A Geek’s Guide to Camping

Directions to CampAs I look at my April schedule and a bit beyond, one thing is undeniable clear – there are a heck of a lot of community-run activities coming up, and many of them have adopted the trendy “camp” nomenclature.  For someone that hasn’t attended a given event, you might not know just what it’s all about, so I thought I’d cover some of the more well known “camps,” their primary audiences, and a sense of what to expect when you get there.   Editions of many of these events are coming up soon, so where appropriate, I’ve listed links to their registration sites.

In all cases, these events are run “by the community, for the community,” so there are hard working volunteers behind them making them happen – do thank them if you attend.  And in most cases, these events are free, funded by sponsors and other donations; when they aren’t free, the organizers are merely recovering costs for the venue and food provided at the event.

Be a good community member… these events are incredibly popular and often have to limit attendance because of space and/or budget constraints.  If you register and find you can no longer attend, please go the extra step and ‘unregister.’  If there’s no apparent way to do so (for instance, in Eventbrite), e-mail the organizers and let them know.  It will give others a chance to attend and make the event coordinators less grumpy to boot!

I’m organizing my taxonomy into three types of ‘camps’:  traditional, unconference, and charitable, although the lines among them often blur.   Traditional camps have a call for speakers, and the tracks and sessions are typically published in advance of the event.  Unconferences adopt variations of Open Space Technology, where the agenda is set by the attendees (usually) on the spot, often via a grid of post-it notes (with time on one axis and meeting room on the other).  Speakers feverishly stake out their desired slot in the hour or so set aside before actual sessions begin.  Charitable camps encompass various ‘hackathon’ events where technologists gather to donate time and expertise to a specific project or charitable goal.

Traditional Camps

Code Camps originated right here in Massachusetts about eight years ago and are informally governed by the Code Camp Manifesto.  Historically they have had a strong focus on Microsoft technologies; however, increasingly topics include open source interoperability, entrepreneurship, and agile methodologies.  Upcoming Code Camps include:

Other Code Camps in the area have included Tech Valley Code Camp (Albany NY), Vermont Code Camp (Burlington), and Maine Code Camp (Mt. Blue State Park).  Be sure to tune in to my or Chris’ blog to keep tabs on the next editions of those camps as well.

SQL Saturday is a brand owned by the Professional Association for SQL Server, but freely available for use by the local community who plans, coordinates, and runs the actual event.  Structured like a code camp, SQL Saturdays focus on SQL Server and data technologies and include vendor and sponsor displays and presentations.  Since October 2007, there have been over 80 SQL Saturdays planned across the world; the most recent in the Northeast was SQL Saturday 71, on April 2, 2011, a sold-out event held at the conference center at Babson College.

SharePoint Saturday extends the ‘code camp’ model to provide “an educational, informative & lively day filled with sessions from respected SharePoint professionals & MVPs, covering a wide variety of SharePoint-orientated topics.”  Upcoming are:

New England {UX}, which was initially launched as DesignCamp in November 2010 (inadvertently conflicting in name with an event series managed by AIGA) also adopts the code camp model but focuses primarily on a web designer audience.  Plans for a 2011 event are in the works according the web site.

WordCamps (begun in San Francisco in 2006) are focused on using and developing for WordPress.  Over 100 WordCamps have been held across six continents.  Usually a one or two-day conference, they draw users, developers, designers, and other enthusiasts of all experience levels.  The next WordCamps in our area include

DrupalCamp has a similar approach as WordCamp but for the Drupal audience (of course!), with the support and guidance of the Drupal Association.  A recent survey of DrupalCamps indicate most are preplanned.  Most recently, DrupalCamps were held in Cambridge MA (June 2010), New York City (July 2010), New Haven, CT (Aug 2010), and Amherst, MA (Jan. 2011)

Joomla! Day is community-organized, but events operate under a charter from the Joomla! Project which authorizes use of the brand and monitors financial reporting for the events.   The most recent area event was Joomla! Day New England on April 2nd in Brattleboro, VT.



Foo Camp (Friends of O’Reilly) was the spark for the technical unconference movement.  Launched in 2003, it brings together – by invitation only – people doing interesting work in a variety of technology areas to share ideas and collaborate on challenging problems.  The most recent Foo Camp was held at O’Reilly’s office in Sebastapol, CA in June 2010, and in 2009 Foo Camp East was held at Microsoft NERD.

