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Why Unconferences are Awesome

UnconferenceIf you haven’t had the pleasure, let me introduce you to the wonders of the unconference.

BarCamp is one of my very favorite things about living in Philadelphia. It was my first introduction to the tech community here.

The first year we lived in West Chester, Chad went by himself. I spent the day being bitter and sad, and I was mad at him when he got home because he had stayed for the afterparty and I wanted him to come home earlier. He tried to cheer me up by telling me how much I would have loved going. It didn’t work.

So the next year, even though he was fighting off a really ugly foodborne illness, we went together. There were talks on the schedule about computing for social good, how to host a food swap, gender in tech, links as language, and lots of other things I probably didn’t understand at the time. It was just all of these interesting people giving talks about such a variety of interesting things.

What is an unconference?

Unconferences are self-organizing; there are no planned talks ahead of time. In the morning, anyone can pitch a session and get put on the schedule for the day. There are lots of topic-specific unconferences, but what I love most about BarCamp is that sessions can be about anything, and so I always end up learning about things I’ve never thought about or encountered before. Unconferences, and BarCamp especially, are serendipitous. It’s a way to cross-pollinate the community.

In theory, they’re easier to organize than other conferences because there’s no need to recruit and plan for speakers or sessions ahead of time. The attendees are just as responsible (if not more so!) as the organizers for sharing great content. Unconferences are also incredibly democratic — anyone can pitch a talk or a panel or a roundtable or even an activity.  Because of that, there’s a low barrier to entry to speaking, so they’re great for new speakers or for testing out a new talk idea.

If you’re in Philly on November 15th, I’d love to see you at BarCamp Philly! If there’s a BarCamp in your area and you haven’t been yet, give it a try! Or, you could try to organize an unconference in your area. You never know what you’ll learn.