For over six years now we've run the UK Azure Users Group (https://www.meetup.com/preview/UKAzureUserGroup). 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 (https://www.meetup.com/preview/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.