My Experience at BarCamp Saskatoon 2012

I attended my first BarCamp Saskatoon event a few weeks ago. For those unaware of what a BarCamp is, it’s marketed as an “un-conference” in that anyone is encouraged to speak, there are no corporate agendas, and it’s focused on participation and discussion. And, of course, there’s beer.

I initially proposed a few talks as I did for Prairie Dev Con, hoping that one of them would stick, but both talks were immediately accepted. I forgot the first rule of barcamp – anyone and everyone is encouraged to present, so I didn’t really have to “bid” for a spot. It turns out that there were so many people registered to speak that I was only able to give one presentation anyways.

Anywho, I arrived at the Avenue building in Saskatoon’s downtown and registered for the event. Within the hour the place was filled with people mostly from Saskatoon’s Dev and Startup scene. Luckily I knew quite a few people from my previous role as S-Lan’s Director of Operations as well as going to school at SIAST Kelsey, so I was able to work myself into a few conversations.

After everyone registered and annoucned their speaking intentions, the schedule was created on the fly by the event staff. This is something that’s fairly different from your standard conference where the agenda is known beforehand. There were a few speakers and their topics pre-registered on the site to give people an idea of the type of talks at the event, but no indication of a schedule anywhere other than “From 12 PM to 8 PM”. Definitely different.

I was moved around a few times but eventually landed a spot around 6:30 for my talk, which worked out well as I was able to attend a lot of other talks. The topics I went to ranged from the importance of team building to how learning to code contributed to a tech writer’s career, 3 dimensional sound using Web APIs to how to deploy a dev ops role in your IT team. Lots of good content, and a wide variety of things to choose from. The general theme was either development or startup & marketing focused, and most of the talks were more high-level discussions rather than in-depth examples and code-alongs.

After supper, it was my turn to present. I chose to give a talk on “Single Page Apps and the Web of Tomorrow”, in which I detailed the history of web development and how it has lead to today’s advancements in single-page apps, html5, and other components. I have a few notes from that and the barcamp experience in general that I’d like to jot down:

  • Any time slot after supper kind of sucked. I’d say probably close to 40% of the attendees left after food was served. Sessions that were previously standing-room-only in the afternoon were now only 10-15 people max. If I could do it again I’d do my best to keep a before-supper time. I still had a great & engaged crowd, but not nearly as many as I had hoped for.

  • I need to do a better job of sticking to my synopsis. My initial talk proposal focused pretty exclusively on single page apps, and that’s what a lot of people came to my talk to learn about. I wrote the presentation after my talk was accepted, and I thought that I’d take a more “high-level” approach as a lot of the other talks seemed to do the same. I did still cover single-page apps, and luckily I had time at the end to go into more detail, but I didn’t have anything specific prepared.

  • Bring display adapters for my laptop! All the projectors were using HDMI, which my laptop needs a proprietary dell adaptor for, so last minute I had to transfer my presentation to a USB key and open it on someone’s macbook in OpenOffice, which totally messed with my presentation notes.

  • Drinking for 8 hours doesn’t work well. They started serving beer around the 12 noon mark, and while I was definitely pacing myself, causal drinking for 6 hours before I have to do a presentation just made me feel slightly ill. Some other presenters just got drunk, which I guess is a valid strategy given the casualness of the conference, but you really need to go all or nothing or else you just feel crappy for the last half of the conference.

  • One of the main focuses of the conference is dialog and conversation – come prepared to talk to strangers if you want to get the most out of barcamp.

All in all it was a good experience, and I’d like to look at getting something similar setup in Regina. Anyone interested?