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Ask Slashdot: How To Start and Manage a University LUG? 66

Posted by timothy
from the you'll-need-a-lug-wrench dept.
New submitter ckugblenu writes "I'm an undergrad computer engineering student in Ghana with some Linux knowledge under my belt. How do I start a Linux users group at my university and what kind of activities should occur? The engineering department is willing to provide meeting space, but that's about it. The other computer groups are into mobile web and not as specialized as I would like. How do I successfully achieve it and build a following, since it will be the first in the university?"
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Ask Slashdot: How To Start and Manage a University LUG?

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  • What we did (Score:5, Informative)

    by armanox (826486) <> on Monday June 03, 2013 @12:37AM (#43893379) Homepage Journal

    At my college, we first found an interested professor to sponsor the group. Got some people together. Got a lab space (they gave us a corner in the old telecommunications lab to use), had our first meeting. We decided on some things we wanted to do (Collect some hardware, setup a usable lab, make resources available for students, etc) and set out from there.

    Some of the things we did:
    Set up a Fedora, Debian, Ubuntu, and OpenBSD mirror.
    Helped students install, configure, and troubleshoot *NIX
    Did some Solaris work for the college
    Provided a free print server for active group members
    Hosted game servers (FEAR Combat, Neverwinter Nights, Half-Life 2 DM, CS)
    Did demos during College open houses
    Played with some really awesome hardware (I personally got Gentoo running on SGI O2s and Octanes)
    Malware cleansing for Windows boxes

    Just to throw some ideas your way. Sadly, the group died due to lack of student interest ~2010, so I can't link the website for you to get ideas from. But I'd be happy to contribute any that I can.

  • by ModernGeek (601932) on Monday June 03, 2013 @12:38AM (#43893389) Homepage
    While the Linux User Group itself is not as popular today as it was ten years ago, I can speak from experience in managing a LUG. We used to have a joint Linux User Group here between people at the local University and people living in the local area. Most experienced Linux Users are over 40 or 50, and have been using UNIX-like systems longer than most of college kids have been alive; a lot of them didn't even attend college. A City-University Joint Linux Users group is the best way to tap into the local knowledge of Linux users while embracing academia. We ran a group with this layout, and the University end would meet on it's side independently, and the non-University guys would host a larger meeting for everybody once a week.

    If I had to give any suggestion in the organization of any group, it would be to not limit yourself to only the University (this ended up being the demise of our group), and to not allow elitism (that happened to us, too). If someone wants to talk about something that isn't open source, or wants to host a LAN party so that people can play a video game on the local network, the leadership shouldn't be so elitist as to attempt to impede. At the groups height, we had about 50 members; all of which were from different walks of life. We had the young casual and curious user all the way to the systems engineer that used Open Source in a large company.

    I was a member of the LUG before starting University, and it helped me make the transition from High School to University. I ultimately became President of the group and watched it fade away over time, and watched other groups such as Women in Computing emerge. The focus of the University's Computer Science department became more about attempting to prepare the graduates for .NET jobs, and less about Computer Science. I did not graduate, and long for the days when there was a real sense of Open Source Community in the area. I wish that academia was not so disconnected to reality, a phenomena that some even hold with pride.
  • by webtron (1124453) on Monday June 03, 2013 @12:40AM (#43893397) Homepage

    You will need to set regular meetups, most convenient if following a course that would have interested people come straight from class to the meetup. The location should be somewhere students can get to easily.

    If you do have a class you can align with, ask the professor to allow you to do a 1minute promo at the start to ask people join you.

    Write an email announcing the first meetup. Ask the department to send it out to students.

    Get some sort of mailing list or groupware setup so people can join. If email lists, an "organizers" list and an "announcements" list.

    Put up some posters with the date(s) of the meetups where your students are.

    Announce your meetups 2-3 weeks in advance so people can schedule it in.

    Try to do an event monthly to keep momentum. Skip December and some/all of the summer.

    Ask people to suggest a talk in the advertisement.

