Yesterday I attended my first BarCamp Buffalo “tech unconference” at Medaille College, where 85 attendees registered for the free event that featured 37 breakout sessions spread out across five classrooms and 10 time slots – five before lunch and five afterwards.
Thanks to sponsors and volunteers, the participants receive complimentary breakfast and lunch and a cyan-colored BarCamp Buffalo T-shirt. While a majority of the topics were geared toward software applications and programming languages, the offerings also included government open data policy, community culture, entrepreneurship and other Western New York-centered themes.
Thus, there was a range of non-software-oriented topics as well, which had appealed to a non-programmer such as myself. The agenda of presenters is posted if you click on the logo below.
After the overnight snow delayed the proceedings about an hour, the organizers provided the overview, ground rules and upcoming industry meetups and events; and then everyone was encouraged to jockey for a speaker’s square on the whiteboard in the lecture hall.
Having recently relocated from the Phoenix area, I found BarCamp Buffalo to be a combination of PodCampAZ (now called Tech Phx) and IgnitePhoenix in that there was some structure and much preparation, but the spontaneity, networking and passion of the topics emerge once the speaker free-for-fall commences on the board. [I hear there could be an Ignite Buffalo on the horizon? If so, that would be spectacular, having seen five IgnitePhoenix events in the past three years since it started.]
I sat in on a couple of rapid-fire programming presentations, full well knowing I wouldn’t truly understand much of the material, but I admired the enthusiasm and knowledge that all were willing to share with everyone.
I had wanted to present and spent a few hours in the days leading up to Saturday, but I just couldn’t hammer down a specific theme that I thought would have general appeal for a more technical crowd. A few of the topics I was leaning toward talking about included: how a software novice can make an online portfolio with WordPress, the virtues and vices of serving on a professional association board or how earning an MBA can elevate your managerial mindset even if it doesn’t punch an immediate ticket to fancy titles and lucrative compensation packages.
Ultimately, however, I ran out of gas on a Friday night trying to experiment more with the Prezi presentation software (a great tool to explore if you are weary and wary of PowerPoint and its requisite lengthy bullets and clunky imagery). I would go again, but I would spend more time fine-tuning a concept and would definitely sign up to present at one of the mid-morning sessions.
Having a local conference on a Saturday (and in the winter) may sound counter-intuitive to maximizing attendance, however, the low-entry (free in this case), the constant emergence of new technologies, applications, startups and marketing tactics and the fact that most people want to be inside in February in Western New York anyway can yield a formula for a productive event in which you may not feel like you are working on a Saturday. Rather, the attendees are working on their own interests, industry connections and ongoing professional acumen across different disciplines.
BarCamp Buffalo is held quarterly and the next event is tentatively scheduled for early May. Stay tuned for more news at their website.