BarCamp “unconference” draws students, alumni

Atlanta’s technology elite, along with a number of interested Tech students, came together in Tech Square last weekend for the second annual BarCamp Atlanta “unconference.”

Despite the name, BarCamp has no connection with alcohol or going out to lots of bars. Rather, it is a technology-focused, participant-driven event that allows all interested parties to attend, to create their own sessions and to share all of the information they gather.

The name is, instead, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the invite-only FooCamp conference organized annually by O’Reilly Media, a major publisher of technology books. It is based on the “hacker” term “foobar,” a common placeholder variable name in programming examples that is often split into its two parts: foo and bar. Thus, if the first conference were called FooCamp (in which the “foo” actually stood for Friends of O’Reilly), a second would be called BarCamp.

The conference is distinguished by its open format and informal rules. Unlike most conferences, a BarCamp does not have a predefined agenda. Rather, as attendees arrive at the conference they sign up to run sessions on a variety of topics.

While some conferences that follow this format are themed and the presentations are more specific as a result, the topics at BarCamp cannot be pegged to any specific area. There is some emphasis on technology and programming, but participants can, and often do, speak about whatever interests them.

Last weekend’s event was no different. Sessions ranged from introductions to the Erlang programming language, overviews of programming for the iPhone and algorithms in JavaScript, to how-tos on the making of paper darts and dipping food into liquid nitrogen. Other sessions focused on the business side of running your own company, such as “How to generate publicity without seeming like a scumbag spammer.”

A distinguishing feature of the Atlanta event is its interaction with the population of Tech students and alumni. A majority of the more than 100 attendees were Tech alumni, and the impromptu showing of the Tech football game against Clemson was one of the more popular “sessions.” In addition, a number of current Tech students both attended and presented at the event.

Beyond the sessions and presentations, BarCamp brought together a wide swath of the leaders of Atlanta’s technology and startup scene. Many of the participants were running or involved in working for a startup company in the Atlanta area, most of these related to the internet.

BarCamp thus served as one of a number of networking events for entrepreneurs around Atlanta and provided the opportunity for students to meet and interact with this community. “Barcamp was…truly a random mixture of some of the bright minds in Atlanta,” said Colin Ake, fifth-year Management major.

The event was hosted at the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) in the Centergy One building in Tech Square. ATDC is an “incubator,” helping new, technology-related companies to grow more effectively. It works with entrepreneurs around Georgia, helping them build and launch companies that will be successful over the long term.

ATDC is affiliated with Tech as a part of the Enterprise Innovation Institute, but many of the companies that are members of the incubator have no relationship to the Institute’s technology or people. However, ATDC’s convenient location and large quantities of meeting space made it an optimal place to host BarCamp Atlanta for the second straight year. “The location for Barcamp is pretty much perfect. The layout of that floor is absolutely ideal for what Barcamp is, and it truly is great for ATDC to loan out that space for a weekend,” wrote Joe Uhl, CS ’04, on his blog.

The event was mainly organized by Michael Mealling, chief financial officer and vice president of Business Development for Masten Space Systems, a company based in Mojave, Calif. Lance Weatherby, venture catalyst at ATDC, provided ATDC’s space for BarCamp.

The first BarCamp took place in 2005 in Palo Alto, Calif., drawing approximately 200 attendees after only a week of organization. Since then, the “unconference” has spread all over the world, with recent BarCamps happening everywhere from Senegal to Cambodia to Tajikistan. The conference first made its appearance in Atlanta Oct. 12-13, 2007.