Sunday, February 1, 2015

The mesmerizing Barcamp Danang 2015

Last weekend I had a chance to join Barcamp Danang 2015. On the days before the event, a couple of incidents happened, including a major server crash and a winter cold, that made me think really hard on whether I should travel half the country or not. I am glad I made it, because Barcamp Danang was absolutely fucking mesmerizing.

That was the first Barcamp ever for Danang, and it was held by a team of organizers and volunteers whose average age was 20 and never experienced a Barcamp first-hand before. I had been enjoying being the youngest person in the room for quite a while, then all of sudden, I was older than everyone. And that awed me. When I was 20, I was probably sitting in some random corner playing game and these guys had already organized the first, and therefore biggest (can't beat that), Barcamp in Central Vietnam.

Barcamp Danang was organized at Duy Tan University, which I found some similarities with Hoa Sen University where Barcamp Saigon was held last December. Both are private universities with urban campus and a paranoid of freedom of speech.

The event started at 8AM with the opening session. I was invited to be the MC of the session, like, of all the people on earth, me - an introvert that has a tiny panic whenever talking to a stranger? Unlike the opening of Barcamp Saigon, which was simply a recap of what Barcamp is and what to expect on the event day, the one in Danang had three small speeches from distinguished guests, so pretty much like a standard conference. The speeches left little time to convey the Barcamp spirit. I find that a pity. Minh Do, organized Barcamp Saigon for 5 years, once told me that the most important thing about opening session is not the information, people will always ask questions about the thing covered in opening session, it is the spirit. So ideally the opening is the time for ice breaker and audience participation so that they are set into the right mood for moving around, meeting new people and exchanging ideas. I made a mental note to myself that the meaning of opening session should be better communicated next time.

The first Barcamp in Danang attracted 32 speakers, covering 4 main topics: technology, entrepreneurship, education and volunteering. Around 10% of the speakers were foreigners, and aside from Vi Nguyen from Funkoi, I don't think there was another local using English in their presentation. The organizers was worried there wouldn't be enough speakers as the format of Barcamp was new there, so of these 32, some submitted topics to Barcamp, and some were invited. No matter what, I think they did a pretty good job at bringing diversity to Barcamp topics. I ran into all sort of speakers, from motivational speaker who had the room repeat "I believe in my own success" to students holding a fireside chat about their volunteer project. For people who experienced Barcamp the first time, I have to say they (the speakers) were really creative on methods of delivering their content.

Most of participants were students. General speaking, students are great, they are young, energized and willing to learn. But in an event whose focus is the interaction between participants like Barcamp, an average student is lack of the depth of thought and experience to really engage in a presentation or conversation.

At lunch break, Tam, an organizer, managed to invite an indie band known as Du Ca Danang to come. The band absolutely blew my mind with their talent. The little music show was first held at the lobby, but soon attracted way too many people that we had to move them to the school yard cum parking lot where they played even more passionately and the crowd went crazy. I talked to myself "Damn it, I love this! Barcamp Saigon really should have this!".

I have to admit that I had a little worry that people wouldn't come back after lunch break. But it turned out to be ok. 70-80% of the participants came back and the presentation rooms were still crowded. And there is this thing that I have observed in many Barcamp, people usually find the afternoon session more enjoyable. The event was less crowded, and those who stayed were more serious about Barcamp, which translated into more focus and interaction.

To end the day, Alex Cuva helped me running his signature Open Space to give everyone a refresh after a long day. The final activity was feedback from participants. Barcamp organizers always love feedback, it lets us know what we did good, and what we didn't. Feedback time is always a very touching time. From the heartfelt sharing of everyone, I felt like Barcamp Danang scratched the right itch of the local community. There were people who wanted to be exposed to new schools of thought and there were people want to share their ideas and experience so that the rest can stand on the shoulders of giants, and Barcamp Danang, though strictly not 100% a Barcamp, brought all these people together.

I believe Barcamp Danang was a success, everyone seemed to learn so much from the event, be it organizer, volunteer, speaker or participant. The organizer team is planning to have another, bigger, better Barcamp in August 2015. It is hard to know if the event can happen as planned because a Barcamp is the joint effort between many parties and leaps of faith are always needed. But I know for sure that Barcamp Danang will have a special space in my mind for a long long time (in fact, I am still getting Facebook notifications about the event everyday).

Wish the young organizer team of Barcamp Danang best of luck and success on their journey.

PS Of course every Barcamp needs to end with a decent Beercamp. I made sure it happened. What happened in the Beercamp, is another story ;)

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