It’s Sunday morning, June 16th, and I’m sitting in the main atrium of O2’s Slough offices, having spent the night camping in a small meeting room (and through judicious application of ear plugs, an eye mask and a sleeping pill actually got some sleep!) This is my second ever barcamp, and so far it’s been even better than last year.
I’m surrounded by geeks of every colour and flavour, some happily tapping away on their laptops like me, others engrossed in conversation. As is the prerogative of the ‘social introvert’ as barcamp stalwart Melinda Seckington puts it, I’m enjoying a moment of introspection, and am currently reflecting on how much I have changed since I was here a year ago.
Terry has been a face on the tech scene for the best part of the last decade, and has been to more barcamps, hack days, conferences, tech events & general geek get-togethers than one could shake the proverbial stick at! Last year he convinced me that I should give barcamp a go, and I went along feeling intrigued and excited, but also with some seriously trepidation. Sometimes I feel like I am a pretender in this world of developers, designers & coders. I barely have any skills or experience in programming – I find myself smiling and nodding along to conversations about the pitfalls with Ruby or Python, and I would struggle to sit through a talk about GitHub or the merits of BitCoin. On the other hand I can happily discuss sci fi and computer games, I work in STEM in an admin capacity and I over the years I have learned how to speak at least some techy language.
Last year, my blog was still in infancy, so after much deliberation I ran a discussion session on how I had a blog, but was not writing much for fear of seeming ill-informed and immature: I discussed how I sometimes get the urge to write to a particular item in the news, but then end up not really having the energy or time to research the thing properly, and become paralysed by wondering why anyone would care what I thought about something anyway. The session boosted my confidence enormously, not least because of the number of people who came up to me to say they felt exactly the same way.
I also got to see the other kinds of sessions which get run. While I think it’s fair to say that the majority of sessions are still heavily tech-oriented, I realised that I really could talk about anything which was of interest to me.
I also learned that the attendees of barcamps are an incredibly supportive, friendly bunch of people, and that a talk really doesn’t have to be polished to a gleaming, professional standard. This year I flung together a bunch of screenshots of computer games I have played throughout my 31 years of existence, and talked a roomful of people through A Brief History of My Life in Computer Games. I’d been tinkering around with the presentation during the week, and ended up projecting an older version of the final draft on the screen. Last year such a basic cock up would have sent me spiralling into a depression of self-doubt and recrimination. This year, I just shrugged it off, got to the end and then chatted to the attendees while I found the correct version on dropbox, and then quickly tacked on the extra material. It was far from slick, and it would have been better if it hadn’t happened, but no one seemed to mind, and more to the point, neither did I.
Later that day I remembered I had a topic in mind for another post which I haven’t got around to writing yet. I found a slot which was populated entirely with techy talks, found a free room, rounded up a few people who were hanging out not attending anything and held an impromptu discussion about female superheroes. Last year such confident, off-the-cuff self promotion would have been unthinkable. (The actual blog post, replete with the contributions of the people whose opinion I solicited, will be coming soon.)
Loads of great things have happened this year. In no particular order, highlights of the weekend were:
Rolling around on a tennis ball to force the back muscles to relax.
Listening to an 8 year old girl describe her IT lessons.
Riding the Virtual Reality rollercoaster “Occulus Rift” and not screaming out loud like the 3 blokes ahead of me!
Playing my first ever game of powerpoint karaoke, and crushing it! See the video here:
Barcamps rely heavily on the goodwill of the volunteers, so generous with their time and energy. By dint of working for O2, who hosted the event, Terry was automatically a member of the Crew. By dint of being married to Terry, and being driven to the office at the same time, I found myself getting stuck into the last-minute helping out too. Not be all self-aggrandizing or anything but I like to feel my substantial experience in crowd control, registering conference attendees and dealing with temperamental computer systems afforded me the necessary skills to be of use during a rather chaotic hour at the start of the weekend, and at various times thereafter. So for me the cherry on the fabulous barcamp cake was getting officially upgraded to Crew. Making a contribution to the whole weekend gave me a much needed boost of confidence, and I hope to go to many more!