Sunday, October 7, 2012

Tribute to Code Camp

Let us sing praise to code camps everywhere and in particular to the Silicon Valley Code Camp here in the San Francisco bay area. I’m just home from SVCC which, at 2500 attendees, is one of the largest (if not the largest) code camps in the country. At any hour I could choose from twenty-five sessions touching a wide range of technology interests.

Yet SVCC retains an intimacy and immediacy unmatched by formal conferences of equal size. Like all code camps, SVCC is free to everyone, supported by an army of volunteers and industry sponsors (thank you, sponsors!). People flock to camp to share their enthusiasms and discover something unexpected. The mood is jolly and infectious.

It’s a wonderful place to speak. It’s a terrific opportunity to learn to speak. Never spoken publically before? Do you have the urge? Feeling a little shy? Don’t hold back … bring your talk to a Code Camp. Code camp welcomes all speakers and every speaker, novice or veteran, finds a respectful audience. Code Camp is the place to lose your stage fright and speak your mind.

You will connect! At many conferences, the room is dark, the faces are lit by laptops, and it is painfully evident that many in your audience are twittering, emailing, or doing something other than listening. At Code Camp, the lights are up and they’re paying attention. They interrupt constantly with questions and observations. I know exactly how my talk is going, what points are resonating, which are falling flat. I go where my people want me to go. My talk becomes conversational. My nerves calm, my fear of failure dissipates … I’m having a conversation. You really must try it!

Are all the talks good? No, of course not. You’re bound to think, “geez, I could do better than that!” Maybe you can. You won’t know until you put yourself on the line … and you owe that experience to yourself.

Even the inept talk has much to offer. When the speaker cares … and at camp they really care … something of interest always bubbles to the surface. I imagine myself trying to tell the same story, wondering how a different image, a different phrase, a dramatic gesture might make it more compelling. I always come away with some fresh tidbits on the speaker’s subject and a page full of ideas for improving my next presentation.

Finally, a big thank you to the organizers and volunteers at SVCC. An effective conference is no accident. It’s a lot of details and asses-and-elbows. I don’t know about you but I’m always either lost or anxious about getting lost. Driving onto the sprawling Foothill College Campus, a volunteer greets me at the gate and points the way to 4 parking lots, all free thanks to sponsors. Signs every 100 yards along the long winding road lead me confidently to these lots. I step out of the car and hundreds of signs, on the ground and on walls, always in sight, guide me to registration and from there to session rooms. There’s a map on the back of my badge.

Lunch for 2500? No problem … lines move swiftly through the hall; in minutes I’m out on a grassy knoll (not the grassy knoll), under sunny skies, deep in conversation.

For us, speakers and attendees, the day flows effortlessly; we are oblivious to the many things that are going wrong. Maybe the coffee is late. Or all the badges disappeared. The volunteer team scrambles and all is set right. The illusion of calm is sustained.

It’s a magic act made possible by hard work, years of organizing experience, and tons of passion. I urge you to be a part of it. Attend a code camp, speak at a code camp, volunteer at a code camp. You need code camp and code camp needs you.

2 comments:

pkellner said...

All the volunteers, speakers and sponsors really appreciate your words here Ward. Our event is months and months of pain staking planning followed by a hectic week and then a huge explosion of activity. When things go well (like thankfully they did for the most part this weekend) everyone knows there job and it's execute, execute execute.

Not sure where I started here, but to finish, that explosion leaves us all exhausted, but with a sense of accomplishment that is really hard to compare to. Words like yours makes that sense of accomplishment feel real.

-Peter Kellner

clive.boulton said...

Remarkable is the cadre of organizers and volunteers peter attracts and delegates to that make code camp flow for the speakers and attendees. In these days of zero dollar training budgets SVCC is simply one of the best events for sharpening your professional development sword and a great feeling contributing.
-cliveb