    Some meetups I've done are single-presenter, while others prefer the general conversation type of structure (5 minute talks, many people, etc). You will have to make a call on that until you have a few collaborators.

    Ask for contributors/volunteers. You're going to want at least a president/spokesperson/announcer (probably you, for now), a vice president that knows all the rules and can step in as needed, and a person to take notes and manage bookkeeping when money gets involved. Three or more people involved make it easier to manage.

    Your student union can probably get you beer money as a "student group", but you may need to invite professors to make it fundable by your university's rules.

  • by ticklejw (453382) on Monday June 03, 2013 @01:14AM (#43893525) Homepage

    I was elected President of our LUG before my Sophomore year. It was already somewhat established but that doesn't change the fact that I had no idea what I was doing, I just happened to be the biggest zealot at the time. You have to go find people who do know what they are doing, and who have ideas. Then you have to filter out the bad ideas, which is an exercise I continuously failed at and will leave to the student. Also remember you're starting a university club, which means you can not count on anyone for anything. If someone promises to be somewhere, just assume that it's not going to happen and be pleasantly surprised if it does. But if you find a couple few people that you CAN actually count on - they are your inner circle and should probably be officers.

    I'm sure you're looking in your Engineering department for faculty and students that are interested. But some of my most interesting experiences came from outside the CS school. We had a Philosophy and Religion professor that would come by meetings from time to time and basically was an old hippie who got into computing early, and just preferred command line interfaces for checking email and did all of his publishing using LaTeX. Several University Staff were interested and regularly helped out. (Go over to the IT department and ask around - this is the most likely source of people that have been involved in LUGs before.)

    Also look for interested students outside your Engineering school. There are lots of different reasons to like Linux and Free Software, very few of which require the math education that Engineering requires. You will find the best zealots in the most surprising places. One of our members that stands out in my mind graduated with a degree in Broadcasting, but due in part to his time in the LUG was hired on at Red Hat for tech support and has moved up quite a bit in the company.

    If you can find a passionate Business school student who also enjoys Linux, this person is your best friend. Let them deal with organization and getting people together and such while you focus on technical aspects.

    Beyond that just get the word out there and have interesting events. Make sure you have meetings at regular intervals, not so often that people get sick of it and not so rarely that people think it's defunct. Once a month is probably a good bet, and at that meeting you can announce other events happening during the month. Installfests and LANs are always fun. Keep in mind that if you hold a LAN party and successfully get the word out there, you will end up with Windows PC Gamers all over the place, and not a few consoles as well. It's not a bad thing - think about it like raising awareness. The regular meetings should be accompanied by some kind of presentation. Get your VIM expert to talk about cool VIM stuff like good ideas for your .vimrc file. Get your Emacs expert to do the same. Find someone who can talk about how to use Autotools effectively in your new open source project or something like that. Always be ready to fill in with your own material because as I said earlier, people are unreliable. Allow plenty of time afterwards for hanging out, after all this is all about being social.

    I guess if I have one point to make it's just that you shouldn't let your perceptions limit who all might be interested in this club. You're probably not going to fill your meeting space with sorority girls that are really interested in Free Software, but don't assume that they're all completely disinterested.

    Oh yeah. On the topic of girls at a LUG meeting, be alert and aware. There tends to be a "boys' club" mentality that will scare the ladies right off. Just make sure that the meetings are welcoming of everyone and if you have some male members that are being creepy or causing a problem, discreetly nip it in the bud when you notice it and have a private chat with them later. It's possible to have a relatively diverse LUG if you do it right.

  • by Angrywhiteshoes (2440876) on Monday June 03, 2013 @01:20AM (#43893553)
    This is my experience, I know your club will be slightly more topic focused than an ACM club but these are some issues I had as a leader and member of several computing clubs in my time. I hope it helps.

    You have to find a balance in your schedules. One of the main things clubs will suffer from is either having too many meetings and not having enough content to fill them up or having not enough meetings and people forgetting about it, either way, you will lose members because of these two things. This is not just ACM but in the hackerspace I attend in my town that had "organized meetings" that ended up being nothing and sometimes just me sitting there alone wondering if anyone was going to show up for the talk on the calendar, and even the speaker doesn't show up.

