In a follow up to my recent post about Community Organized Events, Unconferences and BarCamps, I interviewed Audrey Eschright, a web worker with years of experience organizing a wide variety of community events.
Audrey Eschright is a programmer and self-described geek, who works as a web developer for Elevated Rails. She published a science fiction magazine called Yog’s Notebook, leads the open source calendaring development group Calagator, and is an accomplished crafter. She is also a founding board member of the Legion of Tech. She curated a panel at OSCON on tools that local communities use and is a fixture in the Portland user group community. She was recently featured in the Oregonian’s Ultimate Northwest Magazine as one of Portland’s 25 Most Creative Thinkers.
Dawn: Why do you think community organized events are important enough for you to spend your evenings and weekends organizing them?
Audrey: I find community tech events incredibly important to my own professional development, so it just made sense to get involved and help with things. It’s very rewarding to help people make connections and find resources they can use.
Dawn: What community events have you helped organize and in what ways were they each different or the same?
Audrey: I’ve worked on FOSCON (a free Ruby event that took place during OSCON in previous years), BarCamp Portland, Ignite Portland, WhereCamp Portland, and now Open Source Bridge. The camps (unconferences) were all quite similar to each other to organize, but Open Source Bridge is much bigger than anything else I’ve worked on. There’s a lot of extra planning involved in doing a 1,000-person conference compared to a 300 person BarCamp. You can pull off an unconference in a short period of time, with fairly limited resources, but a big conference requires more structure.
Dawn: What advice would you give to someone who wants to organize their first community event?
Audrey: Don’t try to do it all yourself. Once you have an idea of what kind of event you’d like to have, get other people with similar goals to collaborate — and make them equal participants. Sometimes it can seem easier to just take care of the work yourself than to get other people to help, but that won’t build community. Plus, if you recruit people who’ve run other events in your area, they’ll have leads on spaces to use, sponsors and other people who might want to help.
Once you have collaborators: write down what you want to do and what you’ll need to do it, and go. You’ll learn along the way.
Dawn: Looking into your crystal ball, what do you see as the future of community organized events, and how do you think they will impact more traditional conferences?
I think community organized events fill an important niche. Traditional conferences are built for traditional organizations, and can give wider legitimacy to the technologies represented, but that can also make them less accessible to smaller companies or independent workers. With more people freelancing and moving from place to place, community events are essential to help us keep up to date on our skills and find out what other people are working on. I don’t see one completely crowding out the other; I think both are here to stay and support different sorts of needs.
What questions or tips do you have about community organized events, unconferences, and BarCamps?