It’s been a week or so since the last blog post — you’d think there would be a lot to say and show about Sci Foo Camping two weekends ago. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take any pictures inside the building, so I can’t show you guys the awesome heated toilet seats at Googleplex.
Instead, I want to talk about the structure, or rather [non]structure of Sci Foo. Its deviation from the traditional conference format allows for a level of excitement, communication, and shared interest between people hard to achieve otherwise. For those that are not familiar with Sci Foo, it is a yearly event held at the Googleplex in San Francisco – currently hosted by Google, Digital Science, O’Reilly Media, and Nature Publishing Group. This invitation-only event is meant to bring together people from varying fields all throughout science and technology, and see what comes about from the ensuing mingling. This format has come to be known as an unconference.
This is not to say there is no direction in an unconference; in fact, it’s easy to see just how quickly an unconference can fall apart if improperly designed. Fortunately, our wonderful Sci Foo organizers knew what they were doing, and led us to produce one of the most intellectually-stimulating weekends I’ve had all year.
So what really happens here? Essentially, that’s all up to us. After a period of basically just hanging out, talking about ourselves and seeing the amazing things others are doing, we (250+ of us) are presented with a giant blank schedule. We fight for space on the board to pitch a discussion topic, and then split into more intimate sessions where we can really engage with these ideas. Depending on your sociability and who you managed to spark a mutual interest with prior, it is certainly not out of the question to collaborate on a discussion topic or even a future project. More than just place for networking, though, this a time where people can really see their work put in perspective, and really build an appreciation for ideas and directions they might never get a chance to hear about.
As for me, a trained artist in a sea of scientists and techies, it might be reasonable to assume I was out of place. But actually, Sci Foo works its magic by making similar subject-expertise out to seem boring. Everyone seems eager to learn something new, to have their ignorance torn by the sheer wow-factor of ideas they couldn’t possibly dream of. And the best thing about it is: its a shared sentiment, all the way from the big guys up top to the little guy that’s just making his contribution to the world – and its all incredibly humbling.
Thanks to all my fellow Sci Foo Campers and our gracious hosts, and I hope to find myself in another unconference of this sort in the near future.