The freeCodeCamp Chicago Loop Local Study Group is one year old

I was hoping to get accepted as a contributor to freeCodeCamp’s News section and write a proper piece on this, but since that hasn’t happened (yet :crossed_fingers:t2:) I figured I would drop some of my thoughts here on creating a local study group in hopes that it inspires or helps others looking to do the same.

As of yesterday, the freeCodeCamp Chicago Loop Local Study Group is one year old! Yesterday was the one-year anniversary of our first session, which was held at the Harold Washington Library in Downtown Chicago on Sunday, 5/19/2019.

Below are some notes about my experiences along the way.

I was unsure that anyone would be interested.

I originally found a freeCodeCamp Chicago Facebook group and a Meetup group, but both were inactive. If you find the same for your location, do not let that stop you! I joined the Facebook group anyway and started a poll asking if anyone would be interested in getting together and what day of the week would work out best. This is what led to our first Sunday session.

I never ran a group like this before.

I did not really know what I was doing at first. Unless you have run something like this before, you will likely feel the same. You will need to push past that feeling of uncertainty. All you need to do is set an expectation. For our very first meetup, the expectation was that we would get together in a public setting and work through the freeCodeCamp curriculum together but separate—this meant that we’d all work through freeCodeCamp on our own, but anyone was free to ask for help if needed.

Our first sessions lacked any real plan.

A few of our first sessions morphed into open discussions as people talked tech and brought up problems they were having in projects they were trying to build. This was good and bad. It was good because people were connecting and interacting, but bad because those who just wanted to show up and study together had distractions to deal with. There were 5-7 of us in a smallish library meeting room that had a maximum capacity of 9 people. I did two things at this point, the first was to find a larger sized space to host the sessions and the second was to poll the group to find which kinds of “formats” for the sessions they would prefer.

The larger space, as luck would have it, was easy to find. There was a large two floor cafe that had just opened nearby and was welcoming of anyone who wanted to use the space. Since the space was large I figured it would solve the problem of people wanting to chat, being able to break off from the people who solely wanted to study, and the two could mix it up as they pleased. This worked out well, though the change in format used during the session would minimize the random discussions as it would turn out.

Based on the member poll the format of the sessions changed from an open study/discussion session to more structured sessions that had a focus on a specific topic or a specific project build out. This gave more structure and focus to the sessions and turned out great.

There were times when no one showed up.

Attendance ebbed and flowed. At our largest there were 7 attendees. At our smallest it was just me. I did feel bad during the weeks when there was no one else, but not too bad because I just used that time any way as a dedicated block of time to work on something for myself. Our group is still rather small on the order of 4-to-5 people showing up per session. Even though I kind of like the group small, I will still focus on growing it, because I really want there to be a local community for freeCodeCamp users and alumni here in Chicago.

Tips for Creating a Local Study Group

Here are some tips to help you on your path to starting a local study group:

Consistency is key

Keep to and publish a schedule so that people can come to expect your sessions to be held on a specific day at a specific time.

Start small

You do not need to be a large group with corporate sponsorship. The minimum necessary is two people and a laptop friendly place to meet at.

Keep it free and adopt freeCodeCamp’s CoC

This one should be obvious, but if you are going to name your group using freeCodeCamp you should keep it free and use the freeCodeCamp Code of Conduct—the same model as freeCodeCamp itself. Note that free doesn’t mean you can’t ask for donations if the sessions are costing you money (for space or equipment rental , for instance)—but you shouldn’t look at creating a profit from your local study group. Our group is currently free and does not ask for donations of any kind, mainly because it does not cost me anything to run the sessions. Our space is free and, luckily, provides us with a meeting room with a large screen TV for presenting. I manage the group using free tools like Facebook, Slack (free tier), Eventbrite (free tier), etc.

Take the leap

If you are on the fence about starting a group, my advice is to just take the leap and do it. Post about it here on the freeCodeCamp forums, use social networks where you can create groups to find like-minded people, post bills in your local libraries and/or coffee shops—get creative with it!