BarCamp Portland 2012

Welcome to another session of BarCamp Portland conference notes! BarCamp Portland 2012 is now underway, and the session board is currently filling up. For those who want to follow along, the Twitter hashtag to search for is #bcp6. The schedule will be up at 2012.barcampportland.org.

Is There Room for a “Renaissance Man” in Today’s Specialized Age

The question at hand is that with the breadth and depth of knowledge necessary in so many fields. Answer: things used to be handled in a more holistic fashion, and now it’s so much harder.

“Renaissance Man” is a loaded term, where we expect a savant in every topic, when really, if you are solid with a handful of different fields, you’re arguably a renaissance man. The 1-2 man startup is the space for the modern day renaissance man — when a project is that small, everyone needs to be able to juggle multiple skill sets.

There is room for renaissance people, but the key is to educate others, and to find ways to have multidisciplinary education, bringing holistics and heuristics to school.

Working in the PDX Tech Community

Audrey (the host) created a wiki to start documenting the tech scene here in Portland. Everything from average wages, to lists of companies, warning signs to avoid. Workinginpdxtech.com. Aside: network is being pretty flaky, so apologies if updates flake out.

Biggest benefit to finding the job you want is knowing people. Leveraging user groups is pretty key (and companies that are hiring tend to get more active in user groups when they’re hiring). Also, finding ways to make sure that job postings get noticed (they get posted all over the place, companies sites, mailing lists, craigslist, tech job sites, et cetera).

Getting good wage data is important and requested. The wiki collects some data from surveys and Bureau of Labor, but more data is always useful.

As an employee here in Portland, it’s important to develop a support network of people inside and outside of your organization (and not just your spouse/partner, but others within your industry, possibly found through user groups). In particular when dealing with dysfunctional organizations, they will often isolate you, so that you start to accept bad behavior/wages/etc as “normal”.

But how do we create that support network, how do we break in and get to know people? User groups are good, but can get clique-y, it’s good to try both large user groups and smaller ones. Also, “gifting circles” (people go around and say what they need, and what they have to offer). Also, having facilitators whose job at user groups is to notice new people and bring them into the social setting. (Not necessarily bring them under your wing, but find out why they are there, help put them at ease, and then introduce them to others who are interested in similar topics.)

What can employers here do to help engage the community. There’s a disconnect between what employees and employers are seeing — employees are saying “where are the companies?” and employers are saying “where are the people?” Recruiters aren’t necessarily a good idea — it’s better to incentivize your current employees to go participate in the tech community. It raises direct awareness, and gives potential hires someone to talk to who is directly involved and can give an honest assessment.

Would it be useful to evaluate recruiters, to help identify those who are useful and those who just repost public postings and have no internal awareness of the company. (Yes, it would be.) Also, train HR in at least some basic technical knowledge, so that job postings can be more relevant.

How to find jobs? Silicon Florist is useful, and (less so) Craigslist, but most people got their current jobs by direct referral/friends. To find companies, ePDX.org can be good to get a list of companies, and then you can go direct to the company sites for job listings. Participate in user groups and listen to where people are working. How to find events? Calagator is good, though things get missed.

Teaching Coding: What Works and What Doesn’t

Roundtable on how to teach programming better — what things have worked for others, and what hasn’t. A lot of folks are self-taught, and so it’s hard to think about how to teach others.

“Not everyone can be great at everything, but everyone can be better at something than they are.” One person who has had been a successful tutor also says that it’s worth taking some time to figure out what metaphor or concept that works for that person.

Drupal set up a “ladder” leading towards people contributing to core modules. People would pair up and do learning sprints leading up to to code sprints of actual contributions. They’ve found this to be highly effective for improving core module submissions in both quality and number.

(Internet flaked out, other notes will be up elsewhere later.)

What Stumptown Syndicate Does

Stumptown Syndicate is a local non-profit dedicated to educating and aiding the tech industry in Portland. They put on courses and conferences, such as BarCamp, and Ignite Portland, and WhereCamp, and Open Source Bridge. The goal is to foster a sense of community among people involved in tech fields, and also educate and improve the body of knowledge of those in these fields.

