Recently I have read a great blog post about attending programming meetups - Why I Stopped Attending Programming Meet-ups. This triggered me to share my own thoughts on this topic.
It is true that quite often talks at those events are badly summarized. Creation of an apt talk description is the responsibility of meetup organizers. If you compare this to a fully fledged conference, there is usually a call for papers phase during preparation time. Strictly technical committee approves talks and speakers. But even this could not be enough. During great events, some talks can be average or even below average.
Every day we are dealing with cutting-edge or bleeding-egde tech. For example, 10-20 years ago cloud computing and microservices were only abstract concepts, now they are a part of our everyday life. It is difficult to foresee that.
Meetup organizers always struggle to find the best speakers available. Sadly, there is only a handful of them. Also, their ability to create and deliver great content is limited. That is why often less is more.
Sometimes it bothers me that information about pizza/beer during the event become quite critical for many. But I don't think that this is the main reason why people go to meetups.
More often than not I see an event that is advertised with vague agenda and/or speakers. This is a real problem. Organizers have limited time to prepare the event. Typical schedule frame is one month. It's a really short time.
From my point of view, the best talks are based on personal experience and careful thought. This takes time and a lot of it at that. Because of this, it is crucial to have a call for papers before each event.
On the other hand lightning talks are great for beginners to try public speaking. For more seasoned speakers it is a great opportunity to test a talk by compressing it up to 15 minutes. Getting instant feedback from smaller audience with lower expectations is really useful.
It's less and less frequent, that the presenter talks down to the audience. Speakers are aware that being too narcissistic is not good for them in the long run. Same goes for talk quality. Sharing is caring as they say. :)
Without sponsors many events wouldn't even be possible. They are often the most difficult party to address. In our case we usually start the communication with sponsors from a plain discussion. What are they looking for? How much do they want to contribute? How can we help them?
To weight up quality content with sponsor involvement can be really hard... . But it is possible.
To me a meetup's aim is not to teach anyone anything. It is nearly impossible to learn anything during a 1 hour talk. The main goal for meetup talks is to be an inspiration, for the participants to afterward spend those few extra hours learning something new.
To sum up, the point of meetups is to share our knowledge and confront it inside the community. Answer difficult questions that should be answered.
I think that is our personal responsibility to share what we have learned. The new generation of developers needs to be better than us. They should not have to make the same errors over and over again.
It is all about the contrast between free vs paid for events. Quality event can be held as a meetup but it requires a lot of work that is often taken for granted because it's given free. Sometimes I feel really sad because of that.
Nobody will force you to spend 2-3 hours a month on a meetup that can turn out average or worse. But sometimes a single talk, can completely change your mindset.