Join Sourcetoad at BarCamp Tampa Bay this Saturday

This year is the 10th anniversary of BarCamp Tampa Bay, which takes place this Saturday, October 21 at USF Muma College of Business. Sourcetoad is proud to be a “Petabyte Sponsor” of the event. If you’re interested in sharing ideas with other intelligent, passionate, and community-minded people in the Tampa Bay area, you should come to this free event!

FOO Camp and Tim O’Reilly (inset). Creative Commons photo by Joi Ito.

In August 2003, Tim O’Reilly — founder of the venerable tech publishing company O’Reilly Media and all-round tech influencer — invited about 200 friends to an event called “FOO Camp,” where “FOO” was short for “Friends Of O’Reilly.” Inspired by the concepts of emergence and self-organization and phenomena like wikis, peer-to-peer software, and the Agile Manifesto, the gathering was a conference where the attendees set the agenda, while the organizer simply provided the opportunity, event space, and food, and drink.

FOO Camp based its format on the Open Space Technology process. It starts with participants sitting in a circle Anyone who has a topic that they want to discuss walks into the middle to write it down, announce it to others in the circle, and pick a time and place for their session. The announced topics, times, and places are written on a central whiteboard, which defines the event’s agenda.

FOO Camp was an invitation-only event, and you had to be on Tim O’Reilly’s radar to even be considered for the guest list. Between the limited number of guest slots and the ultra-high profiles of some of the guests (Google co-founder Larry Page famously arrived at FOO Camp 2007 in a helicopter), an invitation to this event was a rare privilege, even among the “800-pound gorillas” of Silicon Valley, who complained quite loudly when they weren’t invited.

Participants at the first BarCamp. Creative Commons photo by ioerror.

What if there was a FOO Camp that was open to all, not just “A-listers?” That’s a question that a group of San Francisco Bay Area software developers who had no hope of getting on FOO Camp’s guest list asked themselves in August 2005, a week before the third annual FOO Camp took place. They decided to answer their own question, and six days and a lot of quick organizing later, they held the first BarCamp in San Francisco in 2005. Nobody arrived in a helicopter.

The name BarCamp is based on programmer humor. Many classic programming books, notably the Perl ones published by (irony of ironies) O’Reilly, used “foo” and “bar” as the names of variables in their example programs. They’re derived from the World War II slang term “fubar,” which in its polite form is short for “fouled up beyond all recognition.” After “foo” comes “bar,” and therefore the logical successor of FOO Camp is BarCamp.

While there was some friendly rivalry between the exclusive, well-funded FOO Camp and the open-to-all, scrappy BarCamp, the latter was not built on the idea of protesting the former. Instead, it was about building upon FOO Camp’s basic idea and sharing it in a spirit similar to that of open source software. The BarCamp organizers documented their efforts so that it could be duplicated by anyone. Since then, BarCamps have taken place all over the world; Sourcetoad’s Joey deVilla helped organize BarCamp Toronto in 2006, and in 2007 the first BarCamp Tampa Bay was held.

BarCamp isn’t a format for a conference, but an unconference. As an unconference, BarCamp has an agenda that’s created by its attendees instead of its organizers. If you have a topic that you’d like to lead a discussion on, you walk up to the schedule board, write the title of your discussion on a sticky note, and claim a time slot and room. The topics on the schedule board become BarCamp’s agenda.

When BarCamp’s discussions take place, everyone’s encouraged to treat it as a conversation rather than a lecture. If you have a question to ask or an idea to contribute, you don’t have to wait for the Q&A at the end, you can politely add to the discussion as it happens. As BarCampers all over the world like to say, “there are no spectators, only participants.”

You’re also encouraged to follow the “Rule of Two Feet”: use your two feet to take you to discussions where you can contribute, add value, learn, or enjoy. And use them to take you away from ones where you can’t. If someone leaves a discussion at BarCamp, they’re not being rude — they’re simply going to where they can add value and learn, and they’re making room for others to contribute to the session.

While BarCamp was founded by techies and many focus on technology-related topics, anyone can come to a BarCamp and propose a discussion around a topic that’s near and dear to them. There’ve been discussions and even whole BarCamps that have focused on a wide variety of interests such as community-building, public transit, education, healthcare, real estate, banking, and more.

At Sourcetoad, we’re enthusiastic supporters of the Tampa Bay community and the bright, passionate, and involved people that make up the Bay’s technology, social, creative, and civic scenes. That’s why we’re sponsors of BarCamp Tampa Bay, and we’re looking forward for taking part in its tenth anniversary.

If you’re looking for something interesting to do this Saturday, we encourage you to register for BarCamp Tampa Bay (it’s free to attend, and registration helps them plan for food and drink, which they provide for free). Get involved, and participate in the BarCamp phenomenon!

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