Reflections on BarCamp

13 May 2009

I attended BarCamp Portland this year in a more participatory role. Considering the resent Rails chauvinist debacle, I thought it was a perfect time to talk about women in tech, as well as the Econix project and PDX Hackerspace. I gave an impromptu 4th session about food and veganism (even though I am not currently vegan). My three sessions were juggled around a lot on Friday during the planning session. Something I noticed about the unconference board-planning aspect is that it is most useful for people who have already attended an unconference, and people who are willing to be in aggressive leadership roles. The assumption is that a herd is going to race to the board and trample others in order to get their topic on the board, but I noticed this backfired as people were slightly more thoughtful about topics but also more reserved and less self-confident to actually put their ideas out without prior approval. The atmosphere was tinged with nervousness, as many people there tend to be wallflowers. It was a bit surreal. I did my best to get other people participating without being overbearing, though I'm not sure the format in this iteration is the best. It makes me wonder if there can't be a less confrontational version of this, or if we can create friendly negotiation from the confrontations.

Econix and Local Bartering (notes)

I supervised this session with Di-Ann from Platial. She has started a map-based local bartering system with her neighbors called Urban Traders. This session made me realize that people in Portland want to feel connected to each other in a tangible way but are still experimenting to find the best way to both encourage a real local economy and a sense of community. I took notes and did a reasonably good job.

Women + Tech == Yay! (notes)

On Friday I wanted to make sure this panel was created and wasn't sure who would step up to host it, so I went ahead and hosted it. I figured it would be similar to last year's that took place in the lobby, where a bunch of women sat around and talked about their experiences. The session kept moving around and by the time I got to eat lunch, someone told me I was hosting it in the forum. I was rather shocked that people were showing up in large numbers but was unable to be stressed or nervous about it. I simply told people what I had been thinking about on the way to BarCamp that Saturday, and remembered words of encouragement from my grandma. Since the panel, people have come up to me quite a bit to talk about their experiences and thoughts. I appreciate it a lot, though I am still eager to use the energy to create a positive experience for young women of color. Young women are not encouraged enough to explore their technological desires, or even be allowed to like science and math. The same patriarchy is too involved in the internet, and the internet cannot evolve without people who think differently forging new paths with their ideas.

PDX Hackerspace (notes)

I'm involved in the creation of a space for people in the community to hack together. So far the project is very male-centric, but we are looking to create it as a co-op. I am still working on formulating most of the details. It is an experiment in creating a new business, which is new for me. Hopefully the hackerspace can be a place where young women can come and hack together.

Food (notes)

This panel was not as exciting. By this time, I was completely mentally exhausted and managed to hijack the session into a talk about veganism. I'm now much more commited to becoming vegan than before, and it was a nice way to recenter myself. Plus, I met some really cool people.