Conferences are an interesting diversion from the daily work as an iOS developer. BarCamps are the same, but they are not classical conferences in the sense that an organizer takes care of everything and you can simply consume. Rather at a bar camp you bring your own content. That’s why they are also referred to as un-conferences.
I visited my first such event in Graz, let me give you some of my impressions. Welcome to the BarCamp Graz 2011.
When you enter the venue you get a name tag and have 3 slots where you put your tags. Those are basically the three copies that you feel interest you the most. I put CoreText, Components and Partnerships. Then – after breakfast – people can put topics they feel like giving a talk on onto post-its which are input into the “Paper Wiki”. That is a big piece of paper which a grid of rooms and the times. Organizers try to consolidate talks with general interest, some of the talks got moved to “next day” (or never), in some cases
At present – due to my daily involvement in this topic – I felt most passionately about CoreText. I have very little practice in giving talks in general, I’m simply too young in this industry to be a renowned speaker. But what’s great about bar camps is that you don’t have to if you have something to present. Even though I didn’t do any specific presentation preparation, the feedback I got suggested that people liked my presentation.
A bit unfortunate was the fact that all the other visitors to the iCamp generally seem to be too shy to present. Why is that? I keep meeting brilliant iOS engineers who are true artisans when they navigate around Xcode, but for some strange reason they also seem to think that they have nothing to share. I have a bit of an advantage though that I have some extrovert tendencies that found a fertile ground at this event.
There was one other iOS-related talk that I thoroughly enjoyed, talking about how to customize a UITabbarController. Boy, you can apparently make this do just about anything if you torture it enough… There actually where a few prepared Keynote slides. Regardless, I found that truly fascinating.
But my best reason to attend was not the conference itself, but the number of people I would meet there for the first time. It turns out that most of the engineers of BytePoets, a partner of mine, were present. We have entered into a partnership agreement, signed and sealed, a week before we actually met here in Graz for the first time face to face. The product that we are collaborating on might be revealed tomorrow, or not, we’ll see.
I did not have any Keynote presentation, although I still wish I had a reason to create one. Instead I simply used 3 tabs on a Safari window to show:
- my Website
- my Twitter account
- the location of the NSAttributedString+HTML project on Github
- I used one actual slide (ripped from a WWDC video on CoreText) to explain the connections
To avoid an appearance of wanting to hide between the desk I stood up when I was not giving a tour of code or websites. I feel that this made it also more personable and in touch with the audience.
Granted with a bit of preparation I could have cut down on the fluff and finished the talk in the time allotted, but it did not seem to bore people that I took an hour instead of 45 minutes. On the contrary! I had several interesting questions before and after it, which tells me that it indeed was a valuable introduction for most of the attendees.
One technique that worked really well to get people engaged is to ask question hand have them be answered by show of hands. Who’s a developer? Almost all. Who’s used CoreText before? Almost none. Perfect, captive audience, captivated by my talk. I couldn’t have had an easier to please crowd. Might have been luck. Or might have been the charm of bar camps that due to the number of multiple streams and topics you invariably tend to end up with the perfect audience because they WANT to listen to you.
In a way this 2-day event could also be seen as a sort of trial of the concept of traveling light. Earlier I had gotten myself an 11″ MacBook Air. This was supplemented by a 3G iPad 2 and – of course – my iPhone 4. In fact, since my Air also had Xcode 4 installed and working, I was only too happy to supply it for somebody else’s presentation. Keynote took longer than expected to install from the Mac app store, so the slides had to come from another 11″ sitting next to it. So you can see, the 11″ Air apparently is the modern presenters device of choice.
Ah and yes, so far I am very very happy with the mentioned combo. Of all the volume in the had I carried with me, most was made up of a two compressible rainskins and a pair of BarCamp swag T-Shirts. Now that my partner won’t attend the second day, there’s even less volume to carry. I can highly recommend this way of moving around. Yes, you can probably prepare a bit more professionally, have Keynote installed and ready to roll with some slides, but technically all you need are those 3 lightweight Apple devices.
Ah and I forgot to mention the best part: barcamps are free and try to have as many streams as there are rooms and talks. On the one hand this means that nobody HAS to be there and you usually get more interested listeners than if people have to choose between the less boring talk in two streams done by paid professionals (which does not in itself mean that those couldn’t be boring as well). The other is that that since nobody gets paid for talking one saying holds true more than ever: it is what you make of it.
A truly intriguing experiment in doing a conference that isn’t one.