So I've just returned from Hackaday Superconference 2017, which seems like a good topic for a first post on this brand new shiny website, being as it was both the first time I've gone to a tech conference, and the first time I've spoken at one.
I strongly suspect I've been ruined for other conferences, maybe for life. I'm quite certain I will go to extraordinary lengths to keep going to this one. This was not what I anticipated. I went to give my talk, meet a few old friends from Twitter in meatspace, and hit some people up for a job. (Still looking for one of those by the way, so HMU if you want somebody to do outreach, education, videos, or illustration for you.) Like many a hacker, I would not consider myself a Social Butterfly. I expected to stick with my pals, and largely keep my head down. This is a room full of strangers, after all.
Instead, Superconference totally hacked my headspace.
When I arrived on Friday afternoon, my day was already twelve hours old, and I was pretty tired. But I couldn't check into my AirBNB until later, so I thought I might as well poke my head in. Already things were in full swing, Tables upon tables were occupied with people eagerly fiddling with Mike Harrison's amazing badge, or whatever other gadget or project happened to have caught their brain. A pile of discarded luggage lay to one side. Outside of this core working group, an asteroid belt of people socialized, floating around talking to both the table-people and the other chatty-people. Not knowing anyone in the crowd, I assumed my customary position on the periphery to watch the merry making and work out some last minute glitches with my slides.
Gradually it became clear to me that was not like any other crowd of geeks I'd ever been in. For starters, people struck up conversations, and invariably every time they did, they were interesting people, and good conversations. @Carlynorama (wicked smart and impeccably kind) was at that time a complete stranger to me, and on the thinnest pretense we struck off on a chat that traversed the horrors of parsing SVG, the assorted curiosities of social interactions, books, and I forget what else. Instantly a friend. This provoked me to start some more random conversations, by way of experiment.
At some point I noticed even the thin conversational pretext wasn't necessary. It was sufficient to sit down next to somebody and ask what they're into. This is a better question than what they DO, because many people have hobbies they're more excited about than their jobs. At some point the proper Party got started and there was much chatting and meeting and still the hacking went on, and on. There was much cross-polination between the hacking people and the socializing people, and no judgements made in either direction. These are my people, I remember thinking, not sure I'd ever felt that way before.
Several people with whom I had only the most tenuous social media acquaintance treated me like an old friend, and a few people who had no reason at all to give somebody who was essentially just one of many fans the time of day were incredibly kind and open. The note of generosity was rarely absent.
This trend continued through the entire event. I'd had so many people ask interesting and insightful questions about my Sunday talk that I ended up re-writing sections of it on Saturday night. They made it better. The game of spotting people you only know from Twitter based on how much their resemble their profile picture yielded hysterical conversations which could go on at some length before the participants realized they already know each other. By Sunday I was trying to figure out just what it was about this gathering which made it so special, and so inspiring.
I've been in groups of smart people before, and this was certainly that, and the hacker appreciation of absurdity and irony was also strongly in the air, but there was something more than mere brains and generosity about (already a rare enough combination.)
I had conversations about precision hand saws, astronaut cooling garments, Nuclear safety, telephone history, the appropriate temperature for tea-making water, the HVAC industry, the security skills gap, architecture, fiber optics. At some point I realized the single thread that held all this together: Curiosity. Their curiosity made them open, and kind, and enthusiastic, and inspiring. This shouldn't have surprised me, it's the germ of the hacker ethos.
These are my people.
See you next year.