A Friday morning with AuTechHeads


Usually every Friday we profile a prominent figure from Australia’s IT, telecommunications or video gaming industries in the Friday Five, but we’re not that organised this week. Instead, we have conducted a question and answer session with AuTechHeads, a new group of Australians interested in technology. The questions were answered by Matt Marlor.

How was AuTechHeads formed?

We’d really trace the group back to Microsoft’s Tech.Ed 2009 conference. There was a strong focus on social networking (especially Twitter) during the event, and a number of us connected and met up in person. I think it opened a lot of eyes as to the value of tying online networking with offline face-to-face. After Tech.ED, there was certainly a very deliberate effort to stay in contact as a group, and to bring additional people into the loop.

As the online networking progressed and grew, ideas started to emerge. I’ll take credit for a few of them – certainly the name – but it’s almost an idea or concept that was hovering under the surface, until one of us gave voice to it. It’s been incredible, once we started talking about it, to see the response we received from others and the membership growth rate.

We started as a Twitter list and LinkedIn group, while the website was being built. Now with the website in place, this becomes the central “hub” of the group, and I think it’ll grow rather huge pretty quickly. We’ve already benefited from the technical knowledge of the group in this, and from people contributing what they can to get things started off.

I would hazard that your typical “geek”, or technical professional, is eager to connect with others that have the same or similar interests and abilities. We like to talk to one another and share a common understanding, to brag about what we’ve achieved, and to bounce ideas of one another. It’s also pretty common to build a ‘network’ of people who you can call on – whether that’s just for job opportunities or more. I know plenty of geeks who never apply for jobs in the traditional way.

What are the group’s aims, and how do you consider it to be different from other IT groups in Australia?

A casual survey of the majority of other groups – by no means all – would show that they’re primarily concerned with specific technologies or disciplines; whether that’s a Windows group, or an IT Manager’s group. At the moment, to get something a little broader, you’re looking at something like a professional association, like an Australian Computer Society.

I think all have value, and provide a space for people who are invested in those technologies and disciplines. We wouldn’t seek to replace any of them.

Instead, we focus on the “geeks” themselves. We’ll welcome anyone who’s a technology professional, or who has a strong interest. We want to build opportunities for online and offline networking, create a presence among the vendor events and conferences, provide spaces to share and contribute to each other’s development, and to let members help build this into something amazing.

We think that by setting a low bar for entry – membership is free and as simple as registering on the site – we’re giving people something that may well be available elsewhere, but we can consolidate it into one place and help people to grow and develop their skills. One example we’ve considered is young geeks, looking for information and guidance, and a way to get into the industry. Why not have them take part, and let them learn from the knowledge and experience of those already working in the industry.

How many members do you have?

It’s been tricky to keep track prior to the website launch, but we estimate at least 100 members right now. The website registrations is trending toward supporting that. Not bad for only a couple of months in existence, and primarily over Twitter!

Can you name any prominent members (who have consented to be identified with it etc)?

I would have to ask for permission to identify people, but we seem to be picking up Microsoft people, MVP’s, Internode people, user group leads, Mac advocates, Linux advocates – and that’s just off the top of my head. Membership is not a secret – the Twitter list has been public for example – but of course it’s one thing to be part of a list, and another to be actively named by a member of the Core team!

What issues are the group’s members mainly interested in discussing?

I’d say that this is where we give people a free hand. Members can create their own blogs, add events to the calendar, discuss things in the forum – whatever they feel adds to the group and they feel they can contribute. We’re banking on people finding common interests and professions – so developers can find other developers, admins can find other admins, and so on – while also allowing for cross-functional discussion. We’ve put up a code of conduct, which is around how to treat each other, and even that’s open for discussion or suggestion.

I think if I could sum up the concept, it would be this: if I can add something to the group that someone else finds useful, then the group succeeds. If someone sees what I’ve added and wants to correct it, clarify it, or provide another point of view, the group succeeds. If we manage to have meetups or presence at events and conferences, the group succeeds. The idea is to give people value without significant cost, and without being forced in one direction or the other.

How would you describe the overall ‘vibe’ of the group? What sort of new members are you looking for?

I would say that everyone so far has been amazingly positive and enthusiastic. I think concepts like this bring out the best in ‘geeks’ where we “GET” it and start thinking about what we could do to make it better. I think when people understand that it’s about them, rather than a specific tech or discipline, they get somewhat excited.

What are the groups’s activities planned to be?

As I mentioned, the website is very much a hub for the group. We have put a set of features on the site that could be considered to be “version 1.0”. We’re expecting some time where membership builds and the site evolves, but ultimately we want to be active both online and offline. The concept of organising meetups and our own events, or adding to existing vendor events and conferences, is really exciting. I think we need numbers to make that a reality, but I also think we’re already on the way.

Image credit: Sergio Roberto Bichara, royalty free