Last night a Meetup changed my life

Picture of team

A little bit of context

My career before IW had been in sales and recruitment. If you had a chance to read my first blog about Imposter Syndrome, you would know I’d been on a rollercoaster journey to get to the place I am now. You would also know I’d left the story on a bit of a cliffhanger.

Let’s talk about events

Before I joined Infinity Works to head up talent, culture and events in the Manchester office, I had already started to get really involved in the city’s thriving tech event scene.

I started to realise how passionate I was becoming about community, events and networking, so being in this amazing Manchester event space was the perfect way to meet new people and have a self-created crash course into a new industry.

I actually remember my first ever Meetup, it was an AWS User Group North breakfast event and the topic was ‘An Introduction to DevOps’. The event was great and I learnt a lot. I was able to network with a few people and I actually picked up some work with a new customer and started to work with them helping them to find tech talent. I also got a free cup of tea and a bacon sandwich to start the day … WINNER!

Needless to say, I really enjoyed my first experience and couldn’t wait for my next one. I started going to a couple of Meetups a week; Docker Manchester, Women in Technology North, Tech Leads NW, Manchester Web Meetup - the list goes on. In fact, I’ve been to more than 30 different Meetup groups and most of them I’ve been to multiple events.

It wasn’t always an amazing experience, there were plenty of events where I felt I didn’t belong. I went along to a meetup once and the opening line will stick with me forever.

“This is an event run by techy’s for techy’s, a safe place away from all of those recruiters”

As you can imagine, I didn’t feel very welcome. It took a lot of perseverance to get through moments like this but I just kept on going along even when I felt I really didn’t want to. However we have covered that story already in my last blog, so I will now focus on the good times.

“Your network is your net-worth”. Porter Gale

I read the above quote on LinkedIn which is the title of a book, and it really stayed with me. I was realising just how important my real-life network was becoming to my career.

Positive vibe zone below

Just to highlight a few points on how Meetups were already having a positive effect on my journey into the tech world and my career development:

  • I was learning new things about the tech world all the time
  • I was the first to hear about new trends and tools, which made my market knowledge far superior to my competition
  • I developed a profound confidence that I actually knew what I was talking about
  • I made some great connections with tech talent around Manchester
  • I also started working with some really cool tech businesses
  • For the first time I actually became aware of my personal brand (I was becoming a known and trusted face in the Manchester tech scene)

Looking across all the above you can see how much these events were changing my career for the better. However, what came next was the real catalyst to making my career rocket!

Stranger in the audience

One of my old contractors who I’d built a great relationship with started working with a tech consultancy in the city centre. I then found out the company he had joined was Infinity Works. I did some research and saw they had a great reputation in Leeds and London, and they had just opened an office in Manchester where they had a small office in WeWork.

It was at that point he said Infinity Works were having a small training session on Infrastructure as code (CloudFormation and Terraform) and that I should come along. So, I turned up and started to speak to a couple people and quickly realised that this event was mainly for the internal IW team and their Manchester based customers, I was thinking to myself, I have two options here (a bit like Neo in the Matrix).

  1. Take the blue pill and bail at the halfway break and carry on with my career as it is.
  2. Take the red pill and seize the moment, go and pitch your idea!

I decided to stay and this turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, this might sound drastic but this was the start of where I am now!

I watched two of IW Manchester’s top consultants Adrian Hesketh and Steven Harper go head to head in a very fun and friendly event which entailed each of them trying to convince the people watching why their tool was better than the other.

I was completely engrossed in their talks and up to that point I had never been so engaged at a tech event. I was watching talks on tools I didn’t know much about and I was learning loads. It was at that point (mid-event) I decided this is the business I want to partner with in Manchester. So I purposely bumped into Dave Postle, principal at Infinity Works Manchester, and a few others and we got talking. I discovered that we both had a common goal, we wanted to bring something new to the tech community in Manchester.

I pitched the initial idea of an event where we asked people and companies to present on varying tools that do similar things. My idea was to then break into groups where we would collaborate, share knowledge, learn from the others and present back to the community (I like to call this forced networking). After a couple of further meetings we realised this partnership was going to work well, I had the network and IW had the knowledge and with that The DevOps Battle Royale was born.

Start a meetup, it’s easy … said no one ever !!

So it was decided, the agreement was made and we were getting this show on the road. I was completely new to running events, I knew there was going to be a lot of hurdles and learning curves along the way but my life had been full of them so far and I was in a positive place mentally so I was ready for a new challenge.

Starting a meetup has its ups and downs, there are a lot of moving parts to consider and things can get quite stressful at times. However when everything falls into place and you see all your hard work come together it’s so rewarding!

I remember our first ever event, which was pitching Base Build vs Provisioning. We had a confirmed list of around 65 attendees. We were in a small room in WeWork with a capacity of 40 as I’d been told to expect around 40 - 50% drop out on the night.

The night came around really quickly and before I knew it the nerves were kicking in. I’d done public speaking before but never for my own meetup so the pressure was pretty intense. However there was a bigger worry on the night … would anyone turn up?

The doors open at 6pm, and couple of people slowly started to turn up. There were around five people there in the first ten minutes, so I was panicking! The talks were starting at 6:30pm and we only had a handful of people. Luckily it started to pick up and we ended up with 38 people on the night (sigh of relief).

First DevOps BR

Fast forward to today and needless to say but the events have ramped up. We have built a great community of regular attendees where we have attracted 800+ members in the DevOps BR meetup group alone.

Presenting

I have now helped set up and organise a couple events and taken part in many others. They have become part of my everyday working life. As well as focusing on talent and culture here at Infinity Works, I also look at how we immerse ourselves in the various tech communities. We have so many amazing people here and we want them to go and meet others and share their stories, so I try to open up those doors.

Reframe

To Infinity and beyond

So carrying on with the story, I was working closely with IW on these events and helping them find new talent, with my feet still firmly set in the world of agency recruitment with the team at Spinks. I was loving my job and my team were honestly some of the best people I’ve worked with but there was something niggling me in the back of my brain … do I want to be even more involved in the world of tech?

As you can imagine as the events rolled by my relationship with team here at IW Manchester grew and I was looking at a business that impressed not just me but many others in the community. They were building really cool stuff and doing it in a slick fashion, their reputation was growing and I heard nothing but good things.

There had been numerous elbow nudges when having a few drinks after our events about me joining IW to help with talent, but I had just considered it as banter. This was until one of my old colleagues/mentors and a good friend of mine Jason Ouston joined the IW team down in London. I’d learnt a lot from Jason and I’d looked up to him when I first joined Spinks. When I saw he had joined the team my mind started to wander. I’d always been mega impressed with all the things IW were doing and I was trying to think of a way I could further my reach into the depths of the tech world. Could I put two and two together and try and make this work??

The cogs were turning but there was no real force put behind them until earlier this year. The opportunity to join Infinity Works came quickly and swiftly and I seized it with both hands. Leaving the team at Spinks wasn’t an easy decision but it was the right decision for me and my career, it was time for the next chapter in my story.

The past six months with Infinity Works have been amazing I’ve never felt at home so much in a business. I love every part of my job here, the responsibility, influence and involvement I have is everything I wanted when I was on the outside looking in. Events have worked wonders for the IW brand, my brand, my confidence, our networks and our reach in not just Manchester but the UK tech scene!

The future is bright, the future is infinite.

So there it is that’s how a meetup changed my life!

Written on November 6, 2019 by:
Toby Wilman
infinityworks.com