Review: BarCampRDU 2009

BarCampRDU 2009 ScheduleIt's been two months since BarCampRDU, but I figured I owed them a review.  After all, the event was… well, I'll save that for the end.

First off, I ended up attending almost by accident. I caught a Tweet about the event and realized it was on NC State University's campus where Garrison Locke and Jason Austin work.  So – as a joke – I mention that I should go.  Three seconds later, Shaun Farrell speaks up and offers to drive while Jason offers us real bedrooms.  The rest was just gas money and details.

Next, the team – led by Dave Johnson – did a great job of getting keeping things organized, people fed, and everyone properly caffeinated. We got there early – Jason was working registration – and things were already sorted out and moving pretty well.  They continued to move about the same way throughout the day.

Next, RedHat shared some great space. The classrooms were all (roughly) together and setup well with easy power distribution and good wifi coverage.  Of course, unlike most conference spaces, these were mostly classrooms, so it was quite a bit easier and well done.

Finally, the topics were great. I caught a discussion of Google Wave, met the “Chief Handshaker” Sunir Shah from Freshbooks, had a chance to talk to Michael Kimsal about jsMag and different Javascript engines, and talk skill/behavior tracking using social networks.  The proper title is “Cognitive Authority through Folksonomy” from Terrell Russell but I've written on one sliver of this before – Open Source Intelligence before – so it was of special interest to me.  Overall, that discussion was fascinating.  The best part of the day for me personally was the ability to finally present a rough draft of my “Building your Software Development A-Team” presentation.  It didn't go perfectly but the discussion was good and the feedback was even better.

My only concern was in the lead up… if you're not familiar with my efforts, I tend to be involved and talk and think a lot about Unconferences and BarCamps.  One of the oddities about BarCampRDU was the sponsorship structure.  Generally, BarCamp sponsorships are set up with a cash ceiling of $250 or so and any bigger donations have to be “in kind” or services. This conference had Diamond, Platinum, Gold, Silver, and Other.

While this worked in their case and I didn't see any problems, the trend makes me nervous.  One of the key parts of the BarCamp sponsorship structure is leveling the playing field between the Microsofts and the CaseySoftware's (or Blue Parabola's).  As soon as sponsorship levels start forming, some sponsors are going to expect more access, more benefits, and privileges that other sponsors don't get.  Isn't that what they paid for?  A guaranteed presentation slot?  Prominent placement on the shirt/website?  Handouts to all the attendees?  Guaranteed admission for some of their people or sales prospects?  Maybe naming rights for the conference?

At some point – and once again BarCampRDU did not cross this line – it becomes a regular conference…

All of that said, I'd attend again in a heartbeat.

Well, as long as the deer don't attack again.  But that's another story…