This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the first OpenCamp in Dallas, TX. While I've been to a few of the CMS-focused events – WordCamp Mid-Atlantic, WordCamp NYC, and DrupalConDC – this was my first time at one of the crossover events. In one event, we had some of the best and brightest from each of the communities in one place presenting, talking, drinking, and generally arguing over the intracies of each of their systems and why the other guy was completely wrong.
Alright, I'm kidding.. most people thought everyone else was just mostly wrong.
First, some high points:
- The venue was fantastic. The wifi worked pretty consistently. The food (and coffee!) was reasonably priced. Lunch each day was well-done and generous and delivered by an excellent staff. If you're ever in Addison, TX, check out the Crowne Plaza.
- More importantly, the event gathered some fantastic minds from all over the place. I had dinner with a significant portion of the Joomla! team including Open Source Matters President Ryan Ozimek. I met most of guys that organize DrupalCamp Dallas and chatted on how Austin & Dallas might collaborate. And of course, I had the chance to meet with friends and colleagues like Josh Holmes of Microsoft and make some new acquaintences like Caleb Jenkins and many, many others.
- Finally, attending a regional conference was great. The vast majority of people here lived within 200 miles and many were from right there in Dallas. A conference has a completely different vibe when you're in someone's backyard. As “hosts,” they work hard to take you to the good restaurants and make sure you have a good time.
Next, some low points:
- The vast majority of the talks were not technical in the slightest. Sure, they mentioned technical concepts and a few even went into them.. but considering the flavor of conferences I normally attend, this was a little jarring. It's not that this was bad, just a little unexpected.
- Next, the presentation format was just plain screwy. Thirty minute sessions without transition time are terrible. It meant each session was trimmed down to 25 minutes or more like 22 minutes if they left room for questions. Since 15 minutes is normally considered a lightning talk, this just seemed awkward. That said, some of the sessions were a full hour.
- Finally, some of the presenters were just plain terrible. They all seemed to know their material, but it was apparent that some rarely stepped away from their computers. To be an active contributor in Open Source, a person has to be smart and passionate. The passion was definitely lacking.
Some final thoughts:
While the sessions were not a great match for me, the “hallway track” was fantastic. Through a combination of dumb luck and excellent introductions from good friends, I managed to spend quite a bit of time talking with smart people:
- I learned more about Drupal modules, permissions, and how to abuse them for fun and benefit;
- I heard some details about the inner workings of the Joomla! team;
- I argued about the GPL more than I care to consider;
- I gathered some patches on code I manage and shared a few with others; and
- I learned how to make our (web2project's) stuff work better on Microsoft's infrastructure.
Would I attend OpenCamp again?
Yes, but I would go in with clearer expectations and take a more active role in the Birds of a Feather schedule. I know there were people actively looking to share technical ideas and compare implementations. It's just a matter of finding and gathering them in one room. Finally, the best but most unexpected part of all..
I got to spend a good amount of time with people I call friends and may have made some new ones.