BarCamp Belfast hit the Belfast Campus of the University of Ulster on Saturday.
BarCamp Belfast is a user-generated unconference for designers, developers, startups and geeks to share and learn in an open environment.
Unconference means that there are no fees to register and attend, food and caffeine are freely provided, there are no invited speakers but instead the attendees volunteer to give talks, organising the schedule on the day.
Andy McMillan is the driving force behind the Belfast event, and along with a team of capable and obedient slaves, pulled off the event which had over 350 people registered before it started, thirty or more talks given across the day, and hundreds of networking opportunities for the participants who came from all across Ireland as well as a few from further afield.
Traditionally, BarCamps are ... well, it’s difficult to use the word “traditionally” when it comes to a free-form event. So let’s say that many other BarCamp events are a hotbed of technobabble and rapid prototyping. But there were few hackers strutting - or even mashing - their stuff in Belfast on Saturday.
Other than a few references to APIs, the majority of what I could hear was focussed on business development in the world of web design, project management, life coaching, managing clients to maximise satisfaction and profit. There were a lot of entrepreneurs, a lot of networking, and a teeny bit of self-promotion by some speakers!
Of course none of that’s bad. In fact, the quality of the talks was incredibly good. It reflects the local market and those of us who are engaged with the event and its wider ecosystem. Looks like it’s a social island after all!
While the geek stereotype tends towards introversion, fear of daylight and inability to communicate except by means of a keyboard, you wouldn’t have known on Saturday. Amongst others ...
- Lee Munroe squeezed in a great opening session on the seven deadly sins of Wordpress and how to beat them - accessible and applicable to non-Wordpress bloggers too. Then he flew off to run the London Marathon!
- Paul Mcenhill talked about improving how we take, process and organise photographs: he’s still at school, but that didn’t reflect in the insight and tips he provided.
- Dee Harvey and John Campbell escaped from the darkened recesses of the BBC NI news room to start a conversation about the semi-permeable newsroom.
- 4iP’s Ewan McIntosh made it across from Edinburgh to educate more people about Channel 4’s Innovation for the Public fund, and share some of the progress on existing commissions (most notably, Audioboo).
- David Braziel looked at the top reasons that IT projects failed.
- Tracy Dempsey shared some insights into presentational techniques and threw in some NLP magic.
- And I left before ex-twitter-now-BT (or is that ex-San-Francisco-now-Whitehead?) Blaine Cook closed the day with a storming session that eschewed Keynote and Powerpoint in favour for the overhead projector (well, the modern lecture theatre equivalent) and hand-written slides.
Even the coffee was geeky with Bean and Gone’s alien brewing kit providing tea and coffee on a scale worthy of an army field kitchen, but at a quality you’d find at the opposite end of the spectrum.
Not having wifi proved quite liberating for the event, encouraging real life conversations and keeping people’s heads up from their laptops! An improvement - and one that can only come from within - would have been to have more talks. A shame that the four rooms weren’t booked solid all day, with talks overflowing into corners of the public spaces. (The bridge would make a great location!) More talks would have shrunk the numbers in some rooms, and perhaps allowed more interaction and conversation and less talk from the front.
Maybe next time we need to encourage all of us amateurs to make sure that we pitch in with alternatives to the less-amateur outfits. I promise to think harder next year and come up with something to talk about.
Not content with running a flourishing web design business of his own, promoting monthly gigs, representing the industry on the Digital Circle steering group and single-handedly keeping Charlies Coffee Shop’s profits healthy, Andy McMillan is organising Build Conference in the autumn: a “proper” conference with invited speakers, to be followed the next day by an unconference where the attendees get a chance to feed back to the speakers. And perhaps that’s where Northern Ireland will get to bring their TLAs out of their closets and talk openly about REST, SOAP, Ruby and arrange a vi-is-better-than-emacs re-enactment!