Interview with Joe Devon, Organizer of the Los Angeles MongoDB User Group

Nov 12 • Posted 1 year ago

The Los Angeles MongoDB User Group was founded in the summer of 2011 and, thanks to the leadership of Joe Devon, has grown to over 400 members in the past year. Joe Devon, a long-time member of the Silicon Beach tech community, shares his insights from a year of working with the MongoDB community in Los Angeles. 

You’re a User Group Veteran. How did you get started organizing user groups?

I was living in NY, with several meetups to choose from every night. Then moved to Los Angeles, where there were none. In the words of Cal Evans, if you don’t know who your local organizer is, you’re looking at him :) 

So I started a bunch of meetups, told people to gather at Panera Bread once a month in one big, joint set of meetups…. And couldn’t get 10 people to show. But after awhile, there were some regulars. Some of whom agreed to take over a group here, a group there. Fast forward to today and there’s a ton of tech meetups in Los Angeles, with sometimes 100-200 people showing up on good nights. 

What is your favorite part about organizing the LA MongoDB User Group?

I co-run the local MySQL group as well, but having an easier time getting DBAs out to the MongoDB meetups, because they feel they know everything there is to know about MySQL. But they need to learn MongoDB.

New technologies are always exciting. That’s one of the reasons that there’s a lot of energy around the MongoDB community…Also, 10gen has been very supportive of all the local groups. Which is an approach that most tech companies have “unlearned” as an important ingredient in their arsenal.

How have you helped and encouraged the user group to grow? 

I’m not as concerned about growing the community as in serving them. If 20 people learned a lot and took something with them that’s usable in their career, at their work, that’s much more important than getting 100 people to show up who got nothing tangible from a talk.

However, as it happens, if you have substance in your meetups, a side effect is that it grows to larger numbers.

What advice would you give to someone who was starting their own user group?

It’s a fair bit of work, but you will get more out of it than you put in. But for practicality:

1. Get the speaker’s cell phone number and give them yours. When they didn’t show, or they need your directions, boy will you be happy you did :)

2. Make sure you are clear about the parking situation. Especially if it costs money or it’s hard to find.

3. The venues usually do a lot of work to prep for talks. Try to arrive a bit early to help and also help at the end. One trick I use is to tell people that we will be doing a demo of Map/Reduce at the end of the talk. And when the time comes, I ask everyone to stand up, pick up the chair they were sitting in, and stack them up and move them against the wall. Which saves the venue half an hour of work.

Tell me about a memorable user group you hosted: 

We had a couple of really cool meetups with Wordnik’s team. Impressive stuff. They have a former dictionary editor on staff who spoke at the LASemWeb group. She has also spoken at TED

There’s some 100-150 dictionary editors worldwide and before the internet, it took ages to “define” all the words out there. They start at “M” so that by the time they get to “A”, they really are in the swing of things and get a good idea of what they are doing. I believe the figure was it takes the Oxford English Dictionary 75 years to get halfway through the dictionary.

They really broke taboos in the dictionary world by defining words real-time.  Which leads to the follow up meetup for LAMongoDB by Tony Tam, their CTO (Now CEO). He’s using MongoDB on AWS and really knew his stuff. If anyone gets a chance to hear his talk, it’s well worth your while. They also open source their code and I’ve used their Swagger project to document an API.

Editor’s note: Many of Tony Tam’s MongoDB talks can be found here.

Aside from being a MongoDB enthusiast, what else inspires you? 

Folks who break new ground. For now he is unsung, but Peter Rodgers has created a new methodology for software development called Resource Oriented Computing. I believe it’s the wave of the future. If you want to read more about it, check out my friend, Tom Geuden's book: Resource-Oriented Computing with NetKernel Taking REST Ideas to the Next Level. There’s even a chapter about MongoDB in there ;)
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