How to start and grow an ArchiCAD User Group (Introduction)
My Other Origin Story
I love a good origin story and I’ve shared many over the years both here and on my blog. There is one, however, that I have never fully shared—though I did mention it briefly back in July, 2012 in my 3rd blog post on BIM Engine, when I was talking about why you need to attend user groups. User groups are central to the beginnings of Shoegnome and my role in the worldwide ArchiCAD community.
In 2009 I was asked to be a panelist on a BIM for residential architects presentation hosted by AIA Minnesota. Call it luck, coincidence, or no surprise at all: the other three panelists were ArchiCAD users like me. They were the first ArchiCAD users I had ever met in person who I didn’t work with (making them also some of the only ArchiCAD users that I knew who I hadn’t taught or who hadn’t trained me). Before the panel discussion, we got together for lunch and talked about BIM with the moderator. This was my first experience of what a user group could be. Sure we talked about bigger BIM principles. But this was the Summer of 2009. ArchiCAD 13 wouldn’t be released until September and all of us were on ArchiCAD 11 or older (years later when I was the local Graphisoft Agent, I eventually helped two of the other panelists finally upgrade from 10 and 11 to 16 and 17). We were all prepared to present BIM, but what we all really knew was ArchiCAD, and how it made us better at our jobs. We were all in the stage of BIM enlightenment where the main focus was building a 3D model and having coordinated drawings. Sure that’s a huge leap from the old ways, but it’s just the beginning of one’s BIM journey. When I was asked to present on BIM and residential (small) projects for AIA Minnesota again in 2012, I was in a much better position to talk about process and mindset, rather than just the basics of my preferred tool. And when I return to Minnesota this Fall to give a similar talk at the 2015 AIA CRAN Symposium, it’ll be an even deeper exploration into the grander scale of BIM and residential design (and how to leverage your favorite software to make magical BIM things happen). But back in 2009, what we knew was ArchiCAD. We did our best to speak agnosticly, but it was hard.
The panel discussion went well, but what I remember most was the lunch beforehand. It was a user group. There were only four of us, plus what amounted to a prospective user (after years of curiosity, I think the moderator finally made the leap last year). During lunch we were supposed to discuss the forthcoming presentation, but we all just talked about our favorite tips and tricks. As we left the restaurant that day, I mentioned how it’d be great to have a user group. The other architects mentioned how there used to be meetings. They were infrequent and run by a long gone reseller. Everyone was excited about the idea of starting a user group, but no one of course wanted to run it. I knew there was only one way to revive the user group. I volunteered.
My engagement with the ArchiCAD community began with that user group. I had spent (a lot of) time on the ArchiCAD-Talk forum, but it was the local user group that really connected me to the greater community. I started the Minnesota User Group and am now helping to turbo-charge the Seattle Area User Group (perhaps muscling in and taking over is a more honest description, sorry Thomas). If I hadn’t stepped up that Summer day in St. Paul and offered to organize that first meeting, Shoegnome wouldn’t exist. My hundreds of ArchiCAD blog posts and articles wouldn’t exist. My Open Template wouldn’t have happened. I would never have started a YouTube channel for tutorial videos. Perhaps most importantly, if I had never volunteered that day, and followed through, I doubt I’d be running my own architecture firm today or know all the wonderful ArchiCAD users around the world that I now know. If you’ve ever learned anything from me—whether in a video, blog post, phone call, e-mail, lecture, or anywhere else—it’s because of user groups.