I spent last weekend at BarCamp San Diego (hereafter noted as #BCSD7 – it’s Twitter hashtag).  What’s a BarCamp, you ask?  Well, read on…

Logo for BarCamp San Diego 7
What’s BarCamp?

BarCamp is a community-led unConference for geeks.  It usually runs over a weekend.  Registration is required (to calculate space and food needs) but most often the cost to attend is very small, or even free. 

BarCamp consists of short presentations (usually under an hour) and other activities.  For #BCSD7 sessions were limited to 30 minutes.  There were 4 presentation rooms.  Each room had a projector.  I have found out (the hard way) that the presentation equipment varies.  If you really want to make a presentation at a BarCamp, always ask the organizers in advance how these rooms are set up.

BarCamp is an unConference because the session agenda is determined by those attending at the start of BarCamp.  Literally anyone anyone attending can speak about any topic they want to.  Sometimes people prepare in advance for talks they feel like giving, sometimes they don’t.  Of course quality varies widely because of this and other reasons.  There’s much more to BarCamp than just sessions though, more about that later in this post…

BarCamp always opens with a paper ‘board’ with rooms and timeslots.  Campers grab markers and post its and post up their topics on the timeslot they want.  The reason for that if a couple of presenters post talks on the same topic, they may decide to combine (an d maybe speak together).  Also if someone wants to attend two talks at the same time, they can ask the speakers to change the times so desired talks don’t conflict.

The schedule is very fluid and gets more filled in as the day progresses.  Below is a photo of the board for the first day of #BCSD7.  It’s fun to read some of the sessions listed - “How to Get a Tech Book Published”, “Surviving DefCon”, “Lego Build Competition” and much more.  Llewellyn and I did conduct a hands-on session about TeachingKidsProgramming using #SmallBasic as well.

#BCSD7 schedule 

Looking at schedule brings me to the next question – what do people talk about at BarCamp?  In general – these kinds of talks are ‘good’ and well attended:

1) Geeky – Feel like talking about your PhD thesis topic in Math?  You’ll have an audience here.  Here’s LLewellyn and an attendee working through an algorithm.

It's Math, really

2) Funny – Self-deprecating humor plays quite well with this group.  Think along the lines of ‘I-tried-to-do-something-but-I-really-stunk-and-now-I’ll-share-so-you-don’t-too’ lines

3) Hands on – Make a robot, brew beer, learn to pick locks – include any kinds of physical geeky stuff to play with and you’ll have a full room.  Below is June Clarke’s (@joonspoon) talking on programming <robotic> Bugs.

@joonspoon on June Bugs

4) Sexy or Boozy (or both)– Hey, I don’t make the news, just report it.  How to get a “date” using <insert geeky technique here> topic seems most common.  ‘How to brew Beer’ appeared at #BCSD7 for example.
Beer Brewing demo
5) Controversial, particularly around commercial products - ‘Android vs. iPhone’ is an example from #BCSD7 – more of a shouting match then a presentation, it was nothing if not entertaining.  Picture below.

Debate was an understatement

6) Unique – just talk about whatever you care about.  I’ve seen presentations about karma, knitting, speaking Swedish and more.

These kinds of talks are ‘bad’ and are shunned, scorned, and not well-attended:

1) Personal promotion – just don’t go there, people will walk out if they even bother to attend.  If you are really unlucky, they will also immediately tweet about their experience
2) Commercial software talks – work for a large software company and feel like talking about the latest and greatest thing your company has just released?  Don’t try this at BarCamp.
3) Panels – panels in general aren’t great and they just don’t work at all in the BarCamp format

Final hint – if you feel like talking about software here – your talk should include the words FREE and/or OPEN SOURCE.  If not, just don’t talk about it – not in a regular session at least.  Hallways demos of any type of software are totally fine.  Sometimes these turn into mini-sessions and that’s AOK.  It’s a subtle thing, but something that I’ve seen across multiple BarCamps.

What Sessions were at BCSD7?

Here a some photos from the session boards at #BCSD7

Some sessions

More

More Sessions

Still More

Still More Sessions

And yet another booze talk

The highly popular Scotch talk

Who Attends and Who Presents?

Usually around 200 to 300 ‘geeky types’ – mostly developers who work mostly on open source platforms.  Specifically at #BCSD7 there were around 250.  Notably there are a larger number of non-programmer (but still geeky) spouses, partners and even some kids.

What Else Happens?

Well, people really just hang out – and some of them even sleep over (really – sleeping bags are AOK).  See picture below.

BarCamp bed

The later at night, the more variety – more geeking, more drinking, more games (video games, board games, card games), sometimes casual hacking.  There was a music room at #BCSD7 – people brought drums, guitars and more.  Llewellyn joined in the lock-picking fun.

lock picking at BCSD7

Of course ALL technical meetups MUST have T-Shirts (LOL).  In the case of #BCSD7, we (Microsoft) bought the the distinctive, red ones shown below.

Nice Shirt, thanks Microsoft

Speaking of attire – it is very good to wear old BarCamps shirts (such as BarCamp San Diego 2, BarCamp LA 3, etc…), it is very bad to wear commercial logo vendor software shirts (I think you know what I mean). 

There is also communally served food, think Chinese or Indian in large containers and lots of geek snacks.  It’s very informal.  Here’s the 'snack’ area.

Snacks at #BCSD7 by Yahoo

What about Social Media and BarCamp?

In addition to the ‘live’ action at BarCamp, there is ALWAYS a super-active twitter stream.  Here’s a small sample from #BCSD7.

partial twitter feed #BCSD7

Tip: Put your @twitter tag EVERYWHERE – i.e. on presentation slides, on presentation topics, on your cards, etc…

Also picture on Flickr, slides on Slideshare, etc…sharing is big at BarCamps.

Why should you go?

BarCamp is just FUN!  I mean geeky + talks + food + games, etc…One reason I am blogging about this, is that I do not see as many of my core blog audience (who I assume are mostly .NET developers) at BarCamp.  Don’t be put off by the fact that most developers there use other platforms – after all, you are in good company with developers in general.  I’d LOVE to see more of my .NET User Group community at the BarCamps in San Diego (twice annually) and in Los Angeles (annual, but not always that frequent).

Also, you’ll find out about OTHER cool, technical community events at BarCamps. At #BCSD7, they actually had a talk on all of the community events in San Diego.  I got to meet the leads for the first-ever ‘StartUp Weekend San Diego’ as another example.

The general atmosphere at BarCamp is that ALL are welcome.  It’s really a geeky, fun, friendly place.  The recap at the end shows one aspect of the ‘democratic’ spirit.  Everyone just gathers and shares what was good, bad and/or should be changed for the next time.  Organizers don’t get paid, they are simply awesome community people.  Below is a recap photo from #BCSD7.

#BCSD7 organizers

How BarCamp could improve?

Extend its reach – some other types of unConferences, such BiL live stream and record from the conference.  This streaming sometimes happens informally at BarCamps (think ‘Qik’), but I think it would be cool for people who were not able to attend BarCamp to be see at least part of it.

So, BarCampers – amp up the streaming.  I think more people want to join in the fun.

My personal thanks to the organizers of #BCSD7 for working hard to run another great event too!