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My CampJS Experience

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I was never really the camping kind of guy. Sounds like the perfect opportunity to collect kindling, start a bonfire, set up a tent, sleep in a bedroll, not have Internet access, eat hot dogs day and night, feel cold and miserable and get bitten by all sorts of bugs, right? — overall not my mental picture for “having fun”. Last weekend, though, I attended CampJS, and it changed my perspective on this kind of things.

I’ve always wanted to visit Australia. My sister has always been fascinated with the country, and she got to go a few years ago. She came back more fascinated about it than ever, validating my drive to visit one day. The problem was obviously one of distance, as visiting other countries usually goes. You’re looking at upwards of half a day sitting on planes and airports to get from Argentina to an airport anywhere near Australia, but I guess I’m supposed not to complain about that (and I’m not, I like travelling and I don’t mind planes).

It all started a couple of months ago. I was sitting in an airport on my way to Frontend Conference in Switzerland. My flight had just gotten cancelled, so I was stranded in Frankfurt for a couple hours. I couldn’t really complain, Lufthansa had upgraded me to Business Class as a token of their appreciation that they’d be cancelling my next two flights with them. I checked my email, and I had one from Tim. I didn’t really know Tim, I followed him on Twitter and GitHub but that was about it, I almost hadn’t interacted with him at all. This came as a nice surprise!

CampJS IV

Hi, I run CampJS, it’s a casual developer conference in Australia. Would you be interested in coming out to our next event from October 31 – November 3?

I had already stumbled upon the site for their conference, it’s quite nice — especially on a cold night. It renders a small world using WebGL and turns your notebook into a little furnace.

CampJS
CampJS

Anyways, I didn’t hesitate to say yes: this was a great opportunity to visit Australia for a little while, get to know Tim in the flesh (and as I’d find out later on, a wealth of other great humans), and attend a conference to boot!

It seemed to be a lengthy conference…

Four days. It’d turn out to feel much shorter than that. I think that really depends on the conference.** Conferences with hundreds of speakers and tens of tracks tend to feel like a drag, even if they last only three days.** That’s because of the way they’re laid out, the format is typically that you get to choose a talk (out of ten different ones) and attend that talk, and then there’s probably another talk with no more than a five minute break in between. Then there’s a coffee break, that one lasts long enough for sponsors to gank you in an attempt to sell you products you’re faintly interested in. When you do get to talk to other attendees, chances are they’ve attended a drastically different talk, or maybe they’re into an entirely different technology stack than you are, limiting your talking points and networking opportunities.

That’s why I prefer conferences with one or two tracks. Still, I was kind of skeptical about a two-track four-day conference in the middle of nowhere. However, being in the middle of nowhere was key to having a great experience. It wasn’t like people could go anywhere else, and the sessions weren’t that close in time to each other that you had to rush to gulp some coffee and engulf a pastry before you had to head over to the tracks. Instead, sessions were separated by generous periods of time, and there was no pressure at all to attend one of the talks that were going on at any given point in time.

There was plenty of other things to do. You could hack on your own projects, play around with some hardware, attend one of the workshops, listen to the NodeUp podcast that Rodd Vagg put together, one of the different discussion sessions where speakers would discuss different approaches to a particular problem (such as testing or components for the browser), or just lay around and talk to other like-minded individuals — which turned out to be one of the most popular choices.

That also meant that speaker sessions were low in terms of attendance levels, resulting in an intimate experience where the speaker could interact more (and more easily) with attendees.

Great Communities Matter

People were so nice at CampJS, and it showed. Speakers were just laying around and generally being just another attendee, hacking on their stuff or talking to other attendees. Attendees were also amicable and easy to talk to, and there was a generally positive vibe throughout the entire event.

Most of us brought some candies to the table for the Halloween party, while some went as far as dressing up (there were Wilfred, a “404 Costume Not Found”, some kind of weird drunken bunny, and a few others). There was also an impressively well-carved pumpkin and cupcakes to satisfy one’s sugary needs.

Granted, it was really hard to get any work done under these “stressful conditions”.

I got to meet a lot of people I hadn’t yet met away from keyboard but I was readily eager to meet because of the Internet, and some people who I didn’t really know but was very interesting as well. Being on the other side of the world was great because I got to meet a lot of people from different cultures and life was great.

For me one of the better parts of the conference was the “closing ceremony”, where Tim handed out presents such as CampJS shirts, a Tessel, and hilarious contraptions such as a MySQL book inside a MongoDB bag. MongoDb literally takes MySQL for a walk (that was a joke, in case you missed it).

Did I mention Tim must be one of the nicest people I’ve ever met? He really is! You should follow him on Twitter, too. No, he didn’t pay me or threaten me, I just liked the way he ran things.

Hack All the Things

Another large aspect to the conference was hacking on your own projects, or maybe teaming up and helping other people with their projects. At the end of the day you got to present what you had built, regardless of what it was. I wanted to have some fun, and I had just finished putting together the animated loading cube you see in this blog when you’re loading a view on the client-side (after the first page load of course). Logically I decided to try my luck at a game where you’d be a cube, shoot cubes at other cubes, and collect powerups and points, while listening to lousily embedded Megaman sound effects.

It turned out better than I expected, It’s missing basic features such as instructing you on how to play, more interactive levels, some kind of obstacles, less overpowered cubes, and probably cylinders or triangles. I probably won’t touch it again until the next event similar to CampJS comes along.

That reminds me, tickets for the next iteration, CampJS V, are already available, it’s in may next year, and I think they’re also looking for sponsors if that’s something you can give them a hand with.

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