What makes a successful nerd dinner?

We started the Portland Nerd Dinner a little over a year ago. I kept seeing Robert Scoble blogging about his dinners at the Crossroads in Bellevue/Redmond and about the illustrious people who were attending. It sounded really cool, but in Portland we didn’t have many of “big names” coming in from out of town very often like they do in Redmond.

So I e-mailed a couple of the nerds in the Portland area including Scott Hanselman and Rory Blyth and asked if they would be interested in having a Nerd Dinner at the local mall food court. (I didn’t want to be there all by myself.) They were interested, so I blogged about it, announcing the first Portland Nerd Dinner. There were four of us at the first one. The conversation was good.  The food was crappy. We had a good time. So we decided to give it a go again the next month. And things grew from there.

Here’s a list of things that I think has made the Portland Nerd Dinner successful and should be applicable anywhere:

  • It’s totally informal. We never have any formal presentations (although the MSDN team did come down for one dinner and after everyone had finished eating we all gathered around them and gave them feedback about what we thought of the MSDN site).
  • We have flowing conversation(s) – sometimes many going on at the same time. We don’t have a moderator and no topic is off limits.
  • We started small. We didn’t mind that there were just a handful of us as we started out. We just enjoyed the fact that we could get together and talk “nerdy” to each other.
  • We have it at a mall food court. The food is cheap (not gourmet, but good enough to sustain life), it’s an accessible location, it has an expandable seating area, and it’s relatively quiet.
  • Support from the local nerds. They’ve kept it going by attending from month to month and blogging about it regularly.

We have had people from the Portland eXtreme Programmers user group, Java users group, game developers user group, of course the .NET users group, and folks who weren’t part of any user group at all. The Nerd Dinner doesn’t take away from any of the user groups – it augments them and cross-pollinates them.


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