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Running a Code Camp – The Event

In my previous post, I discussed guidelines for preparing for the running of a code camp. If you’re not out of breath yet, hang in there. This is where it all pays off. I’ll then follow up with a post about the follow-up steps to be done after the event.

Arrive Early
If you can get into the facility early, try to get in at least an hour and a half before the opening general session. I made it in with the volunteers an hour early, and we did a LOT of last minute rushing around. Our opening general session was scheduled for 8:00 AM, so we arrived at 7:00 AM. I think our next code camp will start at 8:30 AM.

Recruit a couple of volunteers to help with handouts, badges for the attendees and speakers, posting signs giving directions to the important rooms, and monitoring the registration desk, amongst other miscellaneous items. As I mentioned in my first post, I’m so glad that my co-chair, Louis, thought of this, and recruited the help of Vicki and Sylvia from the UCONN School of Business office. Not only did they help with the preparation of the materials needed for the event, they also helped tremendously on the day of the event.

Feed the People
Make sure that breakfast is set up about a half hour before people are scheduled to arrive. Make sure the coffee is flowing (both regular and decaf). We want everyone to be awake for the early sessions Wink.

Session Schedule Grid Display
Display the large session schedule grid by the registration desk. You’ll need a huge blank wall or bulletin board to use. Depending upon the wall, you can use regular clear tape (which we used) or something like painter’s tape, to ensure that you don’t damage the walls, or leave behind any residue. You may even need a ladder to reach the earlier sessions. The wall we had to use was a little limited, so what we did was posted about half of the entire schedule up at first, and then as the day went on we discarded the finished sessions, and shifted the rest up to make room for later sessions. This led to a slightly confusing situation, though — a couple of people assumed that the latter sessions were canceled, because we hadn’t posted them yet (there was no room to post them yet). Next time, we should post a bottom row that indicates that more sessions would follow.

Session Schedule Grid

Post Directions
Post the directional signs directing people to the rest rooms in addition to the session rooms. Also, signs should be posted directing people to the food. We didn’t do this, and location we used for food was tucked away a bit, so several people didn’t know where to find it, especially if they came late and weren’t there for breakfast.

Last Minute Corrections
Have a thick black magic marker on hand, because you know you’re going to need it to fill in some extra arrows and extra instructions on the signs that you posted. There’s always going to be things you think of based upon the logistics of where the signs are placed after you’ve already printed them out.

Temporary Storage
Have a secure place to store the speakers’ material (handouts, props, extra hardware, etc.) before and after their session. After all, they’ll normally be attending other sessions, and don’t need the burden of carrying these around. We left poor Michael de la Maza dragging a box around until his session, because we hadn’t considered this. We ended up using Louis’s office for this for the balance of the day.

Registration Desk
Make sure that at least one person is handling the registration desk most of the day. Many people show up late at these events, maybe waiting until the first session they’re interested in. We had a rule — in order for an attendee to be eligible to win free swag, they must pick up their name badge (so we know they actually did attend), and still be present at the end of the day. This is also an incentive for people to stick around for the sessions.

Quiet Areas
Make sure you have areas outside of the meeting rooms where the speakers can set up and practice or do last minute changes before their session. Being able to provide them with an Internet connection is a major bonus, in case they need to download any extra support material, etc. We were lucky enough to have this event at UCONN, so we had a couple of great lounge areas to sit down and relax before and after the sessions. It was also great for the speakers to be able to sit down in these quiet areas to chat with other speakers.

Opening Session Considerations
Make sure you’ve given enough time for an opening general session. Although you don’t have to do much at this session (give some minor instructions about the room locations, when and where we’d be serving food, eligibility rules for the swag raffle, filling out the evals), it provides an opportunity for networking (although many people seemed to still be a bit too sleepy for this), and just as important — to give the first speakers of the day a chance to set up their equipment and test the facility’s equipment (and give us a chance to find a different room if need be). One of our sessions started a bit late because of a setup issue. I would start the code camp a little later next time. Otherwise, the first speaker could get shortchanged.

