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Keeping the Community Together: The Renewed Relevance of User Groups

Randall Becker


I have probably spent more time on video conferences in the past forty days than in the past three years combined. And that is saying a lot considering that Nexbridge operations almost entirely using telecommuting. Our staff is virtually completely remote so staying in touch involves technology. Even before the pandemic, we had, perhaps, one face-to-face meeting every two weeks. Staying in touch is crucial to our business. But we did not have to face the personal isolation that the current environment requires. So, we increased our efforts to stay in touch and realized something glaringly obvious.

User groups are key to retaining community identity.

We missed SunTUG, partly because we had already been experiencing travel restrictions. GTUG was deferred and other regional groups have also delayed their events. And just recently, HP Discover went virtual. What I am feeling is a connection gap because the events have not yet happened. The realization is that user groups fill a need that is crucial to feeling part of a community.

Since the inception of the NSGit product, we knew that a user group of some kind was going to be inevitable. After discussing the possibility with some customers, and sending out a well received survey, we launched the NSGit Technical User Group. Its first meeting was on May 5th. It is a bit different than other product centric user groups in the NonStop ecosystem because of the heavy involvement of Open Source components. Perhaps we should have called it the DevOps Technical User Group, as people want to talk about git itself, Jenkins, Ansible, and who knows what else way outside the scope of our original idea.

The inaugural user group meeting was well attended. We had people from around the world, some well past their normal bedtimes attending, virtually of course. While we are still getting our feet wet trying to figure out the dynamics of the group, there was definitely a sense of camaraderie and a feeling of importance to what was happening. Sure, there was the usual “Here’s what’s new” and an interesting “Tips and Tricks” section – that had a really good feedback, but people were a bit shy. I am sure that will change quickly as people get to know each other better. This was, after all, the first time many of the group have met each other.

The best question, which I could have talked about for hours (and have, so be careful if you ask me), is the NSGit origin story, involving two dear departed friends. I did mention Thomas Burg, who inspired our initial marketing plan. I did not mention Ron Erlich, who also helped guide some of the initial investigations, but I will now. You both are sorely missed. Telling that story, in that context, really brought home the sense of community, and why we are all doing what we do, and why we must stay connected. But there is more to it than that. Much more.

As NonStop users of whatever type, we are all custodians of the basic infrastructure that makes financial, telecom, and retail possible. Many of us have seen some serious events in our time, from earthquakes, ice storms, to 9/11 while at the September 2001 ITUG conference, but nothing like this, where the damage is to people, not infrastructure. During 9/11, we learned some hard lessons, that it is the human factor that always must be considered during a crisis. Our situation is no different.

And no matter what the crisis, our community has been hard at work keeping things running. The appropriateness of the name GUARDIAN is serious, although we know has fallen out of favour with management types. We are the GUARDIANs at the gate. The people who ensure that infrastructure is always available when it is needed. That makes us family. It is probably the primary motivator for my own personal participation in the git world because it is the thing that keeps track of what we are doing in case things do go wrong.

The purpose of this first meeting was not really taking about git or NSGit or Jenkins or even DevOps but giving people a forum to stay connected. And that should be one of the primary goals of any user group: to stay connected. It is not to keep whatever product or service relevant, but it is to keep us connected and keep each other relevant.

Many of us are using diverse conferencing platforms to break the feeling of isolation we are all experiencing. User group meetings are a much more focused and demonstration of “staying together with a tangible purpose”, not only about a product or ecosystem, but more importantly it is a reminder of how strong and committed the NonStop community really is. This was just the first albeit technical meeting yet it supports the emotional reassurance that we are all in this together and really are a family with a common goal of carrying on in the face of any adversity – what this community is so good at and why we are all doing this NonStop thing, day or night.