One of the key components I see to inspire and motivate people who are getting things done is a support system of like-minded friends and peers. BarCamp creates this kind of environment for the technology industry, and the related fields of design and business, which is why I keep going back.

I attended Saskatoon’s 7th BarCamp on November 5th 2011. It was the 3rd one I’ve been to and the best one so far.

Does BarCamp take place at a bar?

Contrary to what you might infer from the name, BarCamp does not have to take place inside a bar (the name comes from foobar), nor does alcohol need to be involved. But it doesn’t hurt.

In fact, by a strange series of events, The Phuse became this year’s Saskatoon BarCamp beer sponsor! I had announced my official first day at The Phuse on Twitter, and @iChris replied that that meant I had to buy drinks for everyone at BarCamp! Oh, what had I gotten myself into? Thankfully, @phuseca noticed this exchange and offered to become the beer sponsor, which made everyone happy. And since Barcamp is non-profit, the $200 leftover from selling beer tickets was donated to Movember!

So what is BarCamp?

For those who may not have heard about BarCamp before, it is basically a free yearly un-conference organized by volunteers to bring together local people in the tech fields. Anyone can talk, the schedule is put together on the fly at the beginning of the event, and everyone is encouraged to participate by asking questions and discussing their views. More information can be found on the BarCamp wiki [http://www.barcamp.org]. If you’re inspired by open events like this, maybe you’ll be inspired to attend your local BarCamp, or even to organize your own!

BarCamp re-cap

The best thing about BarCamp for me is that “like begets like” – It is motivational just being around many positive people who are actually doing things and are successful in the local tech scene. After the conference, I felt inspired to revisit my own side projects and bring new energy into my everyday work.

Throughout the day, I attended talks on managing non-functional requirements, Building Technology vs Solving Problems, Apple App Store tips and strategies, hackerspaces, including our local hackerspace, Expression Engine, and a blogging seminar called How to Create an Award-Winning Blog in 6 Months – even the title reads like a blog post.

More than one talk goes on at a time, so I missed out on some about Android and iOS development, unit testing JavaScript and other good geeky stuff. It was great to chat with others in the lobby and hear about the talks they sat in on. Good things happen when we take a break from our busy work lives to get together and party.

Dale Zak talks about technology and innovation

Some highlights for me included Dale Zak’s inspirational speech about technology and innovation. It sounds like a pretty broad topic, but Zak’s message was clear and simple: first, find a real problem to solve. Once you find the problem, then you create a solution and implement it with the proper technology. That’s what leads to profit.

A lot of start-ups do it backwards. They start with the technology and try to create a problem for the tech to solve. Since the problem was invented to suit the technology, people might not really have this problem, so no one buys the solution.

Solving real problems leads to innovation, which usually leads to profit. We looked at examples of mobile innovations in Africa, and asked ourselves, why in Saskatchewan are we not innovators in agricultural technology? There was some discussion in the room about how we have world class agricultural and computer science departments next to each other in the university, but there needs to be some kind of bridge to get them working together. It is important for us to communicate with the other industries around us. In my own work, this relates to a successful design discovery process: you need people on both sides willing to work together to define real problems in the project.

Hackerspaces with Paul Chavady

I also learned more about what hackerspaces are from Paul Chavady’s presentation, and what people are doing at our very own hackerspace in the city. From the name, I thought hackerspaces would be all about building (or hacking) software together with others. Instead, it’s a collaborative environment for all sorts of projects, and they occasionally put on classes where you can pick up new skills. Currently, they have a 3D printer that was designed to print most of the components needed to make a copy of itself. That’s just neat.

They also have someone working on their own pinball machine, there’s lots of woodworking equipment, a few robots, someone made an arcade simulator, and there’s even a sewing corner. To me it seems the best thing about hackerspaces is that they provide the tools and environment to actually finish projects that you might otherwise procrastinate on. It’s like a support system for actually getting things done.

Arlin Schaffel on getting your app out there

Arlin Schaffel from zu explained to us some of the mysteries of the App Store and “everything but the code” involved in getting your app out there. Although the talk wasn’t about making an actual app, it got me thinking about apps again. Like most people with smartphones, I think I have some great ideas for apps. That’s as far as it goes, mainly because I “don’t have the time” or won’t make gobs of money off it, so what’s the point? But Arlin and his friends have meetings where they get together over beers to work on apps. The point isn’t to make gobs of money, although that would be nice. So far the app sales have bought a few beers. For someone with a bit of programming knowledge (or programming friends) this talk and others I’ve attended in the past tell me that it is possible to get an app out there – it can be done in evenings and weekends, and it doesn’t need to be a lonely venture.

Moving beyond

BarCamp creates the type of environment that inspires like-minded people. But that’s not the only way to get inspired. It’s important to look beyond, and seek out your inspiration more than once a year. Perhaps by attending a local hackerspace, or organizing small get-togethers with friends for a purpose. Maybe you want to make a mobile app. Find some friends and toss ideas around over a drink. Maybe you can even organize your own BarCamp, if your area doesn’t have one yet, to get the ball rolling.

Remember, inspiration is contagious. Go catch it!

(More pictures here.)

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