How to meet interesting people in Cambridge
Published by Martin Kleppmann on 16 Nov 2008.
From time to time I am asked, particularly by new arrivers to Cambridge (UK), what opportunities
there are for getting to know interesting people around the city, where ‘interesting’ probably means
something like “people who do cool stuff in technology in one way or another”. The perception is
that there must be a lot going on (having a fairly well-known university, a cluster of tech
companies and stuff like that) but actually it’s not that obvious how to connect to this
Over the past year or two I have come across quite a variety of organisations and groups
around various topics of interest. Some I have tried, some not. Here is my attempt to give an
overview of some of the groups I know of, roughly grouped by type, and with my personal opinion if I
have one. I hope this is useful, and may be expanded over time.
One useful resource which doesn’t fit into any of the categories is
cam.wiki, a general FAQ about Cambridge (originally drawn from the cam.*
see the comments where several more groups have been added. Thanks to
Wallis and others who have contributed to this list. If
you have any further opinions or information, please let me know and I’ll edit this post (or put it
on a Wiki somewhere).
Groups in this section have more of a commercial slant, but many are still grounded in
- Cambridge Tech Meetup is a series of sessions where Cambridge
tech startups give demos of their products. Jed Christiansen is doing a great job attracting
excellent people, and they are well worth attending.
- Springboard is a startup competition and incubator run by
Red Gate. There is intense competition to get in, but if you can, it is
- Software East is a new series of talks/networking events
focused around building and running good software businesses. Friendly and interesting.
- CHASE, the Cambridge Hi-Tech Association of Small
Enterprises, describes itself as a lively networking group for entrepreneurs, start-ups, small
firms and people interested in business and hi-tech. Event usually alternate between pub meets and
talks/networking, and I’ve found them a friendly and interesting group.
- Cambridge OpenCoffee, recently founded, aims to
bring together entrepreneurs and investors in an informal coffee shop setting.
- Cambridge Pitch & Mix is an opportunity for entrepreneurs
to pitch their startups to likeminded people.
- CamTechNet is a nascent aggregator of events and news from
businesses in Cambridge.
- CETC, the Cambridge Enterprise & Technology Club,
have monthly talks/networking across a wide range of topic (not so technology-specific). I’ve been
to one or two events and met some interesting people; better for the commercial end of things.
- Cambridge Business Lectures started
recently and has already attracted some great speakers. The talks are put online afterwards, but
it’s still worth coming as there is networking (and free beer!) afterwards.
- OpenBeer is an informal forum for entereneurs,
investors, designers, developers and anyone interested from the Cambridge area to get together and
drink beer. Not been there yet, not sure how active they are.
- Cambridge Network is a pretty established
organisation, but so far I have not found them particularly useful. A lot of fairly unremarkable
people seem to attend their events, and loads of consultants trying to sell you stuff.
- Cambridge Wireless is a group of companies
around the topic of wireless communications. I’ve not had much contact with them.
- 4Networking is a network of ‘breakfast clubs’
throughout the country. All I know about them is what I’ve read on their website.
- Cambridge 100 club’s motto is Furthering
awareness of Interim Management. I have no idea what this is about and it sounds quite exclusive.
This section is about groups whose interest is more in
what can be done, not so much in how to make money out of it. Geeks in the most positive,
affectionate sense of the word.
- Cambridge Geek Nights is a great series of events –
the format is two or three punchy (~15 min) talks on tech, interesting people and often free beer.
- Refresh Cambridge is a friendly group of people
around web technology, web design and new media. The people I know in this group are all lovely, and
I warmly recommend them. There is an active mailing list and meetings from time to time.
- Talks.cam is a big directory of talks, public lectures and
other events within the University. It covers all subjects in great depth, and is a good way for
people who didn’t study at the University to get to know some people within it.
- BarCamb (BarCamp in Cambridge) is an approximately
annual unconference where technology people get together and talk wonderful techy stuff. I’ve not
yet been to this Cambridge one, which seems to have a bioscience slant, but other BarCamps I’ve been
to have been great.
