Who’s who and what’s what

Paul Brannigan on Tue Oct 10 2023

On only two counts can a Barcamp be truly participatory. One is by bringing together a wide variety of people and their enthusiasm for their personal passions. And secondly, by fostering the openness, the friendliness, and the willingness to share those passions and knowledge, and to have opportunities to learn something new. 

It works like this . . . it’s a conference . . . but it’s not really a conference . . . it’s an unconference. It’s a bunch of geeky people curating a wide variety of sessions on the day. And until the proceedings get underway, nobody really knows what the core content is going to look like.

Who’s who?

It’s a collection of geeks of all kinds. There are certain to be some software developers, web site designers, infosec experts, makerspace enthusiasts, photography buffs, journalists, network engineers, systems administrators, teachers, cyclists, gamers, civil servants, freelancers, students and anybody involved in IT (in its widest sense). And others! Everybody is welcome.

And if Tom, Dick and Harry are there, you can be sure that they will be offering sessions covering JavaScript, or password hacking, or role playing games. People love to talk about their passions. Sessions can be elementary, intermediate or advanced. The cards on the grid will tell you what you need to know.

Everyone is invited to host a session. No matter how new you are to this, you are as welcome as the next person. If “public speaking” is a bit of challenge, just give it a try. This is one of the most welcoming and friendly audiences you will ever meet. And if you still aren’t quite ready to take the plunge then you may find that somebody there will be hosting a session like “an introduction to public speaking skills”.

Some regulars prepare their sessions in advance, and hope to get a good slot on the grid. Some ideas gel on the day, and sometimes sessions germinate in conjunction with a new friend who becomes your co-host. If there are empty slots on the grid they often get filled towards the end of the afternoon with last minute ideas. It may be that something arose from a session earlier in the day, and that deserved some more discussion.

Come along with a ready made session if you like, or come with only a rough idea, or simply come along with an open mind. The team and the other regulars will offer to help and to advise, as much or as little as you need. 

Over the years, some of the old hands eventually end up on the volunteer team which pulls this all altogether. They rely on the help of some others on the day, and everybody is invited to get involved in something. The initiative started years ago with big companies (like Yahoo! or BT) offering space and food and drink. These days, it’s a grass roots community initiative run entirely by volunteers, supported by sponsorship, and free for the attendees.

What’s what?

Nowadays Barcamps normally take place in a school, a university, or at a corporate training facility. One big room for everybody to meet, and multiple break out spaces for the sessions. Usually the session spaces have a facility to hook up a laptop to a large screen or a projector. Sometimes one or two spaces may not have IT.

In a uniquely informal way Barcamps have a formal start, and a formal end. At least that’s what it says on the schedule! The welcome chat is quickly followed by the “white space” or the “open space” where attendees help to populate an empty grid. Newbies, regulars, and old hands are all welcome to add a session to the grid. Concurrent tracks across multiple break out spaces throughout the day provide a chance for plenty of people to speak.

You don’t have to speak . . . and if there are 150 people and only 50 slots then clearly not everybody can get the chance. The number of people and slots can vary from year to year and from venue to venue. Typically, figures of 150 and 50 are about right.

Adequate time is scheduled for changeovers between sessions, and lunch is provided (for free) during the middle of the day.

Normally there is tea and coffee and water available throughout the day, although there is no guarantee of any breakfast, nor any evening food. In good years, when sponsorship is abundant, there can be a lot more flexibility, and even an after party with (sometimes) a small budget for a free bar. In lean years, the basics are definitely catered for. Check the promotional stuff for your next Barcamp to see what is and what is not included.

Social Media plays a key role in alerting people to what’s going on.

Before, during and after the event be sure to use the prevailing hashtag #bclxii. Blog about this too, and keep the team and the other attendees in the loop. When there are concurrent sessions you can’t always get to all your favourite ones. It’s nice to be able to read up about them afterwards.

Please spread the word. Who else do you know who needs to hear this? They are more than welcome to join in.

Barcamp London XII is on 11 Nov 2023 at the London Academy of Excellence near White Hart Lane stadium. Admission is by ticket only, and tickets are free.

Mainzelmännchen cartoons courtesy of ZDF