by Prakash Malani
BEA User Groups are communities of BEA users that meet to share and learn about the latest trends in technologies and tools. This article describes the structure and purpose of these groups and the benefits they bring to BEA developers and architects. It discusses the types of presenters and presentations featured at user group meetings, the form and format of a typical meeting, and the different types of attendees that congregate not only to absorb knowledge but also to share their experiences.
I have written this article based on my experiences as a member of the steering committee that organizes the Los Angeles BEA User Group (LABEAUG).
After reading this article, you will have a good understanding of what goes on at a user group meeting and the benefits of joining and participating in a BEA User Group.
BEA User Groups, or BUGS as they are affectionately known, are typically organized by local BEA users and sponsored by BEA. They meet periodically to discuss topical issues relevant to all developers and architects. The User Group home page lists the upcoming meetings. Given the success of the User Group program in the United States and Asia Pacific, BEA is in the process of expanding the program in Europe.
This section examines aspects of running and attending a user group meeting. Subsequent sections will look at how you can help your local user group, the rewards and benefits of participating in meetings, and how to get involved now.
A large spectrum of the BEA community including developers, IT managers, architects, sales engineers, headhunters, account executives, administrators, and consultants attend the meetings. Everyone is welcome, especially BEA customers, BEA partners, and BEA employees!
This mix of attendees provides a rich environment for all sorts of activities. The BUGs are not only environments for learning about new technologies and exchanging best practices, but they are also a place for networking with others and extending skill sets.
The preparation for a meeting starts more than a month before the actual meeting date. At that point meeting topics are determined and speakers are sourced, either by the User Group Leader or through BEA's User Group Program Manager. At this time attendees are also encouraged to register for the meeting. The registration URL is provided in the Resources section below. The registration process has important benefits for the organizers as well as the attendees. The organizers get an estimate of the number of individuals who are planning to attend, and they help prepare for logistics such as seating arrangements and refreshments. The attendees benefit because they receive reminders about the meeting and are kept informed of future meetings. The meeting announcement and the registration URL are posted to the BUG's online forum, and user group members will receive reminders as the meeting day approaches.
At the meeting, one of the first things an attendee has to do is sign in. This important step enables the organizers to get the actual count of the individuals attending the meeting and helps with better planning for upcoming meetings. There is plenty of time before the meeting for informal networking, introductions, and refreshments.
The presentations and demos follow. The most popular presentation format is a combination of slides and demos. A generous use of whiteboarding helps clarify and answer questions. Attendees are encouraged to ask questions throughout the presentation. Additionally, time is set aside at the end of the meeting for questions and answers.
Before the meeting adjourns, attendees are asked to fill out an evaluation form. The feedback from the evaluations is taken very seriously; it helps to improve the content and organization of future meetings.
Participants generally walk away from a meeting with information and knowledge but there may be additional take-aways such as t-shirts, books, and other swag.
A user group meets once a quarter, once every two months, or once a month. The LABEAUG meets on the third Wednesday of every month. The most convenient time to meet is in the evening after work. The LABEAUG starts around 6:30 and ends at approximately 8:30. Depending on the frequency of the meetings, there are one to three presentations. The LABEAUG meets every month and typically consists of a single presentation.
The ideal environment for hosting a user group meeting is a location that is easily accessible to the user group members. The location typically is a local company, a college or university, or even a restaurant. A local company can be a BEA customer, a BEA partner, or the regional BEA office. The LABEAUG met at a local college for a few months. Later, the location was changed to the regional BEA office in Irvine. Currently, the LABEAUG meets at a restaurant in Irvine.
Requirements for the location include having equipment such as a projector and whiteboard, easily accessible parking facilities, and a meeting room. Food is less of an issue if the meeting is held at a restaurant. At the LABEAUG, we used to order pizza and soft drinks from a local pizzeria.
Presenters at a user group meeting typically include local BEA users, BEA systems engineers (SE), and vendors.
Presentations given by a local user provide a unique opportunity to learn and absorb knowledge and experience from a peer. I have presented on numerous occasions on a wide range of topics including a well-received presentation on Developing Java Portlets (JSR 168) using WebLogic Workshop (WLW) and WebLogic Portal. Presentations by a BEA SE on upcoming technologies, products, and roadmaps provide valuable insights and information that is not widely available. For example, Wayne Delisser, a Senior SE from BEA, has presented on security topics such as Single Sign-On (SSO), Federated Identities, Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML), and Web Services for Remote Portlets (WSRP) Security. Vendor presentations provide a way to learn and evaluate the ecosystem of products and technologies that surround BEA products and technologies. For example, Cameron Purdy of Tangosol gave an excellent presentation on Clustered Caching: Improving Performance and Scalability of J2EE Applications.
Presentations on other popular topics include Service Oriented-Architecture (SOA), Quicksilver, Beehive, Java Specification Requests (such as 170 on Content Repository), and Enterprise Service Bus (ESB).
Each local user group typically has a Yahoo! Group. For example, here is the URL for the Los Angeles BEA Users Group ( http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LABEAUG/ ). A Yahoo! Group forum offers features such as a mailing list, a group calendar, and a section to upload files. Use the mailing list to ask technical questions of your local peers and send out important announcements about the meetings. The group calendar displays meeting dates and is used to send out reminders. The files section contains the presentation materials. The members use the Yahoo! Group online forum to communicate and keep in touch outside the meetings.
You can participate and help your local BEA user group in the following ways.
Become a member of the user group by joining the local user group in Yahoo! Groups. For example, if you are in the Southern California area, join the aforementioned Los Angeles BEA Users Group (LABEAUG) Yahoo! Group. To find a user group near you, start here.
Contribute to the user group by answering questions from the members on the Yahoo! Group list.
Spread the word about the meetings to your colleagues and other user groups such as a local Java Users Group (JUG) or local technology SIGs.
Attend the meetings and get to know your peers.
Bring your friends and colleagues to the meetings.
Present at the meetings. Share your knowledge with your peers. There is no better way to give back to the community than by sharing your real-life experiences. For example, present on a challenging situation that you solved in an innovative way.
Be a member of the steering committee to help organize the meetings. You can help set the future direction of the user group.
Volunteer to become the user group leader. Although tough and challenging in many different ways, the experience is rewarding and fulfilling.
No matter how and at what level you decide to participate in the user group, the rewards and benefits are plentiful. First and foremost, you'll learn and obtain leading-edge knowledge about BEA products and technologies. You will also meet your peers and share in-the-trench-battle stories with them.
In addition, you will get a chance to enhance your public speaking skills if you give a demo or a presentation at the user group. If you are on the steering committee you get to improve your organizational and networking capabilities. If you are the group organizer, you'll improve your leadership abilities. The bottom line is that the more effort and energy you put into your group, the more you get out of it.
Now that you have an understanding of one local BEA user group, here is the call to action: Locate your local BEA user group and participate. Start a user group if there isn’t one near you!
I would sincerely like to thank Nina Hevern, the BEA User Group Program Manager, without whom the LABEAUG would not be possible. I am indebted to my fellow LABEAUG steering committee group members Richard Brown, Ron Busslinger, and Shirley Tseng, who strive tirelessly and valiantly to make LABEAUG a success.
Prakash Malani has extensive experience in architecting, designing, and developing software. He has been doing software development in many application domains such as entertainment, finance, retail, medicine, communications, and interactive television.