Delay Issues
Another potential issue you want to avoid with setup is any delay taking too much time away from the speaker’s session. Running over is not much of an option — at best, you can “cheat” by grabbing most of the ten minute break between sessions. Since people can switch between tracks, if one track is delayed, all subsequent tracks also have to be delayed in order to allow the attendees to see the next track in its entirety. Setup issues can still happen later in the day, especially if there is special equipment involved, so I recommend saving such sessions for the last session of the day, if possible. We had such a situation, but because it wasn’t the last session of the day, the speaker lost about a half hour, and had to eliminate most of his examples.

Encouraging Interaction
Audience participation (or lack thereof) can make or break a session. A room often does not have to be very dark in order to see a projected image. We made a mistake in one of the rooms we used, and kept lights down too much, and I think it kept the audience energy level for those sessions a bit too low.

Photos and Video
Although it’s not required, I recommend taking some photos of some of the sessions in progress (don’t forget to use a flash — I forgot, and the photos didn’t come out too well). Not only is it nice to capture some of the moments, it’s also good promotion for future events. It also helps the facility sponsoring the event to see the amount of participation, so they may be willing to allow you to run similar future events. I also took a few seconds of video of some of the sessions, but you may feel more comfortable asking the speaker if they’re ok with it before doing so. I didn’t really ask, but the videos were so small that I didn’t capture more than 10 to 15 seconds of each, anyway. We considered video recording all of the sessions in their entirety, but that would have been way more than we could have handled. I don’t see even trying to tackle that one for a long time. I know they did this at Remix in Boston recently, and I was warned about the massive effort that took. From what I understand, it’s a task that’s still in progress for the editing and all.

Between Sessions
Have a person posted at each room at the end of each session for two reasons: 1) to announce to the attendees a reminder that they should register at the front desk if they had not yet done so (and why), and to fill out the evaluation forms (and why), and 2) to help the next speaker prepare for the next session.

Feed the People Again
Make sure that breakfast is cleared out, and lunch is set up about a half hour before the scheduled break. Because you’ll be so harried much of the day, I recommend grabbing some food about five to ten minutes before the lunch break, just so you could escape in peace for a few minutes into a quiet room.

After you get a final list of attendees, you’ll need to draw the raffle winners from the list. I believe we may have worked too hard on generating this list. What we did was download the latest list from the Microsoft Group Events site in Excel format, removed the names of the people who didn’t pick up their name tags, then Leo wrote a little macro to generate random numbers based upon the remaining count, and at the final session we assigned the winners from the least to most valuable prizes. It turns out that we didn’t select enough numbers since several people left early, so for the few remaining prizes, based upon an attendee’s suggestion, we picked a winner on the spreadsheet line corresponding with a random number called out by an attendee, and continued from that line on down. Because the list was not in alphabetic order (it was actually in the order people signed up for the event), it was pretty random. I think that for next time we’ll do it completely this way. The only thing we’ll do is pick a single random number, and work our way down the list from that point forward. There wasn’t a real reason to worry about subtracting the unclaimed badges from the list, because if we read the name and the person wasn’t there, we’d just skip to the next line. The person must be there and be wearing their badge to claim the prize, anyway.

Speaker Dinner
Finally, it’s time to go to dinner, and celebrate the day’s event! Take photos and video, and pat each other on the back for a job well done!

Your Goals from the Event
Don’t expect to learn much in the sessions if you plan on running a code camp. That’s what other code camps run by other people are for. When running one you’ll be spending way too much time coordinating the event to do much more than take the pulse of a few sessions. You’ll be learning a lot, but it will be about how to organize and run such an event. You’ll be experiencing this from a completely different angle than you may have in the past, which will be just as valuable as the type of learning you would gain from being an attendee. As you gain experience in running these, I’m sure you’ll get more opportunities to sit in on sessions, because you’ll have a lot of things down to a science, more or less. But the concentration will not be there for a full tech learning experience. Keep your eye on the real goal for running one of these events — to facilitate learning for your community.

In my final post, I’ll discuss follow-up steps to be done after the event. Yep, your job is not done yet!


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