Most events are free, paid for by sponsorships and volunteer time and donations, with the exception of Open Source Bridge.

Last year, they started experimenting with adding workshops, starting with a Beginning Ruby course targeted towards women and bringing more women into tech. They’d like to do more of this, but it takes a lot of work and resources, which means needing to expand the volunteer pool.

Stumptown is also trying to do more outreach to the community, helping make sure user groups happen. They’re also doing outreach about what they’ve learned about event planning, so the tips and tricks they’ve encountered can be forwarded on to others to make that process easier.

There are many volunteers, but the number of members of Stumptown Syndicate is fairly small — the core difference is that members tend to contribute financially to the organization. If you want to volunteer (strongly encouraged!), head to the Stumptown Syndicate website and fill out the volunteer form, so that they’ll have your contact information and can get you involved.

WordPress and You

(No notes.)

Applying Martial Arts Philosophies to Everyday Life

There are a few core takeaways from this session: 1) working in the tech industry, we’re often spending time behind a desk, and not taking care of our bodies. Being more mindful of our bodies can improve our overall health and even improve focus at work; 2) martial arts in particular can be useful in that you can learn to read the body language of those around you better, which can help you deal with frustrating bosses, clients, or co-workers.

It matters less which martial art you choose to pursue, though there are a few things to bear in mind when choosing a school — in general, you should try to find a school that teaches both the physical AND the mental/spiritual side of the form. Try and observe a class before officially joining — if the school doesn’t allow that, it’s probably not a school you’d want to go to in the first place.

And that wraps up the notes for another BarCamp Portland event! There are additional notes found at http://2012.barcampportland.org/sessions/. I suppose it goes without saying that I’m a fan of the unconference model, but I really would encourage anyone to try and attend your local BarCamp or similar if you get a chance. They can be incredibly rewarding, and offer a great cross-section of what interesting things people in your area are doing.

GDC Day 5

This was the last day of the conference, and you could definitely feel people were getting worn out. I didn’t manage to make it through the expo before it closed, which is unfortunate but not the end of the world, and frankly the panels I went to were more important. I managed to make it to all three panels I’d planned to attend, albeit I got into the first of the day about 20 minutes late due to the shuttle hitting some traffic. All three were about methods to create a new game company, and essentially different routes people took to do it.

The first session was about bootstrapping a company, and mostly worked on a “work for hire”/contracting system to raise cash for their internal projects. This was held from one of the guys at Demiurge, which is based in the Boston area, and it’s worked quite effectively for them. We swapped cards, and I’m hoping to make it down for one of their game nights in the not too distant future, for the socializing if nothing else (I definitely took the advice from my first panel this week to heart, about encouraging you to surround yourself with a brain trust of people smarter than you).

The second session was about taking a game from design to product as an independent developer. The speaker had started his own company, and put together a game for about $25,000, “and could have done it for $10,000 if I knew then what I know now.” This was definitely encouraging to hear, and while a lot of his advice was common sense to me, it was still reassuring to hear that it’s still possible to do what he did.

The third session took a different tack to starting a company, and went the venture capital route. It was held by the CEO of PlayFirst, which had just completed it’s second set of fundraising ($5million in the first round, and another $5million in the second). It was interesting to see the difference in presentation between the three meetings, with this third session being significantly more business-like and number crunching in nature. It is both more intimidating, and reassuring to know that the money is out there, though. I don’t think venture capital is the route I personally want to take, but I’m not averse to it, and managed to swap cards with a VC who was in the audience that focuses on startups in the tech and media sectors, for seed and series A funding (30k to 2million). This could potentially be immensely beneficial, should I choose to pursue this route (especially since one of the things they bring to the table is financial and business tutoring to help you get your business running solidly… that’s something you get out of the deal. They usually aim for the 5-15% range for a stake in the company, which is acceptable. I may actually put Kevin in touch with them for UberCon, especially since they’re based out of DC).

