What is a Barcamp?










Each year we kick off Berlin Buzzwords with a barcamp on Sunday afternoon. For first-time attendees the concept of a barcamp can be a bit of an enigma. Questions I‘m frequently asked include: What exactly is a barcamp? Who should attend? How can I prepare? And what‘s in it for me?

When I started working on Berlin Buzzwords, it was the first time I‘d ever heard the term “barcamp”. As barcamps started off in the technical world, I assumed it was just me who found it all new, and all the technologists attending Berlin Buzzwords would all know exactly what it was! Apparently I‘m not the only one to have their first barcamp experience at Buzzwords, so I‘ll try to shed some light on this mysterious thing called barcamp.

In technical terms, a barcamp is a kind of “un-conference“, which basically just means that the schedule and content are provided by the participants, and worked out on the day. Everyone can take part, in many different ways, and all that‘s certain in advance is the venue and the general topic areas to be covered. At Berlin Buzzwords, our barcamps have the same themes as the conference itself.

First of all, and most imporantly, a barcamp is whatever the participants make of it. It‘s our participants who bring the content, the ideas, and the questions. They spark the discussions, share their experiences, and bring the inspiration to drive things forward. The barcamp acts as a friendly, welcoming space to foster those ideas, and develop them further. It brings interested people together, and gives them time and space to share their knowledge, and tackle their problems and challenges from other angles.

Who can take part? Anyone! Everyone has something they can share, some way they can take part.

What do I need to bring? Nothing is required! If you have something you‘d like to share, maybe bring your laptop with a few slides or some code. A few people with phones or tablets to live-tweet, take notes or share photos is often good, if that‘s more your thing. Whiteboards and pens are provided by us, should you need to share things that way. Otherwise bring yourself, and think up some questions to ask, or answers to seek to your problems, everyone is welcome, everyone can participate in their own way.

But how does it work, you may ask? How do we know what to talk about, if there‘s no schedule in advance? Fear not, there is method to this madness!

As a barcamp is a kind of unconference, we work out our schedule on the day, based on what people find interesting, what people want to talk about, and what our attendees have knowledge in. After an introduction, the barcamp kicks off with the initial scheduling, where we collaboratively fill up our empty grid of rooms and time slots. Everyone thinks about what they‘d like to hear about, and what (if anything) they‘d be willing to lead a session on. We write these down, then people take turns to do a brief pitch of their topic. Based on the interest in the room, what the participants want to hear most, and any overlapping proposals, we fill up our grid. The participants themselves choose between the suggested topics: What do they want to hear more about, what is worth discussing?

The presentation of those topics can be a discussion, a workshop or a regular talk with Q&A. They can be lead by one expert, or jointly given by many intermediate level people. The idea is to keep it open for various kinds of presentations and levels of knowledge. The exchange, inspiration, and brainstorming is what it is all about. You can actively take part or just listen or even leave early and come back later for a different topic.

When the time is up, everyone dashes back to the schedule grid, and picks what session to attend next. If a session proves really interesting, a follow-on one can be added in a gap later in the day. Everybody can decide which ideas they want to pursue and who to speak to next.

In this way, the barcamp offers a platform and some additional time to exchange ideas and knowledge with peers at a conference. It is valuable for everybody, from first-timers at Berlin Buzzwords, those entirely new in the tech world, right the way up to CTOs in huge tech companies with tons of experience. Everyone joins in, everyone learns, everyone shares, and everyone has fun. Feel free to join us at the barcamp, bring a friend, and we look forward to seeing you at Berlin Buzzwords!

Nina Müller

Berlin Buzzwords Project Manager