The BarCamp Experience

After hearing so much about BarCamp from the Flockers and others in California as well as via flickr photos, I jumped on the chance to attend one. Houston had its first BarCamp this past weekend and I was happily in attendance. So what exactly is BarCamp you ask? Take a seat, grab a caffeinated refreshment and I shall tell you.

BarCamp 411

BarCamp is a relatively young movement of "unconferences" that have rapidly spread from their origin in California all the way to places like Bangalore and Paris. BarCamp connects local techies with the incentive of free food, Wi-Fi and the chance to learn something new as well as share information. The cardinal rule of BarCamp is that there are no spectators, only participants.

As I learned from Erica at BarCamp Houston, the whole BarCamp campaign began several years ago when Tim O'Reilly from the established O'Reilly Media had invited over 100 prominent names in Silicon Valley to camp in his backyard. People brought their laptops, enjoyed the free food and Wi-Fi. It was a networking and learning experience for everyone in attendance. They actually slept in tents outside. This was not a BarCamp, this was a FooCamp. These FooCamps gained in popularity and Tim had them more frequently. However, one year it was coming around to be FooCamp time and Tantek Celik of Technorati had not received his invitation. In response he began to think of the BarCamp notion, playing on programmers' infatuation with the phrase "foobar." Tantek began contacting people such as WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg and ex-Flocker Chris Messina. Fast forward sometime later and dozens of BarCamps have successfully taken place.

What's It About?

BarCamps are based on the founding principal of promoting interaction amongst geeks, nerds, regular people and web-enthusiasts alike. It's no surprise that most BarCamps are held at bars equipped with Wi-Fi.

BarCamp is an ad-hoc un-conference born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment. It is an intense event with discussions, demos and interaction from attendees.
The Rules of BarCamp

What Went Down at BarCamp Houston?

I didn't know what to expect upon arriving at the Buddha Lounge, the location of Houston's first BarCamp. My first thoughts were how I was going to get past the bouncer as I'm under 21. Luckily, there was no bouncer as the bar's staff was frantically trying to keep up with the campers' requests for drinks. There were many events planned throughout the day as referenced by the two whiteboards.

BarCamp Houston

A whole slew of people had come to BarCamp Houston to participate in discussions dealing with community/local blogging, Ruby on Rails, putting Houston on the Tech map and much more. Everyone had a unique background and something to contribute. There were professional bloggers, veteran BarCampers, web designers, venture capitalists, CEO's, programmers and podcasters among the crowd. Throughout the event, there was the chance to win several prizes - either by answering questions posted on huge pieces of paper around the bar or with a web design contest.

BarCamp Houston

One aspect of BarCamp is networking. Every participant leaves with some extra URL's to visit, a small pile of business cards and free schwag and stickers from others' enterprises. Not to mention the Houston 'campers got a very nice t-shirt. The whole experience was truly satisfying. I met Matt from the Houstonist, Marc Nathan from Bulldog Financial as well as Kelsey Ruger, whom I had met online months prior.

Me with Kelsey Ruger (themoleskin.com)
Yes, I need a haircut.

Head over to BarCamp.org to see if there will be a BarCamp in your area anytime soon. BarCamps are a great way to meet people near you with similar interests and not to mention learn from others.

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"The BarCamp Experience" by @Stammy

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