Stop headhunters from ruining meetups

It's tough to find talent. But recruiters, headhunters, and their ilk should be banned from meetups and user groups before they kill them

Like most people, I have a LinkedIn account, so I expect daily spam from bots and meatbots who don't actually read my profile, but offer me a position as a senior PHP developer. In return for taking the job, all I have to do is leave my wife, abandon my kids, and move to a really cold place for less money. This is the service that LinkedIn provides us all. (Notice it has tools for recruiters but no tools for blocking them.)

Demand for developers has risen to such an absurd level that this nonsense has bled into the offline world. Not long ago I was attending a local user group in Chicago, and when I signed in, a nice lady with really big hair asked if I would be interested in career opportunities -- as part of the sign-in process! She also gave me a color-coded name tag.

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It turns out that color made me a target. During "networking" time, before the meetup started, I was harangued by a recruiter who zeroed in on my badge and talked to me about exciting opportunities. Worse, the pizza was from a national chain, and they had that cinnamon thing that's an obesity epidemic in a box. There was relatively little beer, and it was quickly gone.

Next came a 45-minute "preshow" presentation about what I will describe politely as a hodgepodge of legacy technology. I mean, there was some RMI and very cleanly drawn three-physical-tier architecture. The system was described as advanced and powerful and cutting edge, and -- get this -- they'll soon be adding Web services!

This was followed by the actual speaker, who had an interesting title for his presentation (or I wouldn't have attended), but ended up giving a different talk on Java exception handling ... or something. He also mumbled his way through the slides.

I'd spoken at this user group some months past and liked it. Why the precipitous fail? I asked around, and apparently a recruiter had made it onto the board. Quickly the higher-quality speakers stopped signing up -- and the group lost the nice venue it previously occupied because the tech companies that host these things don't like to donate space for their people to be poached.

Meetups and user groups were once relatively safe from recruiters. Before there were too many recruiters, attendees were served local food and craft beer, and the occasional "we're hiring" announcement was actually welcomed. Now it's chain pizza, a beverage a mere step up from Bud, and a guy resembling Ron Burgundy bearing down on you. Forget networking with your peers or learning something interesting. Find out how you can become a senior PHP developer in a cold gray cubicle!

I get it. It's hard to find good, experienced developers. But I'm dead serious: If you're running a meetup or user group, ban recruiters and require that people with actual development experience serve on the board. Recruiters will still come, but at least they won't take over the place. If the most talented and interesting developers are driven away, why meet up in the first place?

This article, "Stop headhunters from ruining meetups," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Keep up on the latest developments in application development, and read more of Andrew Oliver's Strategic Developer blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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