BarCampSydney v0.1: Conference for Initiates

An ‘initiate’ (noun) is a person who begins, creates, invents things. They initiate (verb) rather than (ironically) being ‘initiated’ by others. Yesterday, after a few years, I was once again in the company of initiates. Sure, I’ve met plenty of wonderful initiates over the last few years, but I have not been in a situation where the majority of people are initiates. Where was I? BarCampSydney. Why was BarCampSydney brimming with such self-driven people?

Initiates step into the unknown

BarCamp(Sydney) does not invite people, does not try and attract people with special speakers or rates and does not preference or exclude any people. This was the first BarCamp to be held in Australia. I put my name on the wiki as the first organiser for BarCampSydney before anyone had. The only way it was going to happen is if someone like me steps up to make it happen. Within a few months I was joined by other like-minded people: Russ Weakley, Jason Yip, Mick Luibinskas and Rich Buggy. Many of the people who turned up did not know what a BarCamp was before and had never been to one. Even for those that did know or had been to one before, no-one knew what to expect of this event…it was a big unknown.

Initiates give and receive guidance 

An initiate guides others, providing a light, some information that can help others move forward. At the same time, an initiate also goes to elders (CEOs, mentors etc) for guidance. This was exemplified yesterday in the session with the co-founders of Australian startups: Mike Cannon-Brookes of Atlassian and Martin Wells of Tangler. They shared their approaches to creating their own businesses, recruiting for and maintaining a good (your own) company culture. One of the golden moments for me in that session was the advice to release the need to keep your idea “secret” because it is “special” (which is exactly what I’ve been doing). Discuss it with CEOs of companies etc, people who can offer advice on how you can make it happen. Mike encouraged us to read Ari Paparo’s frank blog post about his guide to a successful business through the lessons of his mistakes. I also appreciated the advice on hiring and keeping team members, such as: put your best people in front of the candidate. One thing I’ve also learnt from a couple of other people who were not there on the day but are running their own startups in other states (Danny Stefanic being one who I’ve known for years and that I respect): if you’re approaching someone to get involved in your project, tell them about it, share the info and then don’t chase them. If they want to be involved the next step is up to them. I also appreciated Mike’s observation about entrepeneurs: no-one created their company the same but all of them had a healthy serve of common-sense. * whew! *

Initiates know that creations are to be shared & it is a long-term birth

The next bit of golden advice came from Jason Yip and Ben Hogan of ThoughtWorks. They gave a few talks/impromptu mentoring/consulting sessions on Agile and Lean development. By gosh, I have been going about my projects and all my jobs the wrong way! For one thing, I have been multi-tasking 15 jobs and multiple projects for the past few years and wondering why I have never completed anything! Multi-tasking costs. Finish on thing and use it to feed/to leverage the other ones. Another approach I’ve been using which is completely obvious now as to why it is all wrong: I’ve been waiting until I’ve got all the features I want on my services done before launching. What I need to do is get out the least possible feature(s) I need to launch my idea and then add on the features bit by bit. This gets my service out there; starts creating my user community now instead of a year or 2 from now; means I’m out there and known and working on things before others or even using other people’s approaches immediately; means I can utilise the ideas of my users and have the service morph into what it really needs to become rather than I what I think it is at the beginning. This leads to another session…

Initiates know when they need to let others take the wheel

Mick Luibinskas of Tangler started the day off (another first) with a session ‘ignoring users’. The fundamental question was whether you do everything your users want, even if they conflict with your (original) vision? There was some good discussion with advice from a few different people from companies with this experience and those who offered some insightful philosophical advice. A point on the former. I really appreciated listening to people sharing ideas on business issues etc. Sure, I’ve been to plenty of conferences where advice is given. Indeed, the majority of my work is giving advice at industry and university presentations. But at those events I don’t learn hardly anything. BarCampSydney was different for me for two reasons. 1) Most of the topics were outside my area of expertise and 2) Experts are in the majority at BCS. The latter point is not just because of the talented people who came (as per my point at the beginning), but because of the BarCamp model. Rather than have a small group of programming-committee appoint experts to deliver to a large audience, a small of group self-appointed experts share with each other. Because anyone can present or talk or workshop in any manner they desire and anytime, BarCamp attracts more experts. Events that say there will provide the experts attract more people who are not experts. Events that encourage anyone to come and emphasis that everyone is important, attract more experts…

Initiates respond in the moment

During the day, new sessions were created out of interest. For instance, during an early conversation John Rotenstein discovered that not many knew you could have Tivo in Australia and wanted to know more. So, he created a session on Oz TiVo. The discussion moved quickly to one about TV-guide restrictions etc. Another was created by Rich Buggy: a quick talk on how any idea still has a chance, even a search engine. The point of this responsiveness is that most of everyone there had an expertise about something and so was able to just jump up and fill in a gap about something as was needed. This responsiveness aided in the creation of a quick culture: something that usually takes alot of time together to happen.

Initiates use obstacles as gateways

Another session that I missed was this one by Ben Buchanan: To Hack Code, First Hack People.  This was the basic idea:

The idea is that often it’s not the code that creates barriers to success, it’s the people involved. Perhaps they’re resisting, perhaps they’re not engaging with the process or they simply can’t express what they want to achieve with technology.

The group came up with a few ideas about hacking people

Initiates go beyond

We tried to get the other BarCamps happening in Australia to linkup during the event but that didn’t happen. Wonderfully, this desire was matched anyway with people from the last-minute-postponed-BarCampCanberra coming over to BCS! Those from the BigIdeaCamp at Kansas City also contacted us and Mick ran a Half-Baked challenge with them, the video of which will be out soon. There is also the continuing discussion after the event. Although Russ posted that BarCampSydney was over. It isn’t. The conversation and critical analysis will continue, like this post from Elias, and we’ll be back in about 3 months for another event too. There may be some conversation at Tangler as well.

Initiates do not encourage bad advice or ideas

Another aspect that the ‘all in’ model facilitated was group censoring. If a presenter or self-appointed leader of a topic started sprouting of stuff that simply wasn’t good or well thought out, it simply faded into the discussion that the experts provided. At events where a so-called expert speaks and the audience must listen, this sort of censoring doesn’t take place. I can’t tell you the amount of events I’ve been to where I cringe at the advice being given. The BarCamp model (or the one that emerged with us yesterday) was one where notions that were niave or incorrect were politely used as a trigger for a more-informed discussion. 

Initiates encourage good things to continue and grow

Michael thought BarCampSydney was better than the swish AIMIA on Friday said that “There was an awesome vibe of openness and I think everyone felt the same.”

From Ian Grant:

I thoroughly enjoyed Barcamp. Didn’t quite know what to expect but what I got from it was awesome insight into areas that I wouldn’t normally have exposure to or the time to look into myself.

I’m already looking forward to the next one, and hope to see it grow from strength to strength.

Great job. (hope the hangovers aren’t too bad 😉 )


Thanks to everyone that was there, my ace fellow unorganisers, on-the-day unorganisers and unattendees.

See you at BarCampSydney v0.2 🙂 If you didn’t go but want to find out about future events, stick your name and email on the wiki. We’ll have an ongoing sign-in system going soon I’m sure.

For now, check out our flickr and Some videos by Nick Hodge. Lots more videos to come though…I’ll keep you posted. Check out the emerging conversation (and here) after the event and our blog for comments.

Oh yes, and none of this would of happened without the assistance of our mighty sponsors:

Atlassian; Microsoft Australia; ThoughtWorks; Tangler; UnWired; Hothouse; Google; Yoick; Linux Australia; Freshview; Milkooler

Thankyou 🙂

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