BarCamp (an obvious play on the programmer slang: foobar) started in 2005 as an open-invitation version of Foo Camp.  Per Wikipedia, there have been BarCamps in over 350 cities, with the largest in Yangon, Myanmar drawing 4700 registrants!  BarCamp are organized informally and anyone can initiate a BarCamp event.

The first BarCamp Albany was held in February 2011, and BarCamp Manchester (NH) is typically held in the mid fall.

BarCamp has also launched numerous other camps that follow the same model but have specific topic focuses:

CloudCamp is a gathering of early adopters of cloud computing technologies, including end users, IT professionals, and vendors.  The Boston area has hosted several CloudCamps, the most recent in December 2010 in Waltham.  On June 7, 2011, CloudCamp NY will coincide with CloudExpo.

CommunityCampis being held on April 23, 2011 at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence and will bring together small business owners, artisans, students, and job seekers for discussions and interaction relating to building a brand and leveraging media and community resources.

FiberCamp, currently a Boston phenomenon, brings together fiber enthusiasts – knitters, weavers, spinners, dyers, etc. The second edition of FiberCamp was held in Cambridge on March 11-13th 2011.

HealthCamp, supported by the HealthCa.mp Foundation, brings together consumers, health providers, industry experts, and technology professionals. Most recently, HealthCamp CT was held last Saturday, April 2nd, in New Haven.

The Northeast User Group Leadership Summit (NEUGLS), jointly-organized by Microsoft developer evangelists and O’Reilly community managers, brings together area user group leaders for networking and to share experiences, ideas, and challenges.  A 2011 event is being planned for the fall.

PodCamp focuses on new-media topics including blogging, social networking, podcasting, etc.  PodCamp Connecticut was held in New Haven in October, and PodCamp Boston 5 at NERD in September 2010.

ProductCamp features topics related to Product Marketing and Management; the Boston edition was held last weekend, April 2nd, in Cambridge.

REBarCamp is the BarCamp for Real Estate professionals!  New York held a RE BarCamp in January 2011, and RE BarCamp New Hampshire was held in October 2010.  The last such event in Boston was in June 2009.

THATCamp (The Humanities and Technology Camp) is “where humanists and technologists meet to work together for the common good.”  New York City is scheduling a THATCamp for November 2011.  In Boston, Wentworth Institute of Technology hosted a THATCamp on November 13-14, 2010.

WhereCamp, is for “people enthusiastic about place,” and an extension of the more traditionally formatted Where 2.0 Conference. Although there hasn’t been an edition of WhereCamp in this area, a similarly-focused event - Ignite Spatial - has been held three times in the Boston area, most recently on March 24th, 2011.


Charitable Camps

GiveCamp was created in Dallas in 2007 by Microsoft Developer Evangelist Chris Koenig to bring together members of the technical community with non-profit organizations in need new or updated websites and other custom software.  Since their inception, it’s estimated GiveCamps have provided over 1 million dollars worth of pro bono services.  GiveCamps are held over a weekend and may involve as many as 100 volunteers and dozens of charities working in teams on various projects.

CrisisCamp began in 2009 in Washington DC to bring together domain experts, technologists, and first responders to collaborate on improving technology and the practice of crisis management.  With the Haiti earthquake of January 2010 connections made at the DC conference resulted in 18 camps being held within three weeks of the disaster (including one in Boston), and since then additional camps have been held to support response efforts at subsequent disasters.  The most recent CrisisCamp in Boston was held on December 5th (in conjunction with Random Hacks of Kindness).

Random Hacks of Kindness has a similar charter to (and collaborates with) CrisisCamp to bring together software engineers and disaster management experts for hackathons to address real-world problems.  In December 2010, 21 cities from across the world simultaneously participated in RHoK #2.


How Do I Find Out About this Stuff!!

If you’ve made it this far, you might be wondering how can you possibly keep abreast of all these events so you don’t miss out on those that are particularly interesting to you.  The best way to tap into your community is follow the leaders – watch their blogs, follow them on Twitter, etc.  Both Chris Bowen and I try to stay on top of the Boston area as much as possible, and Chris manages to crank out a bimonthly post covering most of what’s going on in New England and upstate New York in terms of user groups and various ‘camps’. 

Some other recommendations for the Boston area and beyond: