Sep 1, 2017

Why community matters (and how to make it flourish)!


For over six years now we've run the UK Azure Users Group ( Both Andy Cross and myself have bumbled through organising meetings and conference events galore. Back in 2011 Andy and I were the only two Azure bloggers in the UK bar a few from a couple of well-known companies then that were giving their staff time to write. We built some open source code and got fairly well-known. We were working but not inspired by what we were doing. So ... we decided it would be fun to put our energies into a user group. The first meetings we had had hundreds of people turn up a the door (there were some homeless that arrived for the free food bizarrely but they learnt a lot about Service Management).


The user group now has a life of it's own some six years later. It's a great forum for inspiration and a few beers! I've always found that it serves to keep (in our case) Microsoft honest. Having people over from Microsoft who are not faced with a bunch of novices but a group of people that are actually using their tools and are unhappy about some things makes our group more like a pressure group some days. There is such a thing as "the Microsoft cool-aid". It's when you're inside Microsoft and you think that all software that comes out the factory is amazing and developers are lucky to be able to use your software. This is absolutely not the case! If vendors had to pay the social cost of wasted time for poor documentation and bugs then most would be bankrupt. As such our community serves as a group feedback loop for Microsoft. That's what happens when you get a room full of people that depend on your software.


It's especially relevant when we have US visitors from Microsoft. I've heard countless times that when they visit user groups in the US nobody bitches at them to the extent that we do here and they find being on our Azure-infested shores, a refreshing experience. I call this effect the "beyond Hello World effect" and attribute it to the forthright nature of us Brits.


Community is at the heart of what we do in Elastacloud. Our company was born from the community and spends boatloads every year contributing back to it. People inside the company get cudos and time to build things and contribute back.


Many of us look for a hook to extend what we enjoy doing. For example, our Lead Data Scientist, Laura, setup a group called Inspiring Women in Data Science ( because she wanted to help women from an analyst role to upskill. Success begets success and it's now co-managed by Lucy, Darshna and Bianca. Our Derby office under Ayo did the same are now running a new Data Science group in Loughborough.


Communities are laid back places where you learn and have fun, stop having a pissing competition with your peers and socialise your way through the evening. It's important to us because our day jobs don't give us the chance to learn everything we need to and online activity is impersonal. As a bunch of tribal folk we crave similarity and acceptance and we covet the skills of those who give us talks until we realise that they're just normal people doing a job but with similar technical passions as us willing to give their time up outside of hours.


At Elastacloud, ours is a labour of love and we judge and hire by the same criteria which is more or less from my own experience. The you don't learn everything you need during the day and working on a particular project. Learning from others when you don't have the pressure of delivery is the only way to go. So, in summary, support your community meetups like ours and come to meetings because the community is a richer place with you and your takeaway will make you a better technologist.

New Posts
  • On the 5th of December, we had a really successful end of the year session of Inspiring Women in Data Science! We had one of our inspirational talks where our protagonist of the day, Luisa Pires, shared with us her professional journey to become a Data Scientist and some insights of her daily work as Data Scientist at the Data and Statistics Division of the Bank of England. Image 1. Luisa Pires explaining her journey into Data Science. Around 6pm, all our attendees had the opportunity to meet the IWDS Team, Lucy, Darshna and Bianca, as they were ready to welcome everyone into the building and our meeting room, and be sure that everyone is getting some refreshments, tea or coffee before starting the session. Then, Laura da Silva, founder of Inspiring Women in Data Science, started with a brief review of all the achievements that our Meetup group has got since it was founded early this year 2017 like a 500+ of inspired women, 7 sessions covered between inspirational talks and practical R and Python sessions, and all the contributions to other events like Techknow in the Ada Lovelace Day, Microsoft Future Decoded, GDG DevFest, and the Tech Day in the Feminist Library. Also, all our attendees were invited to actively be involved in our community “Nominating an Inspirational Speaker”, “Volunteering for Conferences” or “Mentoring in R or Python for practical sessions” (if you are interested just send us a message to our Meetup Group). Image 2. Luisa Pires talks about The Data and Statistics Division and how she helps in their Journey into Data Science. The inspirational moment started around 6:45pm when Luisa Pires went to the stage and explained us how her interest for data, numbers, patterns, etc. came from her childhood and how she and her sister Hanna had different motivations. She is an Engineer by education, she graduated from IST in Lisbon before doing a Masters in Delft, Holland. Then, she wanted to know more about modelling and algorithms, so she enrolled in a PhD in Information Engineering at the University of Cambridge, graduating in 2014. She learned through her PhD years about her passions, strengths and weaknesses, and definitively something that she discovered is that she wanted to know more about data analysis and data modelling, at the same time that she would like to help others to learn about it. Since then, she worked in Accenture for 2.5 years as part of the Analytics Group, where she discovered that algorithms and business can achieve great things together! Image 3. Luisa Pires talks about why they use R as programming language in The Data and Statistics Division. Currently Luisa Pires works in the Bank of England, and she helps the Data and Statistics Division to transition to more advanced tools & techniques, making the most of recent advances in Data Science. She joined Bank of England because she wanted to be involved in projects related to the Public sector. So, she has got exactly what she wanted, to help others to get into Data Analysis and Data Science, and work with data from the Public sector. We had a really good venue for this session! Plenty of attendees willing to be inspired by one very successful Data Scientist! They were so engaged that I asked them if they wanted a break and nobody wanted. So, it was a non-break 3 hours from Luisa telling us about her journey and answering questions. Great feedback as well! Thanks everyone for coming, but specially to Luisa for her inspirational talk.
  • I really enjoy being able to meet and talk with people who have the same interests as me, whether it's work related or not. When I found that there was an R Users group based in Nottingham, where I live, I really wanted to attend and the first session that I could make it to was just a couple of days ago. The meetup was fantastically hosted by Capital One in their UK head office which just happens to be in Nottingham. There was a couple of talks from R Users and plenty of time for networking plus pizza and beer which seem to be a staple of any meetup! The talk from Capital One's Sarah Pollicott and Rob Noble-Eddy was interesting, as they spoke about their company's journey from users of commercial software SAS to embracing open source technology like R, which for me was surprising for such a large corporation. It sounds like it was a process that was not without difficulty but one that has now been achieved successfully. It was also nice to hear that they have been giving back to the open source community, writing their own R package called dataCompareR, which is available on CRAN. The next talk was from Ben di Mambro, a doctor who told us he started using R as a hobby, but is now using it within his work, which I think is great. He showed us how to use Prophet, a package for time-series forecasting, developed by Facebook data scientists, which is also available for Python users. The event was very enjoyable and I will definitely be attending again and hopefully making a contribution myself. If you have a local users group I would definitely recommend going and perhaps even speaking yourself!
  • ‘There is a first time for everything’, as the saying goes. Last Wednesday it was my first time I attended a conference thanks to my company. Being a Gold Standard Microsoft Cloud Partner sure has its perks, not only because we can take part of the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) benefits but also being part of the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN), we are first to know of the latest developments, upcoming conferences, insider news and all things Microsoft as with the case of this conference. This was the fourth year Microsoft have held their annual Cloud Conference ‘Future Decoded’. I had only heard about such large-scale events; always aspired to attend had I got the chance, and I was just really glad that I could finally go. I didn’t’ quiet know what to expect in terms of content (apart from it being really informative) but was looking forward to the freebies (especially stickers). To begin with, the day had a manic start; the venue was 132 miles from my house (a 2 hours and 20 mins drive) which turned into a 4-hour drive. Yes! 4 hours. I left my house at 4:30am in the morning (I’m a morning person so I’m always an early bird) and was expecting to arrive in London at 6:50am. I ended up arriving at the venue at 8:30am. You may say, having stopped over the night in a hotel the day before would have been a lot easier, but I love my bed too much :P. The drive felt tedious especially waiting in stand still traffic for 30 mins on the M1 (Motorway). Luckily I had one of my close friends attending as well, so I made a pit stop first at his place to pick him up and then we arrived at the venue together. The drive itself was an experience, felt very like I was actually driving to the Airport (as I always leave at such early hours when I have a flight to catch to India). Having arrived at ExCel London at 8:30am, my friend and I competed registration and made our way down to main conference centre where the opening Keynote took place. Seeing the room full of tech nerds all of different levels was truly buzzing, I look around and see the conference hall jam packed with people. Just then the lights dim down and the spotlight shines mid stage on the Microsoft Logo plate assisted by two cinema size projector screens on either side of the stage. I’d only seen this stuff online till now, but now I was actually here. This was so cool. The opening Keynote was super interesting and I was gripped. I’m not going to go into the actual details of what was discussed, that’s rather too technical, and I also don’t want to bore you, so will keep it to the point and short. Having my mate there was a bonus; exploring the Expo together was awesome. Following the Opening Keynote, everyone then split up into their relevant workshops, luckily we had already arranged our agenda beforehand so knew where to go and when. The workshops didn’t all turn out as good as I expected, out of the two I attended one wasn’t as informative as I had advanced prior experience of the API however the first workshop was great. Lots to learn and very informative. Good thing I went prepared, I took my notepad and pen with me to scribble down an overview and breakdown of the workshops which I then fed back to my CEO who was also present there along with my colleagues. I was disappointed as there was no freebies that were being given away but to compensate that the Expo included free professional photos taken by LinkedIn themselves; I remember queueing up for about 40 mins to get mine taken, and it was well worth the wait. Alongside the free photo booth, they had Adobe, and other various media and cloud organisations present, and not forgetting my company was also there representing the Azure User Group UK and Inspiring Women in Data Science user group. Though I didn’t speak my colleagues ran the UK Azure User Group workshop. This was a huge success so to thumbs up! Whilst exploring the Expo I managed to get my hands on the Holo Lens. This was a superb experience; having the opportunity to play with Virtual Reality, funny enough I had not done so till date (which I myself find extremely weird seeing how much I love tech). Without going on for much longer now, the day ended with a closing keynote from some more Microsoft Employees (some who had flown in especially from Redmond) and Gary Neville, former Manchester United footballer. You may ask, as did I when I first found out that he was speaking at the conference, what can a footballer possibly have to say about Tech? It turned out he was here to promote a new partnership venture with Microsoft and the University of Lancaster called UA92 (University Academy 92). A new incentive to train pupils between 16-21 with 10 core principles that were deemed as crucial for making good future leaders. All in all, the day was a fruitful experience, I got to learn a lot and was continuously buzzing from the tech atmosphere. I would definitely consider going again next year. The future surely is decoded.