WordCamp Portland 2013

Welcome to WordCamp Portland 2013! It’s being run a little different this year in that there are only two sets of unconference slots, the rest is actual speakers. There is also a theme to the event this year (a first, at least for the Portland WordCamp), discussing permanence.

A few event announcements:

  • A lot of us are introverts here, or shy. Please try to be welcoming and encourage talking to new people. Just join in the conversation if you hear something interesting.
  • Code of Conduct is up on the website! Please follow it.
  • If you’re just on your computer/tablet/smartdevice for non-participatory reasons, try putting it away — if you’re taking notes, sure, fine, but still, be present if you can.

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Thoughts on XOXO

XOXO Festival LogoIt’s been a few months since the XOXO Festival happened, and it’s been written about to great effect in a number of places. The recordings of the talks are now up and available to the public, even. All of this means that it’s probably time I sit down and share my own thoughts about it, as well.

A little background: the XOXO Festival was a conference conceived of and planned by Andy Baio and Andy McMillan, funded through a Kickstarter drive, targeting creators and makers. The goal wasn’t technical discussions of How to create, so much as exploring Why we create, the process we take to make it work in our lives and our culture. It was held at the YU Contemporary in Portland, Oregon, in mid-September, 2012 (a great time to be in Portland). The event was a rousing success, and there are a number of factors why:

Crowdfunding

By funding the event through Kickstarter, they were able to keep the focus of the event where they wanted it, rather than needing to kowtow to corporate sponsors. That’s not to say there weren’t corporate sponsors — there were three — but there was never a point where it turned into shilling a product or service (they were thanked on the website, in the program, and at the opening and closing. That’s about it). It felt refreshing, and allowed the focus of the event to stay where it belonged.

Establishing the Social Contract

In the opening talk, Andy Baio made a point of calling out that everyone there was a peer, and that all should feel welcome to come talk to anyone else. By doing so, he established a social contract among the attendees and staff. It explicitly demolished the social inhibition of joining what appears to be an established group or discussion, and it felt like the attendees took it to heart — there were no cliques that I could see, and the amount of commingling and interaction was fantastic. I’ve been to a fair number of conferences, un-conferences, conventions, meetings, and other events, and I cannot think of any other occasion that was so committed to openness and communication. It felt great. I’m not alone on feeling like this — it was a recurring observation while chatting with people during the after-party.

Including Portland

A lot of events could basically be held anywhere. XOXO, however, had a distinctly “Portland” flavor, and attendees were encouraged to get out and enjoy their time in the city. The opening party was Thursday night, but the talks didn’t get started until Saturday — Friday was used to host social events for the attendees around town. Panic graciously opened their offices for an ice cream social, while Wieden+Kennedy held a rooftop cocktail party, and Ground Kontrol opened their doors for an attendee-only “free play” afternoon. As the day rolled into the evening, this was all followed by the “Fringe” portion of the festival, with music and an indie arcade set up within walking distance of each other. To top it off, half a dozen food carts were invited to set up directly outside the event, providing a wide range of incredibly delicious food. They even brought in Stumptown Coffee to provide fresh coffee (as a volunteer, I particularly appreciated that the baristas decided to hook staff up with coffee for free).

Also? The talks didn’t start until 10-10:30am. People had time to go have a good breakfast, or sleep in a little, so no one felt rushed or harried. It’s amazing how much giving people a bit of morning time can help set the pace and mood of an event.

Keeping it Focused

It’s easy to try and ratchet on a bunch of extra topics and themes to an event like this. Instead, the talks were targeted to creatives (and more specifically, creatives who were involving in Doing something, the folks who took something they were passionate about and made it work), and the surrounding events were likewise very specific. It even applied to the schedule itself — there was only one track, so speakers didn’t have to feel like they were competing with others for attendance, and attendees didn’t have to weigh which talk to go to next.

The whole event was like this. The vendor area was curated — it wasn’t just anyone who wanted a table, it was groups that the organizers felt made something genuinely interesting and crafted with care and intent. The food carts outside were all explicitly invited and carefully chosen as some of the best Portland had to offer. The Fringe portion of the festival highlighted specific independent games and musical artists — again, curated with an eye towards craftsmanship and the quality of the experience.

When there is that sort of clear attention to quality and aesthetic taste applied, people pick up on it. They are more likely to try something new, because they feel they can trust the taste of the curators. That all leads to an event where everyone is interested in trying everything, and makes for an amazing participatory experience.

I’m really glad I was able to participate in the XOXO Festival, and I sincerely hope I’m in a position to participate again whenever the next event happens. It’s had a pretty lasting effect on me, causing me to seriously pause and consider what I’m doing with my life, and what direction I want to go now.

Other Links:

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.