Fast.ai notebooks, Google Colab ready.

“Roses are red, 
Violets are blue, 
I have no time for reading stories written by you”

Understandable, here the github repo:

Bonus: A “Tarallucci, Vino e Machine Learning” short story.

How to give birth to a meetup and a study group on machine learning in your city. The first 9 months.

1- Too small to succeed.

After traveling for some years around the world, from Australia to Mexico passing from India, I moved back to my city; A human-sized~250k people city in the north of Italy, Verona.
The quality of life is definitely higher in small cities, but I must admit that they struggle to offer the same amount of diverse activities and groups. Specifically, I was really hoping-but-hopeless to find a meetup on machine learning, even more specifically what I really wanted was a group of people to study and discuss about the topic from a technical point of view, so linear transformations and parallel processing (rather than singularity, Skynet and terminators).
Also, I thought that in such a small city, ~250k souls counting also children and elders, I would have struggled to find enough people on such a niche topic.

2- Shouldn’t be me.

I’ve been studying several online courses, yet at the time, just like today, I was really feeling like I didn’t know enough on Machine Learning in order to start a meetup and even less, to lead a study group.

So, despite feeling like I wasn’t the right person for doing so, I realized that I was the only one available, so I decided to give it a try.
I opened a meetup page the with the silly random name “Tarallucci, Vino e Machine Learning” (which today is becoming a sort of brand ^_^ ) and a facebook page.
(Editor’s note: “Taralluci e Vino” is an Italian expression that suggest a friendly, convivial and serene environment )

The beginning was a bit of a struggle, I wasn’t sure from where to start, but by keep bothering people with the idea of the meetups on Machine Learning it turned out that a friend from the Verona FabLab knew a person, who knew a person, who was working in the field and would have been happy to be our first speaker, Lorenzo Ridi from Noovle
Plus, in the meantime, I also ended up bothering a forward-thinking person from a local co-working space which offered us a room for free to host the event. 
Also, by a stoke of luck, another association, Italian Association for Machine Learning, spot our activity on meetup.com and proposed us to join forces as their goal was to create a network of meetup in Italy. (Honestly, in the beginning, I was quite suspicious, but it turned out they are very nice people without a hidden agenda)

3- Gold nuggets.

As my true goal was to find and gather fellow laptop-and-chair nerds I decided to split the meetup into 2 parts: the story-telling and the codelab.
The first part is always intended for the general public, a story understandable by anyone about the applications and the potential of machine learning… between us, it was serving as “Bait and Switch”.
The second part, the codelab, people who wanted to participate, were invited to bring a laptop as they would have the opportunity to try out some code in a guided manner.
After a short break, as the second part of the evening was about to start, the codelab, a lot of people already left the venue, leaving behind in the semi-gloom of the room a small group of people, faintly illuminated by the light coming from the screen of their laptops, shining like gold nuggets trapped in the bottom of a sieve.

4- Grab and run.

I seized the opportunity and announced the formation of a study group, just before the beginning of the codelab, I came prepared, with a tiny feedback form, served via bit.ly short-link, asking topics and ideal dates and times (and email address, of course). To ensure success and involve them, I asked them to fill it on the spot, so I could have shown them the results live.
The results spoke, Thursday would have been the evening, so I told them, that from next week, every Thursday there would have been the study-group and there would have been an introductory course based on fast.ai classes.
Thanks God (the one you like more) by that time Google Colab was just released, honestly, without it, it would have been much harder to pull this one off. Colab is democratizing AI, for real, hats off.

5- The work.

As the weeks passed by, people were coming and going, but a small, but growing group started to consolidate.
On a personal level, it took me quite an effort to prepare the classes every week ( in the beginning I was the most knowledgeable on the topic ) and to speak for 3 hours in a row, explaining and answering questions. 
In the meantime, keep organizing the monthly meetup and keeping up with the social media to spread the news and gather more people, but after some time, the ball started to roll on its own ( kind of ).
By the way, using Telegram or WhatsApp to collect and coordinate people and activities turned out to be the best tool.

6- Keep rolling.

Now, 9 months later, summer is gone and activities are starting over a new batch of people is showing up and with the original group, we are continuing from where we left. Overall we are 30–40 people meeting every week.
In the meantime, some friends moved to Padova, a nearby city, for attending the University and he couldn’t follow the study group anymore, I’ve decided to give it a shot. 
I started a Telegram group adding the 2–3 people I knew from Padova which I knew where interested in the activity, posted on social media via my page and other Italian machine learning groups. Within 10 days, I was having about 25 people on the chat.
 The next week, I’ve organized an aperitive in Padova, so we could all meet in person and understand what we would have like to go about it, during that time, we also figured out a place where to meet as one of the participants offered his office.
One week ago, on the 19 of September, I went to Padova to give them a bootstrap night and since then, there is a great ferment of ideas and discussion.
This time, everything happened in 3 weeks or so ^_^’

7- Future.

In Verona, the plan is to move to Deep Reinforcement Learning, in January.
For the rest, looks like the enthusiasm is contagious and things got a little bit out of hands, look like there might be studygroups starting in also in Vicenza, Venice, Pisa, Roma and Catania.
(to be continued)

If theres is one thing I’ve learned from this experience, is to do what you love, to focus on what inflame your imagination, to follow the enthusiasm, as it set on fire what’s next to you… endless enthusiasm works, always.