Thursday, February 14, 2008

Who can conduct a Devcamp?

I liked the recently concluded Devcamp Bangalore well enough to hope for more of its kind. My thoughts about future Devcamps led me to a question: what characteristics should a software company have to organise a successful Devcamp? Based on my inferences I came up with the following criteria.

1. Buy-in from Management. I think one of the factors that worked in favour of Devcamp '08 is the way unconferences tie in nicely with the recruitment and PR strategies of ThoughtWorks. Of course TW is just one example. The necessary precondition is that management should appreciate devcamps and work out ways to use them to help their business plans.

Recruitment is one department that can make obvious use of devcamps. However most software companies in India do little to ensure the actual quality of recruits beyond paying lip service to the "Quality over Quantity" mantra.

The PR value of devcamps may be difficult for traditional managers to understand. The subtle fact is that a well executed devcamp can make a company more popular with discerning developers than full page advertisements in technology magazines ever will.

There is also the question of participation. Unlike with barcamps most managers will find very little to do in a devcamp. The very nature of unconferences will ensure that there is no stage time for top brass who are used to delivering speeches at events organised by their companies.

2. Buy-in from Software Developers. For any company to make its devcamp work its programmers should be actively involved. This in turn requires that developers have an active interest in software outside the demands of daily work. An useful metric would be the number of employees who are involved in open source projects. If a software company cannot muster a dozen developers who work with code of their own interest, let alone contribute to OSS projects, then chances are that devcamps will never be popular in such a place.

3. Infrastructure. Around 200 people turned up for Devcamp '08 and many of them brought their laptops. Besides managing to squeeze all into their main office TW also put up a wireless network and served free lunch and refreshments. I think more people can be counted on to attend future devcamps. Any future organiser should be able to accommodate 200+ attendees and their computing machines.

4. Location, Location. It matters which city and block devcamps are held. In Bangalore the distance from the city centre to the venue will directly affect attendance.

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