How to build a successful Java User Group (JUG)

JUG’s are an increasingly important part of the larger Java community (see recent JCP elections) and yet only a fraction of Java developers attend regular meetings (as we found out at JavaOne).

Before I start I probably should say that while I don’t have hard data to back this up, I’ve seen a large number of JUG’s be created in the past 2-3 years, more than 10 years after Java was first introduced, accounting for maybe as much as half of today’s active JUGs. In France alone, there is more than a dozen active JUGs that were created, all in the last 3-4 years. There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of interest for Java, quite the opposite.

I don’t run a JUG nor am I really active in one but I’ve been visiting many of them in the past few years (they tend to be the format that I like best), I’ve seen a good number of them take off, some crash, and I interact with several JUG leaders on a regular basis, so I thought I’d share the ingredients that I believe are key to a successful JUG.

First, you need to have a venue. It may sound obvious but the lack of a regular (hopefully free-of-charge) room for your meetings is often the reason for JUG activity going down or simply disappearing. Universities seems to be the best solution after company meeting rooms.

Second, you need sponsors. While this can cover for Pizza & Beer (or Wine & Cheese, you decide), maybe more importantly this should help you cover for your speakers expenses (travel + hotel). While those speakers employed by large companies should be able to expense their entire travel, you don’t want to miss out on the independent consultants. Another option is to have formal JUG members paying a yearly fee. This works well once you have a well established set of events, including maybe a yearly (international) conference.

Third, last, and not least – you need good content. This is content that addresses your JUG’s interests and it doesn’t have to be always about bleeding edge technology of the latest and greatest JVM language. Some folks take JUG’s as a training, others mostly as a get-together, and probably also a good chunk as a way to stay on top of what’s new in the Java ecosystem. You need to balance different topics but my recommendation would be to have a small set of folks decide on the agenda. Voting or large groups of folks deciding don’t usually work too well.

While all of the above probably applies for any technology user group, JUG’s are a bit special because they are loosely federated by mailing lists and interactions are facilitated by Sun initially and now by Oracle. If you are starting a JUG, you probably want to read about it on this all-in-one page, be listed on java-user-groups and start chatting with fellow JUG leaders, they are a great bunch and will most certainly have tips for you.

I should of course not forget to mention that you’ll need energy and passion to keep a JUG running. Lot’s of it!