

Over the next few years, we bumped into some amazing likeminded individuals and inevitably new regions started to appear. Oxford, Cambridge, Southampton, Hereford and Manchester all became part of the NxtGenUG franchise and the groups profile grew.

Which is your favourite meeting?
There’s been so many meetings, this is a tough one to answer. The Pinata night, with UK Games Company Rare was a lot of fun and featured Dave and John dressed as Mexicans. The night in an Airplane on Coventry airfield, where it was -2, was very memorable. Channel9 turned up to see what we were doing. You can see the videos on YouTube. One of which is below

The Vista Launch was memorable too, with each presenter begging for toy money on their favourite feature of Vista, Office and Exchange. I was clearly in the lead that night, till Dave stepped up with the ReadyBoost song – fantastic.

Here’s a write up of the event
Write Up for Vista, Office and Exchange Launch

Here’s the ReadyBoost Song

But, I have to pick a winner, and I think we have to go back to 2005, and our VBUG Visual Studio 2005 launch meeting. It brought together everything that Dave, John and I were about. We’d been provided with a load of Slides and labs from INETA to hold a launch event, but we decided to hold a ‘best feature’ competition. Each attendee had a voting slip to record points awarded from 10 down to 1. We’d got a load of people to present sessions, in person, or via video, including Microsoft Employees in Redmond. Mike Taulty’s video on Code Snippets, done in the style of a car salesman, was the clear winner, such a genius that guy!

We’d also got video messages at the start of the evening from Don Box, Scott Guthrie, and one from Steve Ballmer himself. “Greetings Richard and VBUG Coventry, Sorry I can’t be there. You guys have a great VS2005, and SQL 2005 Launch Party”. The expression on the attendee’s faces when I played that video was priceless! Many thanks to Steve for doing that as well, he could have ignored the email request completely.

Here’s a link to the write up of the event, including pictures of the Themed Cakes, a list of the SWAG we gave away that night, and also a run-down of the top five features. (Note My WebParts feature came 5th)

Write Up for favourite features event

Which is your favourite presentation that you’ve given?
I’ll use presentation in the loosest sense, and highlight a variety of things. Dave, John and I did a session at DDD4, where we actually gave away Cabbages. We’d asked a load of Microsoft people to tell us “If was like a sandwich, what sort of Sandwich would it be” and the attendees had to guess the answer. I remember Dave having to pay 120 euros in excess baggage coming back from TechED, with all the SWAG (not including the cabbages)

Free Cabbages at DDD

A year earlier, Dave and I had presented our Triple XXX Session, XML, XSLT and XPath. Literally seconds after finishing that session, we were approached and asked to present at TechED 2006, a huge step up for 2 community speakers. That themed continued the next year and we presented a .NET hidden treasures session in a room to over 600 people.

We hosted Speaker Idol for 2 years running at TechED EMEA and also entertained the crowds in the breaks and evening with our unique SWAG based game shows, where things inevitably went wrong and we showed of videos of Dave in the bath. Great work by John Price on getting the game shows almost working! It’s really nice when people say they miss us at a conference.

I’ve always really enjoyed doing technical presentations and love to entertain, as well as educate, the audience. I’ve presented on ASP.NET, Vista Speech, and now predominantly on Silverlight. Whether I’m talking to myself in Silverlight 2, or working on the Death Star in Silverlight 4, I love presenting on Silverlight. Looking back, my Silverlight 3 session at the VBUG Spring Conference was a bit of a highlight. It felt like an hour of Stand Up comedy and the feedback was exceptional.

How do you find the time?

I get asked this a lot, and it’s hard. Not only is there organizing meetings, and then driving to the venue, setting up, and packing up, There is also the presentation preparation time. I really like to deliver a session 4-5 times to get value for money, after that I get a bit bored with it.

On the plus side, your profile is raised. My MVP award is a testament to that, and very much appreciated. All of that gets ploughed back into the community – Access to the Silverlight team allows we to build more complete sessions, and the MSDN subscription enables me to keep upto date when delivering and developing the sessions. A lot of people, particularly in the UK, have heard of NxtGenUG, which will hopefully help, should I need a new role.

The other benefit is like all the attendees at our meetings, I get to sit in on a technical presentation, and raise my awareness, justification for anybody to give up a couple of hours once a month.

It’s all a bit of a routine now really. I have a crate for my user group meetings. It’s like one of those survival boxes they airlift in. It has everything I need for a meeting: Paper Plates, Serviettes, Extension leads, Monitor extension cables, pens, notepads, even plasters. All coordinators should have one of these; maybe that’s an idea for Microsoft as a user group startup kit.

Most importantly you have to enjoy it and want to do it. All our regional coordinators love running meetings. In fact when people ask us about starting up a new region – we send them a ‘dissuader’ email, which lists all the expectations. If they come back to us, we know they really want to do it.

Wrapping Up

I’ve met some amazing people. Attendees, Speakers and Microsoft employees; I still think the biggest benefit of attending conferences, is meeting people there, and having conversations over a laptop or a beer.

I’ll just wrap up by saying thanks for the fun over the last 10 years, and here’s to the next 10. There are just too many people to say thanks too; I’d just like to thanks Dave, John and my family for putting up with me…

If I’ve made a difference to you drop me a reply or message on twitter @Costall it’s always appreciated.
About Richard
Richard Costall (MVP, MCSD.NET) has over 22 years development experience and works for 1st Software, a Microsoft Gold Partner, and the UK's leading software solution for Financial Adviser and Intermediaries, designing and implementing IFA applications in the financial services sector. Previously specializing in VB, XML/XSLT, COM, ASP and MSMQ, Richard now lives and breathes the awesome world of .Net and in particular ASP.NET and Silverlight 2.0. Richard spent 5 1/2 years as the Midlands regional coordinator for VBUG (Visual Basic User Group) before co-founding NxtGenUG, the innovative UK user group for Microsoft Technologies.

Richard has written articles for publications such as ASP.NET Pro and International Developer Magazines and also co-authered the Apress title Professional MSMQ. He speaks a local user groups, Microsoft Conferences/Product launches, TechED Europe and the hugely successful DeveloperDeveloperDeveloper Events.

When not in .Net land, Richard enjoys relaxing at home with his wife and two sons, playing on the XBOX 360 or ultimately jetting off to Walt Disney World, Florida, for a trip on the Tower of Terror.

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