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An open letter to Robert Reich about BDNT

Hi Robert,

I attended another BDNT on June 4, as I do every quarter or two.  You asked some questions tonight of the community that I think deserve a more measured response than I could muster yelling out in the auditorium.  Questions like: why do you come here?  What does the future of BDNT look like?  Jeez, won’t anyone volunteer to take video?  How can we leverage all the great people at BDNT during the time when we aren’t all in the same room?

First, I want to thank you, Robert, and all the many volunteers and sponsors of BDNT that make it possible.  I have been to a number of them, presented at two, and know some of the volunteers.  I can’t say I’ve met friends there, but it is a great place to go with existing friends to get pumped up about the Colorado tech scene, and new technology in general.

BDNT is, and has currently been, a fantastic presentation venue and gathering place for local tech community.  The focus has always been on building community and helping presenters (and their companies) get better (check out the second to last question on the ‘submit a presentation’ form).

I see two major BDNT constituencies: fly by nighters and regulars.  I’m a fly by nighter–I won’t attend when I get busy or BDNT falls off my radar, so I make it about 2-4 times a year.  Beyond speaking and attending, I have posted a few jobs on the job board, some reviews on my blog, some tweets, and exchanged some cards and some emails from people I’ve met there, but that’s been the limit of my involvement.

The quality and diversity of the presentations is BDNT’s biggest strength–the five minute format and enforced time limits (as well as the coaching) make presentations so tight.  And if a snoozer slides in, the audience only waits for five minutes.  Therefore, BDNT is a quality, time efficient event where I can check on the pulse of the tech community (is technology XXX going to be big?  how many jobs were mentioned for technology YYY?).

Because the presentations are so important, the biggest service BDNT could provide to us fly by nighters is to video tape the presentations.  I understand, Robert, that BDNT is a shoestring operation and that video takes time and money.  I don’t know exactly how to tackle that–two ideas that jump to mind are: ask a local video production company for sponsorship (People Productions jumps to mind) or set up an ipad and share to youtube, and provide cheaper, lower quality video.

As for the regulars, I don’t have the faintest idea of what they need.  Robert, you or the other volunteers probably do–they reach out to you with requests for features, help, etc.  So, I’ll have to rely on you to guide BDNT to serve their needs.

A caution: please don’t turn BDNT into another local, professional social network.  I already have too many ‘networks’.  I also fear that BDNT doesn’t have the mass to avoid being a ghost town.  (How many of those 10k members have only been to one meetup?  how many people who are not recruiters post to the message boards?)  We have all seen digital ghost towns before and they aren’t much fun to be around.  And I don’t want another place to keep a profile up to date–please ask to pull from LinkedIn and StackOverflow all you want, but please don’t make me fill out another skills list.  (I just joined the BDNT LinkedIn group (well, I applied for permission to join) because that’s the right place to do professional social networking.)

I will say that I’ve enjoyed the various experiments I’ve been a part of through BDNT (e.g, the twitter backplane, the non profit hack fest, the map of tech in Colorado).  Robert, if you want to experiment with a social network because of what the regulars or your gut is saying, do so!  Just don’t be surprised if us fly by nighters don’t really participate.  But whatever you do, please don’t stop experimenting.

It is worth asking how BDNT could be better, but, Robert, don’t forget that being ‘only’ the premier technology meetup in Colorado and a place where many many people come to check in on the tech community, present ideas, meet peers, and learn is quite an achievement.  Ask Ignite and Toastmasters about being ‘just’ a successful presentation organization–it is a success in this world of infinite opportunity and limited attention.

Bask in the glory of creating a successful community.

Finally, for everyone who wasn’t there, some fun facts from the June 4 2013 BDNT:

  • The unemployment rate for software engineers in the USA is 0.2%
  • The New Tech Meetup site code is available on github (no license I could see, however)
  • There was a really cool robot company (Taleus Robotics?  I couldn’t find a website for them) that is selling the computer needed to drive robotics for $299 that will expose servos and motors as linux devices.