OSCamp wrapup

OSCamp was an experiment for us, and I’m happy with the result. A quick search reveals tidbits such as a Newsforge description of “small groups, busily discussing their respective topics”, an average conference goer’s impression of “Geeks … talking and drawing diagrams. Ideas flying back and forth.”, and a podcast with Brandon Sanders, the primary organizer of OSCamp.

I found it interesting what a different experience I had looking into the room versus sitting down at a session. Peeking in it didn’t look like much, but when I sat down for 10 minutes I realized the quiet was a familiar happy-hacker hum. I saw some incredibly valuable conversations carrying on without the polish and splashy color. I almost had a sense that I’d stepped from the lobby of the company into the back room where the software is built.

I was quite impressed with Brandon. When random people wandered into the room (which happened often), he would step out of whatever session he was in, welcome them, and explain what OSCamp was about, like a host welcoming people into the party.

Perhaps the most interesting exchange was when a group of Microsoft employees decided to set up a session. They titled it “Why we suck: come chat w/microsoft and tell us”. The discussion got a bit heated (as can be expected), but looking at the notes you can see that it was also productive. I wonder how many of the open source people in the room had ever spent time talking to a real human being who works for Microsoft? I wonder how many of the Microsoft employees had ever spent time talking with an open source developer? Both groups seemed to come away with a little better understanding of the other.

In a wrapup session the OSCamp group mentioned the Microsoft session as one of the highlights of the week. They were glad to have an open environment for the interaction to happen, and also commented that it was good practice in how to handle the proprietary community graciously. The next day, one of the Microsoft employees revisited OSCamp: “one of the participants in our oscamp session was there and reiterated his appreciation for microsoft being there. he said we took our punches well and he really did appreciate that microsoft was even at oscon and talking and interacting with people…he really felt we were listening.”

A few more observations from the wrapup session:

– A Camp inside a larger conference is lower energy than a stand-alone event, so it wasn’t exactly what we expected. But the exchange between camp-style sessions and regular sessions also had benefits we didn’t expect.

– People who participated OSCamp and the main OSCON sessions liked having part of the conference in a developers’ comfort-zone, as a harmonizing note to the professional business image of the conference as a whole.

– OSCamp attendees circulating through the exhibit hall got excited feedback from general conference attendees and at the booths when they talked about the ideas generated at OSCamp.

– Quite a few open source projects used the OSCamp space for face-to-face meetings. The quiet space with setup for group interactions (whiteboards, notepads, group discussion seating, etc.) was greatly appreciated.

– The community nature of OSCamp drew in people like Marie Deatherage of the Meyer Memorial Trust (one of the largest social-benefit non-profits in Oregon). They said they wouldn’t have even heard about OSCON otherwise, but will likely attend the full conference next year.

– Everyone agreed that they wanted to do OSCamp again next year.