Get yourself trained (and fed) – for free

So there is a recession on and jobs are scarce but I regularly get job offers and I’ve got a stack of fun work piled up extending into next year. What’s that, you want to know my secret? Turns out I can be bothered and most people can’t. I’m not a ‘rock star’ programmer, just a general .Net, C#, VB, JavaScript, SQL developer. I know my stuff, but I’m not Alan Turing.

Before I tell you my secret, it’s not all dull boring work either. I have a Windows 8 project for controlling a three story tall robotic arm via a touch screen with some computer vision thrown in for fun. There is a high end e-commerce web site, warehouse administration system and some cool integration with a Raspberry Pi. Yes, I do have some boring grunt work too (don’t mention VAT rounding errors) but I’m using all of the latest acronyms and have access to all of the best tools.

So what do I mean by ‘I can bothered’? Simple really, I turn up to a user group once a month and learn something. That simple fact makes me more desirable to employers than most of my contemporaries. I train myself at little or no cost and I also go along to one or two of the yearly geek fests (Developer Developer Developer or one of the many days run by Microsoft).

Most of the groups are free or very low cost (to cover pizza and speaker expenses) and the paid ones are very sympathetic if you can’t afford the fee, just ask. I’m in the enviable position of being one of the coordinators for a group in Hereford. We have a sponsor who covers the food and venue costs (thanks Bridge) and my colleague Richard pays for the web site.

What might you learn? The following is just from my group going back over a year; NodeJS, MVC, MVVM, SilverLight, WPF, NHibernate, Entity Framework, Windows 8, CQRS, Continuous Integration, Web Performance & Caching, IIS8 and WinRT. The presenters are top notch too, we’ve had Marc Gravell (Stack Overflow), Jon Skeet (Google) and sometimes even a big Microsoft personality.

Although obviously not guaranteed, jobs do get offered at groups and I’ve had paid projects as well as finding capable people who can help me with my backlog.

The social aspect is pretty good too, most meetings provide geek friendly food halfway through (pizza and coke) and many of us adjourn to the local pub afterwards for a quick chat.

Oh yes, the swag. Most groups are sponsored too so each month we tend to give away in excess of $2000 of licences, t-shirts and books from software vendors.

Remember, 90% of success is just turning up, so take the time one evening a month and you’ll put yourself ahead of the majority of coders and have some fun at the same time.

Lastly; if I may abuse my position, a quick plug for my user group (Smart Devs), you can find us at

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Ryan O'Neill

Mostly about tech, working for myself and my thoughts.

Ludlow, Shropshire, UK