Find your tribe: spotlight on BLUG meet up

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  • Sync NI found out more about Blug, the Belfast Linux User Group meet up; how it started and how it fits into the meet up world.

    Name of meet up: BLUG

    Name of meet up organiser: William Houppy & Phil Weir

    How often does your meet up meet & how would you describe your meet up?
    Monthly and open: as in open source, and as in new ideas, old ideas, non-technical and highly-technical. Our general theme is free/libre software (as in freely licensed, rather than proprietary freeware) and being group-directed, run by users for users.

    We operate a cycle of events; non-technical general interest, technical and social; to broaden the range of interests, and people, we cater for.

    How has your meet up changed from its initial conception?
    Back in the 90s, LUGs were focused solely on GNU/Linux users (well, it is short for Linux User Group!) – in many places, that was almost synonymous with free software.

    There is a rich, much more diverse open source ecosystem now, and while many of us use Linux, at least occasionally, it is rarely the focus of the meetup – more generally it is around free, libre and open source software, and the communities that have built up around them.



    Has your meet up spawned new ventures/products/networks?
    Yes, in particular the OBIG group (and broader Open Industry Collaborative Network) have come out of this group. In the past year, this has gone from £20k to £200k of projects, all partially or entirely open source generating.

    We also informally linked up about a dozen independent locals to simplify coordinating travel to Brussels for FOSDEM, an annual European-wide free and open source event, and even managed a BLUG meetup in Belgium!

    Have you collaborated with other groups?
    Yes, as so much of the industry is moving toward open source, our topics increasingly overlap with other groups.

    For example, we linked up for a joint event around containerization back in 2016, and have an IoT crossover event scoped (around embedded devices).

    We also jointly coordinate the annual BelFOSS (free and open source software) event with QUB.

    What was the motivation behind starting the meetup, and how did you go about setting it up?
    This is probably lost in the mists of time (although a few of our longer-standing members could probably correct that) – I am aware of a mid-90s barbeque that gradually evolved into monthly meetings around 2000, and waxed and waned since then.

    In general, many LUGs started to help people get up and running with alternative software, often outside the shrink-wrapped, phonecall-away consumer ecosystem – they provided a means to ask questions face to face, and grow an independent community, linking professionals and enthusiasts.

    Our target is, in some ways similar, and in some ways different today.

    What would your advice be to someone about to join their first meetup?
    Don’t take it too seriously! (unless it’s sword-swallowing or fire-walking, in which case you probably should) Turn up and if someone is hovering, say hi (or ask the way to the loos if having a question helps) – ask how they discovered the meetup, or what kind of stuff they’re into.

    If they’re new too, they’ll be glad of an intro, and if they’re not, they’ll be glad to meet a new attendee!

    Don’t be afraid to join a conversation group, even if it takes a while for people to acknowledge you (it shouldn’t, but don’t let it put you off – people get carried away talking in tech!)

    If you don’t see anyone to talk to (and even if you do!), say hello to the organizer – they’re usually friendly types who are keen to meet people, so will be excited to greet a new attendee (it’s a self-selecting job that way...)

    What would be your advice to someone who is looking to start a meetup?
    Get in touch with an existing organizer – it probably doesn’t matter which, but they will know a few tips, tricks and places where most organizers informally coordinate… reducing clashes and linking up similar groups is an evolving process!

    Once you get it going, keep it regular, even if it means bringing someone on-board, or running low-commitment socials from time to time. Do try and ensure you don’t clash with an overlapping event – most organizers will have a few simple sanity checks before they finalize a date.

    Other than that – consistency and a little bit of polish. We have run almost forty consecutive months of meet ups, big and small – our attendees know that something, however small, will happen.

    Also, we often have custom advertising posters, to encourage new attendees that there is something a little interesting or different going on.

    Meet ups are informal – but there needs to be some rules of engagement. What are the ground rules to your group? How do you make sure time spent with your meet up is productive and worthwhile?
    LUGs tend to have counter-culturality in their DNA – they are often excited to get new points of view or ideas, and can be a bit of an experimentation ground. In our last balloon debate, of topics to improve in uni CS courses, was won by ethics, ahead of several technical areas.

    Getting discussion going is rarely hard. This leads to a broad spectrum of opinion and engagement - as a result, our events are often at the group-directed, informal end of the meetup spectrum. In that sense, our ground rules are openness (on several levels) and tolerance, particularly of different views, skill-levels and perspectives.

    Ironically, this means that structure and variety is essential – otherwise, the meetups would all just be discussion circles… instead, we do debates, lightning talks, show-and-tell, sample a wide range of cuisines (at events or restaurants), rarely see the same cafe/bar twice, run discussion forums, feedback sessions and even a group trip to the zoo to spot project mascots! (https://github.com/flaxandteal/blug-zoo-list)

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