Canterbury Tales: BarCamp Canterbury 2

Date: 30th April 2012
Author: Deri Jones

Bar Camp Canterbury 2012 happened over the weekend (28th and 29th April), and was an interesting chance to network with local (and not so local) folks, across a range of topics reaching from deep Java OO themes through to bows and arrows (in case you’re wondering, that was the session about surviving in an apocalyptic future)!

Canterbury Tales“Whanne that April with his shoures sote
The droughte of March hath perced to the rote…

Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages. ”

Or at least to BarCamp!

Canterbury may be more famous as a Cathedral town, and has some of the oldest churches in the country (1,500 years old or so) – but it also has a prestigious recent history as the birth place of the  Internet in the UK back in the late 1980s early 1990s – and indeed it was on campus at The University Of Kent that the Bar Camp was held, where I was based with the UK’s first ISP back then.

That technology tradition continuous, as evidenced by the Bar Camp folk.
There were several familiar faces from the monthly Canterbury event Digibury – a hats off to Tim and the team at Deeson who manage that event – they are smart Drupal guys!

We sponsored Bar Camp’s first run last year too, but for Bar Camp Canterbury 2012 the new organisers had been able to pull in more sponsors, and get a bigger venue. The venue was also a better location for an event like this, with all the seminar rooms off a central space with chill out, snacks  and Crafts Building space in the middle. More sponsors meant  it could be run over 2 full days, rather than the one day like last year, so there was more time to meet people.

I led a seminar/workshop  on doing a Software Start-up and the discussion turned out to be productive as among the group of about 20 there were 3 start-ups represented. These were at various stages of growth and fund-raising, and addressing different types of market, so there was lots of practical wisdom!

Here is a round up of the key points:

  • keep your costs pared down,
  • be ready to work 50 hour weeks and not take home a regular salary,
  • raising investment money will involve large time commitments and ironically take you away from growing your business!

As an ad hoc mentor to Kent software companies, I’m planning to run some future sessions, where those already down the road can share experiences, and address specific issues.  One in particular that came up in the workshop was the challenge of how to get a start-up to “the next level”.

The definition of “the next level” changes as a company grows.  One team wanted to go above 2 staff but not keen to commit funds to rent and overheads; another was stuck at 4 staff and finding it hard to find more people of the right profile, in their West Kent location with the pull of ‘exciting’ jobs in London so close by;  another wanted to move from selling consultancy to their own products but weren’t sure how to do the product planning and market planing needed.

The good news was that all were finding it easy to generate business in their niches, so there is obviously something good in the Kent air for software companies!

I benefited from a number of the sessions:

  • picking up a Firefox speed-up tip from the session led by Mozilla,
  •  learning about some of the  esoteric challenges when trying to design virtualisation platforms for apps where you consciously plan for a 25 year software lifetime,
  • getting some Java tips on clever use of Generics with some debate as to whether it felt more like a deep maths lesson than coding, and whether the trickiness introduced outweigh the potential coding-brevity benefits,
  • enjoying a thought provoking Gamification session
  •  seeing some cool presentation platforms built entirely in HTML5, to put Powerpoint in the shade.

It was also interesting to swap notes with other software dev. managers. It turns out some of the Agile stuff we’ve put in process at SciVisum over the last year or two is actually pretty good, and it’s easy to forget how far we’ve come when we see it every day.  So nice  to chat with other teams at earlier stages on the same path!

Sunday the 2nd day started late, the free beer the night before at the nice new FruitWorks office space in Stour Street had been an irresistible temptation too for some, and there just weren’t enough folks to empty the generous quantity of barrels donated! But after the slower start, there was another round of seminars until some fun and silly Karaoke Powerpoint games brought everything to a happy end at 4pm.

My only criticism is that it was a shame the tea shop downstairs was closed.  Free soft drinks and sandwiches is not to be sniffed at, but for me a cup of tea was sorely missed!

Definitely worth a visit next year!