Sunday, October 19 2008

I got the opportunity to attend BarCampDC yesterday, an unconference filled with lots of fun people from the (still relatively small) DC startup community. It was a great opportunity to meet people from the area; while my internships in the Bay have (this summer especially) provided ways for me to meet the tech community there, Hopkins hasn’t made it a priority to get events like this here (though I’ve tried to convince them a few times). My beneficent overlords also provided some of the funding for this BarCamp, which was cool (BarCamps are funded by lots of smaller donations, rather than a few big ones, to prevent any one company from dominating discourse; at this BarCamp, the max donation was $250, and they had more than 36 sponsoring companies). It was my first time at a BarCamp, and I had a blast.

One of the more interesting talks I attended was by Samantha Warren, essentially “a guide for engineers on how to talk to design people.” Originally billed as “Design 101 for Non-Designers,” it was nonetheless a useful introduction into their dark arts– and while I already had an appreciation for designers (since I’m frighteningly bad with even a pen, let alone Photoshop and free time), it was still a good explanation of what designers are actually looking for, and how to evaluate design’s usefulness to help your brand. (There were, however, dissenters; another graphic designer in the room said that “graphic designers live in their own world,” and that he didn’t want engineers butting in; the “guru on a mountaintop” approach, I suppose.) The session also convinced me that not only does Mnikr need a logo (in that big space in the upper-left) once it gets a bit farther, but it wouldn’t hurt to have some sort of coherent branding across all my various USSJoin-fed projects… I wonder if someone in the DMC might be willing to take pity on a poor graduate student?

There were also great sessions on MySQL tuning for web apps (useful for everything I do), HacDC (a group of people playing around with tech in the DC area), and very excitingly, Apps for Democracy– a project to take all of Washington, D.C.’s data, now publicly available, and create useful applications based on it. I hope their project does well; if I had more free time, I might even join it.

One of the interesting experiences I had at the camp was the ability to watch what everyone at the camp was thinking in real-time, through examining their Twitter feeds; while a lot of people make fun of twitter as “too short to be useful,” it was actually a great tool to see how all five simultaneous sessions were going at any one time, as well as to communicate between attendees (many of whom didn’t know each other beforehand; instead, everyone simply included the hash code “#barcampdc” in their Tweets, and people could monitor occurrences of that to see what everyone was twittering about). I haven’t used Twitter at a live event before, so that was a first for me as well.

So a great conference overall, and great people throughout. I even found out about another unconference occurring soon, and closer to home: SocialDevCampEast happens in just two weeks at the University of Baltimore, and since both my job and my thesis revolve around the social web, I hope to attend that as well.

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