As I write this, we are on the cusp of our third Talk.CSS meet-up. Talk.CSS is Singapore’s first CSS-centric meet-up and was born on a random Wednesday afternoon (October 26, 2015 to be exact) in our local digital watering hole, the KopiJS slack channel. Within the short span of four hours, we had a GitHub organisation, a Meetup.com account, a logo and a venue for the inaugural Talk.CSS session. Anyone who knows me knows that I love CSS. Love with infinite ❤s. So when Chris Lienert asked if I wanted to be a co-organiser for the first local CSS-centric meet-up, I said yes without a second thought.

Stay a while and listen…

+20 to you if you caught the reference. I’ve been writing HTML and CSS for around two and half years now, and Javascript for about a year. The general sentiment among the developers I’ve met with regards to CSS is either indifference, or mild annoyance. Front-end development covers a very wide spectrum. There are those Javascript wizards who create web applications in their sleep, there are those who create HTML and CSS prototypes as fast as designers can in Photoshop.

My web development journey began at a very opportune time, it was the time when CSS had become robust enough to do a lot of things that weren’t possible before without using Javascript. I picked up all my web development skills working on client projects, which was a good thing, because it forced me to really get things right because these were paying customers. HTML and CSS was something that came very naturally to me, but Javascript was harder for me to grasp.

As such, if I could build something in pure CSS (even if it was faster to do so using Javascript), I would. Tabs? Sure. Accordions? No problem. I learnt about sibling and direct-child selectors. The difference between visibility and display: none. All sorts of interesting CSS techniques that I would otherwise have missed out on, had I just did it the Javascript way. Yes, my Javascript skills took a hit, but at least my CSS got really good, really fast.

In comparison to Javascript, CSS isn’t as popular a topic of discussion, at least amongst the local web development community. I find that HTML and CSS tend to be regarded as “not a programming language”. This lack of respect seems to stem from the fact that they are declarative languages. They tell the computer what to do, as opposed to how to do it. But this topic tends to trigger a lot of debate, so take this as a personal opinion and leave it at that.

Lessons learnt from being an organiser

You don’t truly appreciate how much effort goes into organising a regular meet-up until you become an organiser yourself. Okay, it’s not an overly complicated affair, but it is a responsibility and a commitment, especially if you plan for the meet-up to be recurring.

People don’t notice announcements, they notice consistency

The above is a quote from Sean McCabe, who puts out a really good podcast on how to make a living doing the things you love. I suggest you listen to episode 66: Growing Your Audience Through the Power of Consistency. He highlighted that regularity of good content is what builds up an audience. This is something that applies to organising meet-ups as well. But being consistent takes work.

If the format of your meet-up is like ours, which is a talk-based format, where speakers get a set amount of time to present on a topic of their choice, then the quality of your content is dependent on your speakers. For speakers to come up with good content, they need time to prepare. They can only have time to prepare if they know in advance when the meet-up will take place. You can’t have a meet-up without a venue either, and venues will also need to know in advance the date of your meet-up.

So the point is, decide on the frequency of your meet-up, then just pick a day. The cool part about the Singapore tech community is that we have very passionate people like Michael Cheng and Sayanee Basu who make it a point to grow this community, through resources like Engineers.SG and webuild.sg. So we now have a formula if you want to organise your own tech meet-up.

Update (@ 29 Feb 2016): Added in a few more points as suggested by Sayanee.

  1. Go to https://data.webuild.sg/.
  2. Check the relevant date data, like events by day of week and events per week of month.
  3. Subscribe to the open events calendar so you can see the schedule of all upcoming events.
  4. Based on your findings from step #2 and #3, determine the best day for your own meet-up.
    Note: it will be very challenging to find a day that doesn’t clash with another meet-up, so try to not to schedule on the same day as a meet-up which shares the same audience as yours.
  5. If you already have a venue, great! If not, refer to the list of events by location. Contact the organisers of past meet-ups to ask for venue contacts. (You may have to zoom in the map, Singapore isn’t very big ¯\_(ツ)_/¯)
  6. Check the event duration data to help you decide how long your meet-up should be. Ideally, we’d like to have things wrap up within 2 hours so people can hang out AFTER the meet-up. Tired people tend to go home immediately after the meet-up 😭.

More Gardenia than Cactus

For people who don’t care for gardening, Gardenia plants have these glossy green leaves and beautiful scented waxy white flowers. They are also very high maintenance, requiring specific growing conditions and lots of tender loving care. Cacti, on the other hand, can put up with quite a lot of neglect before dying on you (Don’t be that guy, take care of your plants!).

This be a Gardenia plant
Gardenias
And this be Cacti
Cacti

Meet-ups are like Gardenias. In order to have consistency, it’s best to have a backlog of venues lined up for the next two months, just to be safe. Speaking from experience, it’s possible to slap together an event in a couple of days, BUT it’s highly stressful for everyone involved and the odds that you’ll have to postpone your event becomes exponentially higher.

Start contacting potential hosts as early as you can, so they too can have more time to arrange things. Remember, they are doing you a big favour by offering to host your event. So standard life principles apply: don’t be a dick.

  1. Always be polite and appreciative.
  2. Nobody owes you any favours so if they can’t host you, say your thanks anyway and move on.
  3. Provide the necessary information about your meet-up so it's easier for them to arrange things.

    • Number of attendees
    • Date of event
    • Time of event
    • Format of event
    • Equipment necessary

Always be prepared to be the swing

In theatre, an understudy is the actor who learns all the lines, dances and songs of the lead, and steps in to take over if the lead were to fall ill or be unable to perform for the night. On Broadway, there are special understudies known as ‘swings’, who knows several different roles and can be called on to step in whenever needed.

This is not the swing you're looking for
Random swing

Things may not go according to plan, and your speakers may be sick or unavailable. I like to have at least a couple topics in my back pocket to do an impromptu talk to fill in the extra time, so the attendees aren’t being short-changed. Or have some other contingency plan, like maybe a quiz or a mini-hack session or something.

The point is, time is the most valuable thing someone can give you. Your attendees could be anywhere else but they chose to spend their time on your event, so be accountable and make sure their time spent with you is time well spent.

Wrapping up

If there’s a technology you’re interested in but can’t find a meet-up for it, why not organise one yourself? The more meet-ups we organise, the more opportunities we have to connect with like-minded people, share our knowledge and learn new things along the way. Besides, preparing and giving a talk is actually a great way to gain a better understanding of the technology you’re talking about. More meet-ups means more developers get the chance to speak, which in itself is a pretty valuable experience.

  • Engineers.SG - videos of all the tech meet-ups in Singapore
  • webuild.sg - curated list of meet-ups and open-source projects in Singapore
  • Hackerspace.SG - the Singapore hacker community’s home, living room and laboratory
  • KopiJS - a casual meetup for developers and designers in Singapore
  • SingaporeJS - our Javascript counterpart

Credits: OG:image by Je Hyung Lee