A journey of emotion at WeCamp14
If you're looking for an account of the events at WeCamp, I have to give fair warning before you read this article. I'm sure there will be plenty of blog posts on the actual events and practical lessons at WeCamp, but I'm taking a different approach with this post. I experienced quite a few emotions on a very broad range of the spectrum, and I'd like to share those with you.
First, for those who have not heard about WeCamp, this is taken from their website:
"WeCamp is a new event focusing on not just hearing about cool technology, but also applying it. During the 5 days of the event, you'll get to work on a project together with 4 random other people, under the guidance of an experienced coach. Together with your team mates, you'll work on improving both your technical skills while developing on the project as well as your soft-skills in managing the project and communicating with your team members."
That sums up the activity quite nicely, but it doesn't say anything about how you might feel at such an event. Here's what happened to me:
Anticipation and Excitement
At first, there was Anticipation. Now, I'm usually excited before going to a tech event, but this was on a whole new level. You are, after all, going to be sleeping in a tent with complete strangers.
When the boat docks on the island, that anticipation reached it's peak and turned into excitement about being there - in the moment - and I mentally left everything work related behind. That moment was not even a week ago, but it feels like a month already. I can honestly say that there was very little time for anything non-wecamp related to reach me.
After The first introductions and team exercises the first night was pretty much drinking and laughing. The joy of knowing we would be having fun and building stuff with a bunch of like-minded geeks really set the tone. I'm pretty sure the jokes would be lost on 90% of the regular population, which added to a feeling of belonging. These where my people and we would be stuck together for at least three more days.
This joy, even though I don't mention it again, was prevalent throughout the entire week. It was the largest part of my experience there, but also the most unsurprising part of what went on. Get together in an isolated environment like that and you're bound to have loads of fun.
In our team, we had picked a project together but on a topic that only one of us had any knowledge of. This immediately created a problem, because we needed a lot of outside information to understand the actual problem we were solving.
Adding to that, most other teams had someone on board who knew much much more about our particular domain. So when the questions started how are things going?, it felt like they where in on a joke I did not get. It was kind of hard to deal with that, and I did not share enough with my team in that regard. I really doubted my ability to assess a problem and judge what needed to be done to solve it.
Ego, Fear and Jealousy
Because of the topic of our teams project, a couple of people offered to help out during the week. I turned down the offers because it felt odd having other team members working on our project. In retrospect, I can certainly add that my ego got in the way. Not being able to admit that I needed the help got in the way of my team's total progress, a lesson I won't easily forget.
In addition, there was also some fear of showing the code I actually had written. One team was really ahead of the game, seemingly having time left to help others. This was a bit intimidating (they must be so much better than I am), as well as invoking slight feelings of jealousy. Luckily, there isn't really any time to wallow in any single emotion and it wasn't anywhere near big enough to act on - but I'm sure it was there at the time.
At some point, stories emerged about me that weren't quite accurate. I'm sure it was my own fault for adding fuel to the fire in the beginning, but it did start to sting and I couldn't reverse the process. Luckily, someone I have come to trust told me that's just the stuff of legends and to use it to my advantage. That was exactly what I needed to put the insecurity to rest, although I doubt if that person knew how much it helped me at the time.
There was also some pressure when having to explain technical subjects in a group of peers. I was actually called out as a liar at one point, and although it was sort-of a joke and someone else immediately took my side (thanks for that!), that stuff does hit a nerve with me.
During the week, some of our company's practices leaked through to others. And it turns out one or two of them where considered pretty useful ideas. That certainly was a good thing . I felt appreciated and it balanced out the negativity quite nicely.
I also got positive feedback from my coach, team members and others that empowered me to follow certain paths, or to start following those paths more. I made sure to also compliment anything I saw in others as soon as I saw anything worth giving praise over, because of the positive impact it had on me. This is certainly a practice I would like to keep up after WeCamp.
Once we got through connecting everything together, there was a pretty reasonable end result. Sure, it didn't do what it was supposed to, but we proved that we could get the job done. Even if it was only to ourselves.. *grin* We managed to give a proper demo and a reasonable presentation, which is insane if you consider that we didn't even know what we where building only 4 days before…
I also had my eye on a few people that I knew before going to WeCamp and I think they all accomplished way more than they expected. I could literally feel the growth around me :-) The end presentations all showed projects in a state way beyond what a 3-day coding session would bring in any normal circumstance. At least that is my opinion.
There's only one word for all that, and it's pride. The good kind.
So, after what can only be called an exhausting and emotionally draining experience, would you put yourself through it all again?
There is only one answer: HELL YES!. I've learned more about myself in four days than I have in the past four years. Because of the speed of events (team formation, planning, building, presenting) I got a much better view of where I go wrong. There where assumptions made about problems that turned out way different - but could have been caught before the first letter of code was written. I've seen the effect of confidence on a team both in a positive and negative sense and even that was a lesson. Building a team with confidence is a priority before building anything else.
I think there was a general group feeling towards the organisation, that rhymes with "honey" and starts with "shut up and take my…". What's the last tech event you went to where 100% of participants wanted to return beyond a shadow of a doubt?
And with that, I'm off to enjoy my last day of reflection before work pulls me back into the real world tomorrow. A huge thanks to the organisation of WeCamp, the coaches, the sponsors and anybody else who made this event possible.
See you all next year!
PS: I'd like this to be an open invitation to my fellow WeCamp14'ers: please provide feedback, if you have any.
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