BarCampCHS is back for a second year with a do-it-yourself tech conference that may best be described as choose your own adventure.
A typical tech conference includes a set schedule with paid speakers and the kinds of sessions organizers hope will interest participants, providing a networking opportunity that's largely a passive experience.
BarCampCHS relies on attendees to pitch sessions the day of the event. Potential presenters line up in the morning and give brief pitches on topics they'd like to present, which can include programming, social media, or even brewing your own beer. The sessions get voted on, and the conference is then determined on a large paper grid with squares indicating what sessions go on in which room. Many sessions this year have already been proposed at barcampchs.org.
Last year, 200 people showed up for the ad-hoc experience, with sessions on "Real-time applications with XMPP," "How to fix an Xbox 360," "Storm Chasing with social media," and of course "Baconcamp," which featured — you guessed it — lots of bacon.
This year BarCampCHS, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sat. Nov. 13, is expecting 350 attendees. Last year's space at the Lowcountry Innovation Center has been leased out, so the College of Charleston offered to host this year with 18 classrooms at Maybank Hall and the Physician's Auditorium for session pitches.
Chrys Rynearson, a BarCampCHS volunteer and organizer says, "When CofC agreed to support BarCamp, it really was a huge win and wouldn't have happened without the help of Dr. Christopher Starr, the computer science chair."
Putting the conference together is the work of a core group of volunteers and has been decentralized and democratic. There is no one person "in charge."
"Each of us keep busy with full-time jobs, families, etc., so time commitments are varied and always shifting ... We use online tools to help us collaborate, keep track of tasking, sponsors, funding, etc. Google docs, Google groups, Gmail, Gtalk, Freshbooks, Eventbrite, and the social networks help us put the word out," says Rynearson.
Also this year, larger tech companies are much more involved. Besides big-name sponsorships, developers and programmers from Google, Yahoo!, Jack Russell Software, and Collecta will be attending and possibly presenting. According to Rynearson, most of the workers at the new Google data center will be attending. City Paper is a media sponsor for the event.
It's up to those individuals if they want to present though, and they'll have to pitch their sessions along with everybody else. Despite the well-known names of the companies, they'll be alongside local techies sharing knowledge.
Lots of the sessions are very tech oriented, but one of the most popular sessions on the barcampchs.org website is "Homebrew 101: How to get started making your own beer," proposed by Matthew Lamb.
"I wanted to get more involved than I was last year, and this seemed like a unique topic that would mesh well with the BarCamp crowd. Plus I wanted to get the word out about how easy it is to make your own beer. I'd have started years ago if I'd known," says Lamb.
Lamb was inspired by his experience last year, "I had a great time. There was such a variance of content, techy and not. I walked away from the day having learned a lot," he says. "It does tend to lean more toward a tech-savvy crowd, but I think anyone could find a variety of topics that would be interesting to them."