Summer camp for geeks… and I think I may be one!

Pics by Paul Saini

In continuation of the Solo Life, I attended a two-day conference this past weekend, party of one.  But like has happened with the last few Solo Life attempts, being alone amongst strangers was thwarted.  A Dance Experiment participant and a Mingler guest were present.  But as we were all there to make new connections and learn new things, we remained in opposite corners and didn’t latch onto one another simply because of a familiar face.

The conference, SocialDevCamp, was billed: Come for two days of developer-centric sessions about making the most of the social web. It’s the unconference for social application and platform developers, mobile social developers, evangelists, and enthusiasts. At SocialDevCamp you’ll join hundreds of passionate developers and creators for a weekend of robust talks on social applications, platforms, APIs, mobile applications, identity management, and new media.

I’m not sure why my interest was peaked initially.  I don’t even know what a platform or an API is.  Quite honestly, it was probably the words “unconference” and “camp” that caught my attention.  I like anything non-traditional [hence my creation of Mac ‘n Cheese Minglers, un-networking events] and an unconference sounds like a way to learn outside of the typical lecture-hall type scenario.  And camp?  I love capture the flag!

While there were no panty-raids or bug-juice chugs, SocialDevCamp was a wonderful experience.  It was held at IIT and attracted over 200 attendees, from all over the country and at least one international.  The schedule was set up so that you chose from three simultaneously-occurring topics, with most sessions lasting for sixty-minutes.  Two of the three were larger lecture-hall type scenarios, with Q & A at the end.  And then one was a more intimate, sit in a circle, open discussion.  I found both formats engaging and informative.  Topics ranged from Trends in Social Commerce to Developing for the Mobile Web to Social Entrepreneurship.  The big-wig speakers were Andrew Mason of Groupon, Chris Messina of Google, and Ben Huh of the Cheezburger Network; I missed Chris due to hosting a Mingler Saturday, but Andrew and Ben were very funny, interesting, and knowledgeable.

What I took away from SocialDevCamp

  • You might as well be listening to a walkman and wearing acid-washed jeans if you’re taking notes via pen and paper rather than on a laptop.
  • New professional goal of mine > pull up in a cab to a conference ten minutes before start time, with slicked-back hair and a crisp button-down shirt, nothing else in tow, and saunter purposefully, head high, through the sliding doors, knowing that the world is awaiting your arrival.  To be a conference presenter.
  • I question what type of Creative-Type you are if you’re a PC, not a Mac.
  • The Power of Yes > improv taught me this with it’s Yes and! philosophy.  It’s amazing what can happen when you just say yes.
  • Business cards are becoming obsolete.  QR Codes, like a barcode, were put on our conference badges.  If someone wanted your contact info, they could take a picture of your code with their phone and your info was automatcially and instantly uploaded to their mobile-device.
  • I totally judge you by your screensaver.
  • Don’t be the type of company to passive-aggressively remind people to clean out the company fridge.
  • There’s a lot of cool technology and a lot of awesome organizations out there.  A Space Apart, Sprout Box, Empire Avenue, Lightbank, Woopra, Ice Rocket, Weave the People, Firmology, TwitterFountain to name a few.
  • Keep on creating a better product and you won’t have to worry about competition.
  • Don’t keep asking an audience for a round of applause for a speaker.  If they feel like applauding, they will.  It’s awkward when you request a standing ovation and no one stands.
  • Use blogs as recruiting tools.
  • Don’t be afraid to apple-pick good ideas and smush them together to create your own version of greatness.
  • Help clients to realize they need something they didn’t know they needed.
  • It’s really nice when cost is not a factor when considering whether or not to partake in an opportunity like SocialDevCamp.  Total cost was $30, with two days of lunch included.  Being self-employed, with a large clientele of public schools and non-profits, I appreciate that.
  • Groupon seems like a really really cool place to work.
  • Give clients info relevant to them when it’s relevant.
  • Improvisers make good customer service reps.
  • 80% of your money is spent within ten miles of your home.
  • Social Proof your service.  Buttons like Digg’s digg this, Facebook’s Like, and Twitter’s retweet lend social proof that someone thinks highly of what you offer.
  • People are hungry for unique ways to meet others, ways other than LinkedIn,, bars, speed networking, and the like.  I mentioned the Minglers in one of the sessions and had a ton of people come up to me afterward for business cards and to exclaim what a novel idea they are.
  • Being a good presenter is difficult.  Do your visuals complement or detract from your spoken words?  Can you be professional and knowledgeable while also being light-hearted and funny?  Can you teach without preaching?  Can you relate personal stories without sounding narcissistic?  Can you appropriately pace yourself for the allotted timeslot?
  • People use Groupon not just as a discount-provider but as a cityguide, as a way to try out something they haven’t tried out before.
  • Move to where your clients are going to be, not to where they are currently.
  • Remember MySpace.  Don’t celebrate success too quickly.
  • I think the worst role you could find yourself in this day in age is a bad presenter at a tech conference.  People will unmercifully tweet about you while you’re talking, and the disaster will be videotaped, photographed, blogged, tweeted, Facebooked, and laptopped for all to relive over and over and over.
  • Dollar for dollar, people who spend their money on experiences rather than on items have happier lives.
  • Even if you know nothing about Perl, weaves, APIs and cloud platforms, you can still have a good time and make good connections with experts on said topics.

All in all, a very successful Solo Life activity.  I am looking forward to returning to camp next year.  Crossing fingers for a water-balloon fight.