No one ever wants to start a user group until they’ve already made their mind up they’re going to start a user group. Starting a group is one of those things other people do. People who are well known in the community, have had 20 years of experience on their user group topic, and have a job making millions of dollars in the area of the user group. In reality, the people starting and running user groups rarely have any of these qualifications (though they certainly would make it easier).

One of my favorite PHP people, Cal Evans, often says “if you don’t have a local user group near you, you’re the user group leader.” It’s a philosophy my good friend Jeremy Kendall took to heart when he started MemphisPHP, after coming back from the php[tek] conference a few years ago. I’m not sure if Jeremy got it directly from Cal Evans, but I like to think so. I mention this philosophy because I have also adopted it and repeated it numerous times to others. I say it along with Cal at every NomadPHP event (even my cats are tired of hearing about it).

Jeremy Kendall started MemphisPHP and would go one to abandon our great city for the seductive middle-state temptress, Nashville. His last meeting as the official user group leader was titled “The fate of MemphisPHP.” I couldn’t let anything happen to an awesome user group I had just recently become a part of. I showed up to that meet up and Jeremy filled everyone in on his plans to leave Memphis and need for someone to take over leadership. So it would happen the awesome David Haskins and I would become the new organizers of MemphisPHP.

While I didn’t start MemphisPHP myself, I never had the realization that because there was no other user group leader, I was the defacto leader. Having just completed my first year as the Secretary of the MidSouth Makers, I was no stranger to community building. I knew what was involved and I’m eternally grateful for David taking the plunge with me; I think we made each other’s jobs a lot easier.

It doesn’t matter how you get your start, what matters is that you start. It’s all up to you to herd your fellow developer-cats into your local user group. Sure it’s a daunting task, but that brings us to our point: I’m here to help if you need it.

Do you want to start a user group, but you’re not sure what you need? Not sure how? Give me a shout and let’s chat. We can cover all sorts of topics like finding a venue, arranging speakers, and getting the word out about your group. I’m happy to share my experiences and help motivate others to create new user groups, or resurrect dormant groups. The power of community has had such an powerful impact on my personal and professional life I’d hate to see people miss out.

You can find me in a variety of places: Twitter, Google+, and IRC on Freenode as joepferguson.