By the time the last session ended, the convention center was a ghost town compared to the crowds that had been there all week. It was strangely refreshing, though it did very little to bring closure to the event for me. I took the shuttle back to the hotel, and spent the rest of the evening playing Brain Age… my current brain age is 49 (lower is better, range is from 20 to 70)… lot of work to do on that. I completed about 12 sudoku puzzles, though.

GDC Day 4

This will be a shorter post, since I already talked a fair bit about the keynotes that were today. By today, I was pretty worn out (being an introvert by nature, the swarms of people I don’t know really puts a drain on me, even knowing that they’re all geeks like me), so other than the keynotes, I spent most of the day hanging out in the IGDA lounge, catching up online and just in general trying to relax. It was moderately successful, and even with that, I managed to collect still more business cards (I’ll hopefully be doing follow-ups with them when I get back home). Overall, I feel like I should have made more effective use of my day, but I really needed the down time, so I don’t feel too bad about it.

In the evening, my cousin Cortney called, and we grabbed some dinner at a tastey Indian place called the Tandoori Oven (for those in the San Jose area, it’s over on First, near the Repertory, and across the street from the Fairmont). That was fun as ever, and was nice to chat with her and in general relax a bit. After that, I did a circuit through “Suite Night”, and ultimately left after about half an hour (the place was PACKED, and I just wasn’t in the mood to deal with a bunch of drunks).

Will Wright Keynote

Will Wright is one hell of a nice guy. It’s pretty remarkable how self effacing he is. The actual title of the keynote is “Why I get too obsessed with my game research”. I think it says something that just a few minutes in, we’ve all laughed probably a dozen times. “Learn to embrace your inner Otaku”

He started with a bit of a postmortem of The Sims Online, which was this massive, massive, heavy project with an amazing amount of inertia to deal with, compared to Spore, his next game, which was fast and agile in terms of development. Which then migrated into a discussion of application of ownership; this in turn gets brought back to Spore.

Will then discussed the initial ideas and research he did to come up with Spore. The history of life, the universe, and everything [sic]. Different theories on how life possibly came to Earth, the idea of “cross talk” between planets, or even interstellar cross talk (matter from one planet going to another planet).

The basic premise of the keynote was to drive home just how important research is to game development, and how sometimes the most random thing can be the inspiration for some really fantastic games. Overall, it was a fantastic keynote; I think it would be amazingly fun to just sit down and chat with Will for a while.

Nintendo Keynote

This has proven to be a delightful keynote. Iwata has a very dry sense of humor that works very well with his thick japanese accent. The topic is about disrupting the market, much in the same way that Pepsi did when it diversified into snacks and alternative drinks (sports drinks, water, et cetera).

Some of the comparisons are interesting… the PS2 sold 6 million worldwide units in 21 months. The GBA sold 6 million in 20 months. The DS did it in 14 months. Nintendogs sold 6 million units in a year. Brain Training has already sold over 5 million units collectively, and hasn’t even reached a global release yet. (It’s worth noting that the Nintendo booth at the expo has DS lites running Brain Age, which has proven to be great fun.)

He discussed the process of developing Brain Training, which was a small team personally produced by Iwata, working with developers new to game development. I think this is awesome, and encouraging both for working with Nintendo in some role.

Iwata then brought on one of the developers of the localized version (Brain Age), who is demonstrating the game. It’s fucking fantastic — I’m REALLY looking forward to it now. I also think Mom would love this game, though it would mean she would need to get a Nintendo DS (not a bad option). They brought up some people who hadn’t played it before (including Will Wright), and had a brain age competition, which was fantastic fun. The neat trick is that it actually does help you train your brain into functioning better.

Really, the main point of his keynote is that it’s not enough to just do what others are doing… take a chance and do something new, and you might be surprised. He’s also giving everyone who attended the keynote a free copy of the game!!!

