If You Build It They Will Come: Starting a GraphDB Meetup Where There Is None

About seven years ago, I came across Neo4j while trying to find a way to visually represent stored information and make connections like the human brain does. At the time, I only really needed to build an awesome recommendation engine and not a brain in a box. I can say now that I was reading way too much Ray Kurzweil at the time.

When I first started trying to understand how Neo4j works, I was completely out of my skill set and knew I would need some help. I started looking up meetups in my area and couldn’t find anything on graph database or Neo4j. Not being deterred, I took to the internets and tried to hire a few different developers who could help me build what I was looking to build. However, I couldn’t find anyone willing to learn how Neo4j works.

Learn how and why to start a DB Meetup group in your area to connect with graph database enthusiasts.

At that time, it was a rare few who would say NoSQL and graph databases are where it’s at. As we now know, the paradigm has since changed and graphs are everywhere.

Fast forward four years, join in on countless meetups, and a career change to full-time in tech. I then met my future business partner Jason Cox by accident at a random civic hackathon, on the wrong day at the wrong time. We share what we’re nerdy about, I pitch him on what I’m trying to build and how I want to build it with Neo4j. Jason tells me he’s sold on the idea and the technology and wants to help me build it. I share with him everything I’ve learned about the technology, and we dive in.

Well, not so fast. I realized the hard way how difficult it can be to adopt a new technology and become proficient in how it works. Instead we spent the next six months starting our first company together and learning everything we could about Neo4j.

Then one day I saw a LinkedIn update from my friend Karin Wolok who just became Neo4j’s Community Development Manager. I sent Karin a message:

Me: Hey, a little while ago you got an awesome new title. I’m totally jealous! (Community Manager at Neo4j).

Me: I’m completely obsessed with using Neo4j and want to build so many thing with it!

Karin: Really? That’s awesome! I love to hear that. Not many people are really aware of graph databases and their benefits.

Karin: What do you build with it?
That’s when it all started! I went on to overload Karin with all of the things we wanted to build using Neo4j. She told me to come to the next DataPhilly meetup. She was going to so we could talk more. We got to talking at the meetup and Karin inspired me to start the first Philadelphia Neo4j and GraphDB Meetup. She basically just said, “You guys should start a Neo4j Meetup.” That was all I needed to hear!

One month later the Philly GraphDB Meetup group was formed and our first meetup was posted. Karin said she’d help us get set up and give us some good guidelines to get started and a hosting budget for food and drinks. To make it even better, for our first meetup Karin knew of a Neo4j Engineer Dave Fauth, who happens to be in our area and who would be a guest speaker for the event.

The gathering at DB Meetup Philly.

With an attendee list of 56 people, we worked our butts off trying to figure out the logistics and planning of everything for the meetup. The day of the meetup was very stressful, but everything went as planned and Karin and Dave made it easy to for us to enjoy ourselves and set a relaxed tone. We had about 30+ people show up in person and online.

Since our first meetup, we’ve had 16 more amazing meetups and counting. After each meetup we’ve refined our skills in learning how to communicate what interests us while building a community of graph database and Neo4j enthusiasts.

Every month we choose a topic outside of the normal use cases or with a civic prospective for graph databases. This helps us build a focal point for cultivating interest outside of the tech community. It’s our belief that graphs are for everyone and anyone should be able to learn how to use graph database technologies like Neo4j.

So every time we host a meetup we incorporate a live demo using the Neo4j online sandbox or desktop app. This gives everyone a gateway in which to participate and get hands on with the technology (like I wished I could have all those years ago).

We’ll be writing more content soon around the do’s and don’t of hosting a GraphDB meetup, lessons we’ve learned and how to plan for your first meetup.

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