How to have an awesome meetup even if the host doesn't show

"I drove for two hours to this meetup, but it turns out the organizer put the wrong date on meetup.com. They weren't even there!"

"Bummer, man!"

Or that's how this story could have gone if it weren't for Agile thinking.

I am not a very experienced developer. Sure, I contribute to open source projects. I know some Python. Some JS. I'm learning Ruby, but I am not by any stretch of the imagination a "Senior". So what to do when the organizer of the Python meetup you're going to doesn't show?

I'm definitely not wasting a 2 hour drive!

For this particular occasion, I wasn't the only one who made the mistake on coming on the "wrong day", the day everyone in-the-know knew not to show. There were four others.

  • Krystal, who I met before at the Rust Los Angeles meetup,
  • Saul [pronounced Sa-Ool], who is into data science and machine learning,
  • Marat, an entrepreneur with a degree in Turkmen Literature,
  • and Oraz, a student at SMC

I was not about to waste my time by just throwing up my hands and going home. Some of the others had come much farther distances than me, and it would have been a terrible waste of all of our time. New, or not new, we are developers. Our time is valuable. So below are some instructions on what to do if you find yourself in a similar situation:

  1. Don't just go home! Your time can still be spent productively.
  2. Grab some pens and scraps of paper. Postits, index cards, napkins, parking tickets, anything will do. Just make sure they're small and physically movable objects. (It helps if you habitually hoard stationary and office supplies like I do.)
  3. Have everybody write down ideas for projects and talks. Throw them in a pile in the middle. One idea per scrap of paper. You can write as many as you like.
  4. Make a stack out of them and show them one-at-a-time. Give the writer about a minute to explain further what the scrap of paper means.
  5. Everyone marks the topics/projects they want to address most with a star. Each person gets 3 stars to spend as they like. They can star three different topics, star one twice and another once, or put all three of their stars on one.
  6. Sort the talks and projects in order of their stars. Time-box talking for roughly 1/4 of your total working time, the rest for pairing on projects.
  7. Start with the first topic until everyone feels it's done. Then move on to the next and the next until time is up.
  8. Let people pick a partner to pair with and project to pair on. And go!

This setup is super easy to do and requires very little planning (besides hoarding office supplies). It also addresses the most important questions and topics people want to talk about and gets them working on something valuable to them.

For our team, things went quite well. we talked about Python and some of the basics, we discussed what we knew about data displays with Pandas and a bit about MongoDB and general database options.

Krystal and Saul went off to pair on a command line python game involving "Wally the talking scale the weighs the nation of Trinidad in pounds or kilograms." While Marat, Oraz and I worked on getting used to the command line, and how GitHub works. All-in-all, we got something really valuable from a doomed meetup.

And this method is great for more than just meetups.

How many times have you attended a class or a lecture where the topic of most value was a little advanced or not covered in the curriculum? Most of the time is spent covering the stuff you already know! By the time you finally get to the good stuff -TIME'S UP!

Frustrating, right? I doesn't have to be that way if you just take a second to pull out some stolen office supplies. Then you can spend the meat of the time on the topic of most value! Much more efficient!

And of course if there is one moral to this story it is "always take matters into your own hands if you discover there's no one driving the bus." You don't have to have 300 years of experience at Google to lead a dev team! Don't be paralyzed by perfectionism. Just get in there and do it!

And well you should if you're a noob! Anyone who wants to learn to be a good follower needs to know how to be a good leader, first.

It's your time! It's everyone's time! Don't waste it!