From there, he’s begun talking about other parts of Nintendo’s plans. Notably, their networking service. Keeping it as seamless and simple as possible, to encourage the social dynamic of being able to focus on playing and chatting.

Then they showcased Metroid Prime Hunters… I’m impressed. The gameplay is slick. D-pad is movement, L button is shooting, and stylus is aiming (double tap to jump, use stylus to select weapon). I’m pretty impressed. The gameplay is arguably the best console adaptation of a keyboard and mouse control.

After that, he showcased a NEW ZELDA GAME FOR THE DS. It’s cell shaded like Wind Waker, looked damn fun. That’s coming out sometime later this year. While he was at it, he announced the inclusion of support for virtual consoles of the Sega Genesis and the TurboGrafx 16, operating like an “iTunes Music Store for Games”. All in all, it was a really excellent keynote, and I’m glad I went (and for more reasons than just the free game).

GDC Day 3

Day three of GDC started with me missing my first panel, which is unfortunate, but not unsurprising… despite my efforts at staying on eastern time in order to get up for morning panels, I’m slowly getting more and more on pacific time, and having more and more trouble getting up in the morning (probably helps that I’m not staying anywhere near hydrated enough). Still, I managed to make it in for the Playstation 3 keynote, which was interesting and fun. I’d have to say that there are some things that he discussed that make a lot more sense when heard than read; in-game advertising, for instance. In the actual keynote, the discussion made sense given the audience, and the nuances of speech made it clear that he wasn’t talking about tossing in advertising where it didn’t make sense, which simply hasn’t translated to the written accounts on the news sites and forums. I’m not saying I’m necessarily FOR it, but I’m also aware that games cost a fuckton of money at this point, and additional sources of revenue are necessary, plain and simple.

After the keynote, I wandered through the expo (which had just opened), and unfortunately missed some of my mid-day panels in the process. That said, I put my card in a lot of hands and introduced myself to a number of companies. I chatted briefly with Epic, and got a chance to see some actual gameplay of Gears of War and Unreal Tournament 2007, both of which are looking excellent. I also got a chance to check out their tools pipeline, which really has come a long way since the days of futzing with UnrealEd for Unreal Tournament. Needless to say, if I get enough funding to make it feasible, I’ll be chatting with them about licensing their engine (and in the meantime, a mod proof of concept sounds appealing).

I swung by the Bloggers Gathering and chatted with a number of bloggers that I read, as well as being introduced to a few that I plan to start reading. It was useful discussing the benefits and drawbacks of blogging (the inherent “cult of personality” that occurs, for instance). Also, the concerns with discussing specific games or situations, since that can (unfortunately) potentially impede you from getting hired, and possibly even getting fired (which is stupid, in my humble opinion… what I say or do on my own time, in particular before I worked for a company, is my own business).

After the Bloggers Gathering, I went and wandered through the expo some more, as part of the Booth Crawl (various booths around the expo floor had beer, and even some soda for people like me, as well as cookies and snacks and even some lo mein). In the process, I collected some more information concerning possible employment if this whole “start my own development studio” thing doesn’t pan out, plus some potential contract/commission/intern work for Erica for the summer. I made brief inquiries with a number of companies about working out a publishing deal or partnership… not many bites, unsurprisingly. In these days of ginormous budgets, people are loathe to invest in unknowns. That said, Namco Bandai expressed some interest, so I’ll be contacting them to explore this in the near future.

After the Booth Crawl, I headed across the street and attended the Independent Games Festival Awards and Game Developer’s Choice Awards, which was a lot of fun. Shadow of the Colossus swept the awards, winning 4 or 5 of the awards (out of 8? 9?). Psychonauts also did well. Interestingly, despite being nominated for nearly every award, I don’t think God of War won a single one.

I got back to the hotel around 9-9:30 local, and chatted with Erica for a while on the phone, wishing her a happy birthday since it was technically tomorrow by then. I was completely wiped, though, too many people and too much having to be “up” and social and functioning. Very very glad that my first session isn’t until 10:30am tomorrow.