- Cambridge Computer Lab Ring is primarily intended
for Cambridge computer science graduates. Their pubmeets in Cambridge were not so well attended, but
the ones in London are good. There are also occasional bigger events with high-quality attendees.
- Cambridge Python User Group, a place
for users of the Python programming language. Meetings with informal presentations from time to time.
- BCS SPA, the British Computer Society’s
specialist group for Software Practice Advancement, holds regular talks/meetings to discuss software
development processes, sound engineering, working with developers and customers.
- CamCreative is a meetup/hub for the creative industries in
Cambridgeshire - design, art, media etc.
- CaMedia is a “society for media professionals in
Cambridge”; it’s been going for 6 years with 4-5 meetings a year.
- CLUG (Cambridge Linux User Group) is a group with
interest around free and open source software. I’ve not been to one of their meetings yet.
- SuperHappyDevClub (SHDC) is a hardware and software
hacker get-together, with a focus on doing fun projects together. Not been yet.
- IET Cambridge, a local network of the Institution
of Engineering and Technology, organises regular presentations.
- SciComp@Cam, a group of people with
interest in scientific computing.
- Cambridge LabVIEW User Group. I’ve never
used LabVIEW, let alone been to this group, but thought I should mention it for completeness.
- Cambridge Robotics –
presumably does what it says on the tin?
- Cambridge Software Engineering Network is a website on
which I found some of these groups.
Although student societies
give the impression of not welcoming non-students, that is generally wrong – many are open to
anybody, you just need to look on their website and find the appropriate person to ask. There are
university-based and college-based societies; many of the
university societies are listed here.
There are a few business and entrepreneurship related
societies which have interesting events at various points in the year. With all of these, of course
you get lots of students (many of whom won’t tell you what they are working on for fear of somebody
stealing their idea, so they can be less interesting to talk to) but also often some legends of
Cambridge technology business turn up, who are well worth
- CUTEC, the Cambridge University Technology and Enterprise
Club, puts on a good annual conference and other events.
- CUE, Cambridge University Entrepreneurs, runs an annual
business plan competition and events.
- Enterprise Tuesday (also on
talks.cam) have a series of excellent speakers, in an
endeavour to inspire students to be entrepreneurial, and lectures and networking events are open to all.
- Cambridge University Social Entrepreneurs I don’t
know much about.
London and further afield
There’s quite a bit of activity in
Cambridge, but much much more in London. Evening events tend to be a bit of a pain because the
trains get slow and infrequent later in the evening, but it’s worth it sometimes. Here’s just a
small random selection of events outside
- Mobile Monday London puts on very useful events
if you’re doing stuff with mobile phones in some way. The format is a few presentations followed by
networking with high quality attendees.
- First Tuesday is of primary interest if you’re
looking for VC/Angel funding. If not, it’s still an interesting experience to go along – very
intense and focused people there, but also a bit crazy.
- OpenCoffee is a startup-centric meetup which
I’ve not been to yet, but I’ve heard good things about.
- DrinkTank is a similar case – not been yet,
but sounds good.
- The Glasshouse I don’t know much about.
- Social Innovation Camp brings together people with very
different backgrounds – software people and social entrepreneurs – with the aim of doing good
- BarCamps happen all over the country at
various points in the year, with various focus topics. I’ve been to
London and they were both excellent.
Online social networks
I would consider online-only networks to be a bit of a last resort – meeting
people in person is vastly preferable (although most real-life gatherings have an online
counterpart, which is very helpful).
Some possibly relevant online
Updated 2009-01-22: added CamCreative and Software East.
Updated 2009-01-23: added BCS SPA (thanks @MarkDalgarno).
Updated 2009-02-22: added Cambridge OpenCoffee and CaMedia.
Updated 2009-08-01: added Cambridge Geek Nights and a reference to the comments
(thanks for your contributions!)
Updated 2009-10-19: added Springboard and CamTechNet.
Updated 2009-11-20: added Cambridge Tech Meetup (can’t believe I forgot to add it – it’s awesome!)
Updated 2010-03-01: added Cambridge Pitch & Mix.