A shepherdess: 9 years at the helm of #iotlondon

In autumn 2011, I was asked by Usman to curate and organise the London Internet of Things Meetup. He was busy growing Pachube and I had just shut Tinker London the year before. Ed Borden was the Pachube evangelist and ran the first 2 or three. I got involved from November 2011 and our 100th (on June 23rd) will be my last. We ran 11 events a year (every month except for August) which included two showcases every year. Our first showcase, sponsored by Nominet R&D, had people queuing round the block. One of our meetups (where Haiyan Zhang spoke about the Japan Geiger Maps) had to move to my shared office as there was a blackout. One of our showcase events was at City Hall. More than once, Sainsbury’s couldn’t get our order right or our cheese never arrived which always prompted a last minute dash to a nearby Tesco with someone’s help. People like Mark and Lily attended almost every month. Sukkin from SK Pang used to use the events as a drop-off point for orders. One night it was so warm, one of our speakers nearly fainted.

Many attended once or twice a year. Every meetup had at least 1/3rd of new attendees. Extraordinary churn and reach. We were the 2nd largest dedicated #iot meetup on Meetup.com (after our friends in Bangalore). I insisted on making sure there was at least one woman speaker every time and mostly succeeded. We had speakers from around the world drop by and share their work.

I organised events with Usman like the Open Internet of Things Definition (2012) which became the Better IoT checklist for startups (2017).  I put up a list of women in the sector. a list of books people could read and other resources I maintained.

I insisted on a decent spread (no pizza, decent beer/wine/non-alcoholic and vegetarian options) and that worked well. I spent the networking hour making countless introductions across the room. People met technical co-founders, colleagues, I know of at least 1 couple that met at the meetup (although they’re still not married which is when I’ll claim victory. Steve I’m looking at you).

I’m not a big drinker but would hang out with people at the pub, after the event, answering questions, helping make more connections, dead tired after making sure our hosts’s space was left spotless, the security guard and cleaners thanked. I made sure food that was left over was given to people attending or the zero contract hours event staff I had to hire to make sure people were able to get into some of the corporate buildings that hosted us.

I looked for hosts as we ping ponged across the whole of the city. We were hosted by OneFineStay for the longest time. I’ll always be grateful to Eduardo for making that connection. We were also hosted by Pachube, R/GA and Designit and many others over the past 9 years.

I’ve maintained the @iotlondon account on Twitter since the beginning making sure people’s requests, announcements, were championed. It’s not a big account but 6K followers for a meetup ain’t bad. I wrote a newsletter every month championing people’s events, news, crowdfunding campaigns. I listened to many founders as they reached out seeking help, connections, support. I don’t have a family of my own but this was family and there was a lot of care work involved.

Over the last 9 weeks, I collected what I could of the maker community’s efforts during the COVID-19 crisis. Early on, I talked to everyone I knew to make sure people weren’t working in isolation.

It wasn’t always perfect. My approach and choices didn’t suit everyone. Some I know even stopped attending because they found it irrelevant. I was treated once or twice to sexism I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Some of the introductions I made turned into poisoned apples as work relationships eventually soured (too many metaphors there sorry). Some only sought the attention of the community for their marketing purposes and wanted to pay for the privilege (which I always refused, pointing them to the form they could fill in instead). That, theses days, could be considered bad business, but I never thought this community was for sale, I was shepherding.

Over the last two years, my work started to move beyond #iot. The world of 2011 seems so far away now in the middle of a pandemic, with climate change a monthly reminder as we break temperature records while my mother sends me pictures of Canadian snow in May. I want to stop shepherding to go back to learning. I want to sit on Zooms building connections for my next project: the Low Carbon Design Institute. I need to, in the Google parlance, put more wood behind fewer arrows and make space in my life for different kinds of interactions. So I’m handing over the reins.

If you’re interested, well all you need is a willingness to organise events around the internet of things (you can choose the format you like of course), manage our relationship with Balena our wonderful sponsor for the past 5 years and take over:

  • The iot.london domain name & hosting
  • The Twitter account
  • The MailChimp account
  • The meetup.com page
  • The Linkedin Group / Facebook page

Please drop me a line at alex (at) designswarm (dot) com if you’d like to talk about it!

Writing 'Creating a Culture of Innovation' (2020, Apress), wrote 'Smarter Homes' (2018, Apress)

Comments (11)

  1. Thanks for writing this and describing the labour of it. I think I know one or two people who have worked at ‘shepherding’ and – as a person who would not be able to do this down hill with a fair wind – am full of admiration at the skills (emphatically plural and technological!) and commitment.

    • designswarm

      Thanks! It’s pretty easy to do but it does take care in the broadest sense of the word.

  2. It’s with profound admiration that I read your farewell notes to an enterprise that you looked after so far beyond what the majority of meet-ups go. I remember Pachube and I remember the Japanese tsunami and how Pachube and Spanish sensor-maker Libelium did for the victims, putting the IoT community on the front of the news, like a sparkler at a birthday party. Without your work and dedication the IoT community of the early 2010s would have never flourished. You took the relay baton and turned a grassroots activity into a movement. This is how emerging technologies become sectors and then industries. I can understand why it is time to pass the baton to someone else who will then grow it into its next iteration of evolution, perhaps a meet-up about Smart Living, not just objects connected to each other. You have evolved, too. I love your new endeavour and it is so in synchronocity with what this new decade will demand. I applaud you and support you in this decision. I will circulate your post to all my networks. The group and the meet-ups should continue. I can’t wait to see your great work deliver value to something I feel is so necessary. Bravo, my darling friend. And well said.

  3. What an amazing cumulative amount of love, effort and attention you have given to your shepherding! I’m only sorry that I no longer spend much time in central london and so could not attend more. Looking forward to seeing LCDI take shape.

  4. Can I just say thank you for all that you have done for the IoT community . You were there for them when they needed you, and you responded without complaint or favour. Thanks . Well done. Do not disappear. Reconnect when you are ready, but enjoy your next LCDI challenge. But don`t forget the good times and great people here. Many many thanks.

  5. Hi Alex,

    > I never thought this community was for sale

    Hope you find someone who sticks to this.

    And stays around in the long term.

    Thanks, and all the best!

    Thomas

  6. Alex you’ve done an wonderful job over all these years, I’ve been to quite a few meetups but yours has always stood out as by far the best.
    I suspect you are irreplaceable but I hope that is not the case in the end.

  7. Alexandra, it’s indeed good efforts you put in the community, and you are my inspiration to start the BA Slash (BA/) community to exchange insights and techniques for all everyone for free. http://baslash.eventbrite.com/

    All the best with your pastures new – you leave with a great legacy.

    IOT practitioners, please contact Alexandra about the role.
    I would highly recommend a small organising team to take over – sharing (the work) is caring!

  8. Alex you are a legend, thank you for giving us years of meetups and interesting speakers. Very best wishes for your new ventures.

  9. Marc Pous

    Hey Alex! i admire your work! i’ve attended 3-4 times and spoken once (at Cosm HQ, non pachube heheh). It’s great what you made! You rock!

    keep rocking on what you do!

    let’s stay connected!

  10. Jose Davila

    Thanks for all the hard work Alex! I wish you all the best with your new project!

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