What's Important at Code Camp?

I’ve been reviewing my evaluations from the South Florida Code Camp 2008 and one of the comments brought out some interesting points. After reading the comments, I thought it might be a good time to remind some of you what a Code Camp really is.

A lot of this information is from the Code Camp Manifesto and from my personal experiences as both an attendee and a presenter.

Code Camps are always a free event and are about the developer community at large. They are meant to be a place for developers to come and learn from their peers.

That being said, everyone who presents at a Code Camp (and there were 50 speakers at the South Florida Code Camp 2008) does so because they want to share their knowledge of a subject with the developer community. We give up much more than a single Saturday to these events as it takes time to create (or update) the presentations and slide decks and make travel arrangements (when necessary). We all have full-time jobs and families, so all of this is done on our own time…and usually at odd hours so we aren’t neglecting anyone.

While Code Camp is free to attendees, there is still a cost associated with it. That cost comes in the form of administration and logistics in trying to plan and coordinate the event as well as a monetary cost for the conference location, food, etc. For example, here are the stats for the South Florida Code Camp 2008 (from Dave Noderer’s blog):

  • over 600 people attended (795 registered)
  • 50 speakers, 71 sessions, 12 tracks
  • 1,110 waters, 500 sodas, 700+ cups of coffee, 170 pizzas and 300 pounds of ice

Since Code Camp is about the developer community by the developer community, very few of the presenters are “professional speakers”. In fact, a lot of first time speakers use Code Camp to “get their feet wet” and get comfortable presenting to an audience. Feedback is important (if you haven’t filled out your evaluation for South Florida Code Camp 2008, be sure to do so), but more important is constructive feedback. The other thing to realize is that if a session isn’t what you thought it would be, it’s OK to leave and go to a different session. Code Camp isn’t like school…you aren’t stuck in a class that has no interest to you just because you signed up for it (or sat down in the room). It’s this feedback that speakers look to in order to find ways to improve their presentations. This isn’t a case where the “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything” rule applies, but keep in mind what’s important and the reason you’re providing feedback and comments. The prizes offered for submitting feedback are just a way to ensure that more people will submit feedback.

Speaking of “what’s important”, that really gets to the heart of this post. As I mentioned, Code Camp is free to the attendees but there is still a cost to the organizers. That cost is defrayed as much as possible by support from Microsoft and other sponsors. It is because of that support that there are always giveaways at the end of a Code Camp. It’s a way for the sponsors to get their name and/or product out into the community. Unfortunately, for a lot of people it seems to be the main reason for attending Code Camp. While the swag is fun and is certainly used as an incentive for people to attend, it shouldn’t be the reason for attending.

Let me repeat that as it sounds vaguely important. While the swag is fun it shouldn’t be your main reason for attending. If it is, then you’re probably at the wrong type of event and quite possibly in the wrong field.