Back from BarCamp Nashville 2012

I am about a month behind on my BarCamp retrospective. Apologies. It being the week before GMX didn’t help (and THAT retrospective will come next week).

BarCamp Nashville is a technological “unconference” where local tech and geek aficionados gather to discuss or hear presentations on topics in the tech world. And network with each other. And drink. It is in a bar after all.

This year’s BarCamp was held in the Tequila Cowboy bar (formerly called Cadillac Ranch) in downtown Nashville. Sessions ran throughout the day, starting at 9am and ending at 4:30pm. Topics range from the technical (ex: cryptography, responsive design), self-help (ex: leading, presenting), creative (ex: copywriting, podcasting), and fun (ex: game networking, Minecraft). Or, quite simply, everything from javascript to java with a popcorn maker.

The thing I really enjoy about BarCamp is that all of its panels and sessions are about doing something. Most panels at the geek cons I attend are usually about consumption. We revel in the material we enjoy and spend an hour fanboying (or fangirling) over whatever the case may be. That’s perfectly fine, and while cons do also have some workshops and how-to events, they tend to be fewer in between and often not on stuff I care for. BarCamp, being more geared towards producing something in a geeky career. With its simultaneously relaxed and professional feel, I think it has a more conducive environment for these kinds of panels.

One of the drawbacks though is that I’m not a pro-level tech guy, or even amateur level. I don’t code or program. I don’t work in hardware or software. I’m a content guy, a media guy. I write (though not as often as I should if you look at the archives). There usually isn’t as much content at BarCamp that’s easily accessible to me, and the sessions with more broad and general topics tend to go into this more specified directions that start to lose me, or they stay generalized and don’t bring much new to my table. Those sessions that do though are definitely worthwhile.

Given, there is the spring companion event PodCamp, which is essentially the same event and set up but with a focus more on content and media production (“pod” as in podcast). However, from the one PodCamp I attended this past spring, it seems it doesn’t get quite as much attention or drive behind it as the main BarCamp does, at least not with the sponsor turnout. More on PodCamp next spring.

Content Marketing: Blogging as Business Strategy, presented by Seth Spears

With all of that said, there was still plenty for me to see (in between playing pinball at centresource’s radical arcade set up). This year’s BarCamp saw me attending:

  • You are Not Don Draper, but You Can Still Write Copy (presented by Nicole Branigan, #bcn12writecopy)
  • Geek2English (presented by Cal Evans)
  • Stop Managing and Start Leading (presented by Evan Owens #bcn12leadership)
  • Content Marketing: Blogging as Business Strategy (presented by Seth Spears)
  • Your Presentation in a Backpack (presented by Maggie Summers #bcn12backpack)

The session “Geek2English” exemplifies my point of professional tech focus taking me out of it. The panel was about getting regular people to understand and better work with programming developers, as opposed to the popular culture geeks that I had thought when the term is used (which is how I categorize myself as a geek). This is more of a mismanaged expectation on my part, although an easy one to make it its name. It’s not a point on the quality of the panel, which was actually quite informative in working with programmers in a professional environment.

However, that same panel also exemplifies the refreshing laissez faire attitude of the event – the impromptu sessions. At two points throughout the day are open blocks in all the session spaces for impromptu sessions, presentations that people signed up to do that day, instead of those who submitted theory sessions weeks ago to get them listed online and in the program. If you decide to host a panel last minute, you might actually get to run it. It’s a neat surprise to event goers to find presentations you didn’t even know about before hand. It’s not something I see coming to any of the multi-day geek conventions I attend though, as they tend to be more strict (or try to be) about scheduling and approving content, and their needs require events approved much earlier than the week before.

BarCamp’s killer swag bag and FREE t-shirt

While BarCamp is also a great place to learn and meet people, it’s also a good place to be marketed to by the Nashville tech business world. It tends to have some good swag for a free event, including t-shirts free to those who pre-registered for the event (which likewise is free to do and is only necessary to get the shirt and a custom badge). You also get an assortment of fliers and trinkets from various sponsors within a custom BarCamp bag (all pictured above). The sponsors really are a driving force behind funding this event, so I’m curious if they actually find a good return on investment or if they view this as a service to their community. I suspect a bit of both.

The sponsor that was most dressed to impressed though was centresource, a Nashville-based marketing and web development company, who had a booth space tricked out with old-school arcade and console games under a “BarCamp ’92” banner. The Star Trek: The Next Generation pinball machine and Galaga table arcade cabinet attracted a lot of attention, notably my own.

Galaga table?! Do want!

Always impressive from my view as someone who attends and works at a bunch of conventions is how web savvy BarCamp tends to be. Probably a good thing since these people are supposed to be on the cutting edge in Nashville. One example is how BarCamp promotes online social discussion with each of its events. To start, the event provides free wireless, which came in handy with how all the smartphones choked my network (*coughsprintcough*). Then in addition to the event having its own Twitter/Google+ hashtag (#bcn12), each scheduled session has a unique hashtag to promote discussion and feedback during and after the session (“Your Presentation as a Backpack” is #bcn12backpack). It’s very centric to Twitter and Google+, to the detriment of Facebook and any other network that doesn’t track hashtags or conversations of people you’re not immediately connected to. But that’s part of the point of the event: meeting and conversing with like-minded, tech-oriented people you aren’t already connected with.

Something I didn’t get to take advantage of was BarCamp livestreaming each event room, and thus each session, thanks to some industrious volunteers from my alma mater MTSU. They did mention in one session that it was a late addition and with some bumps in the road, but they expect it to go more smoothly next year.

Select tweets with the #bcn12 tag were displayed throughout the day

I enjoyed this year’s BarCamp. It’s a fun day trip, and with an admission price of free, it’s hard to beat if you have the time (although feel free to buy a boxed lunch to donate to the event). Its laid-back feel and progressive web usage is a great experience. It may feel slow during a time when no sessions interest you, but go with people and make the rest of the time a fun social experience.

The main two points I would change would be 1) the 9am start time, and 2) the dates not being announced until just a few month’s prior. I get the start time, since it’s in a bar and has to do so much before the bar has to be ready for the prime time Saturday night rush. The date thing though, I don’t get. PodCamp has the same issue, as its Facebook page said it won’t have the dates until after the New Year for a spring event. I don’t see any of the conventions I typically deal with being able to get away with that small of a window, but I guess it helps people only have to cut out half a Saturday to attend instead of an entire weekend.

Either way, I’ll be back next year. Here’s to #bcn13!

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One thought on “Back from BarCamp Nashville 2012

  1. Howdy! Now i am in the office surfing around your site coming from my new new new iphone 4! Just want to say I want reading through your site and enjoy lots of the posts! Stay in the excellent operate!

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