London Barcamp 3Sunday, November 25, 2007
Over the weekend of the 24th and 25th November 2007, Barcamp London 3 took place. Again organised by the energetic Ian Forrester (who announced this would be the last Barcamp he organises). This time it took place in Google's London office, just outside Victoria station, so for the first time we got a peek inside the collegiate.
I wasn't really prepared for this Barcamp, but my simmering anger presented me with a good idea for a presentation topic: High Quality Web Development. It allowed me to vent a number of personal frustrations about large organisations and their ability to shoot themselves in the foot.
As a result of pent up frustrations I didn't really allow myself to enjoy Barcamp London 3. I kept a tight lid on things, but not tight enough.
There were some amazing sessions. Cathy Jones' hands-on tutorial of animating funny walks is perhaps the best presentation I've seen in all three Barcamps. One of the major differences of this particular Barcamp was the lack of technical web presentations, there were less tech-heads involved, and more real people with fascinating professions and interests. That is a strength of Barcamp, and hopefully one that can be encouraged and nurtured. It brings out the rich tapestry of the UK online community, not just the techheads.
I had a nice chat with Ryan Alexander this time around. I've known of him, and it was great to move from a name to a real down-to-earth person with so much passion about communities and social gatherings. I have to admit, talking to Ryan pulled some perspective into Barcamp, and I particularly enjoyed the sessions that he either led, or participated in.
There was a great session earlier today - Paul Johnston's 101 things to do with Twitter. It was an impromptu audience participation, and I think we got to about 75 things within our allotted time. This again, is also what makes Barcamp, the richness of ideas that come when people of very different skills and backgrounds collide, fuse and spark.
I brought together the Yahoo! web devs at Barcamp together for a session on Saturday titled "Ask a Yahoo! Web Dev" - answering web development related questions. This is something important to me, as too many web developers get hired by big companies like Google, Microsoft, Apply and Yahoo, and we never hear of them again. I want to start a tradition particularly in our web dev team, of giving back to the community in this sort of fashion. Some great questions raised, covering accessibility, XHTML. Hopefully we can start something that proves to be a useful resource for people looking for guidance and advice based on real world experience.
The wrap up session was odd. Particularly some of the things the Google representatives were saying - perhaps tongue in cheek. Some encouragement about Googlers participating in the London web dev scene was deflected with the corporate-mandated "why would we leave this building".
True, Googlers don't have a reason to leave their sanctuary. The food, catering facilities, and overall environment was superb (except for the odd thing of no showers being available to Barcampers). The building itself tries to make it feel like a college campus.
There seems to be an underlying feeling that Googler's are not really alive unless they are inside this building long hours of each day. Its feels like an environment where perhaps the typical Googler hasn't really grown out of adolescence. I fear for Google when its employees weary of this sort of lifestyle - will they really still be teen-like when they reach their mid thirties?
What occurred to me during Barcamp was how much the building was trying so hard to replicate the Silicon Valley campus, and how typical Englishness still managed to sneak through the cracks. There's a confusing mix of identities that suggests Google UK hasn't quite found its own unique stand. What seemed so cool and college like actually came across as clinical and I got this strange feeling that the Google offices were a sort of Biosphere 1, not an environment that inspires creativity, but an environment designed, cynically, to keep its employees at work. I remain skeptical whether there's any productivity boost for people working in such an environment, and how a work/life balance is achieved without detrimenting either.
I guess I realise now, that the Google lifestyle isn't for me. I realise again, how fortunate I am to find myself in a world class web development team full of sparkling character and richness. During Barcamp, the atmosphere within Google felt a little artificial. There was very little individual personality on display, just the personality of the company. It wasn't an oppressive sensation, just one that lurks in the background.
Through all the fun within the Google complex, I saw about three or four Google employees working. For a self-contained environment, and the "why would they want to leave the building", that seemed so strange, so false. Also, I guess perhaps I have no reason to be surprised, although there were several very helpful and friendly Googlers around to help us through Barcamp niggles, I don't recall Googlers presenting many sessions at Barcamp at all. I noticed some Google attendance at one of the Mobile sessions, but don't think I saw a presentation or session given by a Googler.