    Don't get discouraged
    You're going to have people showing up looking for answers to homework problems or with general class problems and are looking for some magical device to help them pass their courses. You will also have people showing up looking for free refreshments. You will get people who think joining your club is going to somehow lead to an internship somewhere or that you'll help them in their career. They will all eventually stop coming, you must not take it personal and keep going.

    Keep your content on track and don't write checks you can't cash. Working in a group where people are bogged down by coursework already and have little to no time to commit will often bullshit with you and say they're up for a task then not deliver when it matters. So what I mean by this is don't promise anything to the group or outside groups (we had a president do this before and it made us look bad), don't promise help with web pages or anything like that. These things happen like "hey can you help me with [thing]?" then you feeling like a good chance for outreach are like "sure" and you're in trouble and looking like a total jackass now.

    Make sure you can get guest speakers to come and talk about something related to projects you're working on. It will be exciting to hear about how maybe someone implements [thing] in the real world and what to look out for when doing real world implementations. You can learn a lot about things like hardening servers and so on by asking a working engineer about dos-and-don'ts in the work force.

    Keeping content on track can be hard, you start forgetting what the point of the club is as it turns into a more social event (which isn't bad) but you will lose members and focus very easily and eventually your club will die. So maybe set aside social time after the main meeting content is done, this will allow people to mingle and get some good technical information from your meetings.

    Your core will eventually disappear
    College is a revolving door and the 5 core members who really tied the group together will graduate and you will be left with people who don't care as much. I saw this happen to ACM while I was at my school before I got involved with some friends forming the "new core," then we graduated and my dept chair emailed me saying "ACM is now dead." So you need to ALWAYS be advertising and finding people who are interested, or you'll have a huge hole in your group. You'll also be trying to find a way to make things go back to how they were and recapture that magic, it won't happen. Don't get discouraged.

    You are just some guy who likes linux. People are going to look to you as a leader and expect you to have answers. Don't bullshit. My first experience at ACM involved a "Linux seminar" where the president was giving the talk. He didn't know anything about linux. He somehow became the Fedora ambassador at the school (probably because no one else knew about the position) so he decided to try to get us all to install fedora and was trying to show us how to configure it. He never used linux before. He made a real ass of himself and a few friends of mine and myse
  • by idunham (2852899) on Monday June 03, 2013 @01:31AM (#43893577)

    +1 Informative--if I didn't want to comment, I'd mod you up.
    All the following is based on my own minimal involvement with CSLUG (now dormant).

    Step #1 is talk to professors and potentially interested students.
    Get a schedule that works for as many interested students as possible, and preferably one that allows at least one professor to attend.

    Don't say "Tuesday June 11" in your posters, say "Second Tuesday every month"--you want them to know that it will be happening same place and time.

    Arrange at least one installfest (where someone who doesn't know Linux can walk away with a fully configured Linux install, all hardware working) per semester; I would consider a university LUG that can't manage that to be dormant or dying. If you aren't getting more Linux users, how do you expect more members?

    For fun, LAN parties may be appropriate.
    Announcing non-school approved activities should be permitted but only after the meeting is adjourned.

    LUG meetings should provide something interesting for Linux users. Of course, this means asking. Some examples I'm aware of are presentations like these:
    -Walk through installing and configuring a server (eg, Apache + PHP)
    -Hardening a server
    -Cross-compiling (eg, PC to Raspberry Pi = Lintel to armv6)
    -Less well-known features of popular software (at Chico, vi/vim was essentially something you could not avoid; a presentation on semi-advanced Vim commands was the most popular one there).
    -if someone finds something relatively unknown, they should be able to present on it as long as enough people (4-5 minimum) are interested.

    Try to get a relatively well-known speaker there occasionally.
    If you can find something that you could collaborate with another club on, by all means do so.
    And if there happens to be an event involving multiple LUGs, go.

"Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago." -- Bernard Berenson