CocoaHeads: Starting a New Chapter

A Cocoa Head

So you're interested in starting up a CocoaHeads chapter? Excellent! We're pretty informal and low-pressure organization, hoping to welcome folks at meetings who are just getting started all the way up to total cocoa-studs. Kind of like martial arts, we feel that the experienced programmers can learn from the newbies as much as the newbies learn from the studly.

There is some work involved in starting (and maintaining) a successful chapter. Here are some things that are necessary for a successful CocoaHeads chapter.

The Organizer

First you will need a chapter organizer. This is the most important part of running a successful chapter. The organizer has the enthusiasm and motivation to organize the meetings, find and retain meeting space, prepare agendas, solicit speakers, make sure the web page is current, and do the not so glamorous behind-the-scenes grunt work.

The Meeting Place

You will need a regular place to meet. Life is always an adventure, and we know that it's not possible to always meet in the same place, but having a consistent meeting place makes it easier for people to find you, and for occasional visitors to know where to drop in. An Apple Store may be amenable to playing host. Also having friends that work at a university is handy if you want to get a university meeting room. We're lucky in Pittsburgh to have a room with an overhead projector that we can hook in to for presentations and iChanting. The Silicon Valley chapter meets on the Apple campus, so you know they have access to all sorts of great toys.

Our chapters meet 7-9pm, local time, on the second thursday of the month, and we try to have that be consistent across every chapter. I imagine a geek/nerd (take your pick) making a business trip. "hey, it's a second thursday. Lemme check out the local CocoaHeads action" I know that if I'm planning on travel to one of our cities that I'll try to arrange things for that time. It also greatly simplifies the meeting announcements.

The People

The point to the organization is to facilitate face-to-face meeting time between programmers. To do this you actually have to find people to come to meetings.

If you have a local Apple store, or an independent Mac retailer, let them know a chapter is forming. They may know the programmers in the area who may be interested. You can also hang flyers at stores and universities.

If you have any local Mac Users Groups (MUGs) or university Mac groups, you can solicit interested members from there. Drop in on a meeting or two and announce that a CocoaHeads chapter is starting up. Many MUGs have mailing lists that you can post to. Sometimes the programmer-types hang out with the end-user-types at those things. Some Linux Users Groups (LUGs) have Mac folks that hang around too.

Google Maps can be useful. One organizer used a "software near place-name" and "iPhone near place-name", and got some good leads. Also surf for existing Google Groups. You may find some folks hanging out online that would want to hang out in person, too.

Having 4 or 5 regulars seems to be a good minimum number for having an interesting meeting.

The Meeting

A typical CocoaHeads meeting is a pretty low-key, low-pressure environment. Usually there's a meet-and-greet to start out with, as people filter into the meeting place. Some chapters supply snacks like chips and bottles of fizzy beverages, and some don't.

Then after the meet-and-greet is a presentation on Cocoa or some aspect of Mac programming. The presentations don't have to be real high-powered shake the earth kinds of things, but it is good to have some kind of presentation to give a "center" to the meeting, as well as keep fresh material rolling in. One of the duties of the chapter organizer is either doing a presentation or soliciting a member, or local celebrity to come talk. A half hour or 45 minutes on a programming topic is a good length of time.

Here are some presentations we've had at CocoaHeads meetings:

Then after the presentation is free chat time, and a show-and-tell of programs that people have been working on. This is also a good time for asking questions, getting UI advice, and possibly finding other programmers to collaborate with. Things wrap up at 9pm, with an announcement of when the next meeting will be. Some folks like to go out and grab a beer or a bite to eat afterwards.

The Boston crew started a mini-tradition of dinner meetings, every now and then meet at a local restaurant and geek out over good food. You may want to invite spouses and significant others along so they can see who their other halves are meeting with.

That's it

So let us know if you're interested in being the main organizer for a chapter. We will set up an email reflector for you, and then spam the mailing lists to starting shaking out interested folks.

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