On geeks growing up

2013-12-12 05:49
I'm a regular visitor of the Chemnitzer Linuxtage in March - at first going to talks learning lots of interesting stuff I didn't know about like aspect oriented programming, strace, squeak, which open source licenses are best for different strategies. As of late I had been there mostly to help out with the FSFE booth.

For context: The conference itself is hosted by the technical university in Chemnitz, it takes place on a weekend, they charge the tiny amount of 5 Euros for admission. In turn visitors get two full days of mostly well prepared, diverse talks and workshops. Speakers and exhibitors get access to the backstage catering area including free food and drinks all day and an after show dinner on Saturday evening. In general organisation is highly professional - WiFi just works, no super-long queues for meals (that for attendees are available for purchase during the breaks), equipment in the rooms usually just works.

One thing I found particular about the Linuxtage in Chemnitz was always how family friendly they are: Standing at the FSFE booth I've had it more often than not that parents who are not into IT at all would take their young kids who are "into computers" to the event. However also quite a few geeks tend to bring their off-spring: It all started with a toy corner years ago. By now the offer has been extended to be a separate quite room stuffed with lots of toys, visited not only by parents and kids but also engaged clowns and magicians for entertainment.

Ever since it seems like other conferences have followed the example:

Froscon isn't only offering a nursing room and play area - there's a jumping castle in the backyard for smaller children. For little hackers there is a special track stuffed with coding topics suitable for children - often even taught by younger ones.

EuRuCamp went another step further: Not only do they sell children tickets that are a lot cheaper than those offered for adults. For the very young ones the ticket includes babysitting services - organised in collaboration with a local Berlin babysitting service.

I been there for a while but last time I visited also Chaos Communication Congress and Camp drew several small hackers - in general there were tinkering workshops well suitable for slightly older little people.

Even FOSDEM that to my knowledge doesn't yet offer any special tracks or separate rooms for smaller ones was still able to draw a few families - most likely due in part to the "we are one big family" nature of the event (despite attendee numbers as high as 5k each year).

Even events otherwise known for being very professional and dominated by corporate paid attendees like Devoxx are starting to provide initiatives for supporting (in this case) teenagers to get a better grasp of technology. Check out the Devoxx4Kids page for more information on how to host your local Devoxx 4 Kids chapter in your city.

At least for Berlin it seems this trend has been acknowledged - as tech conferences you can get makey-makey packages for free from a local IT foundation.

On a more personal note: In contrast to all of the above the conference I'm involved in personally - Berlin Buzzwords - is pretty much business driven and profit oriented. However for good reason it has the reputation of still being very community oriented. For several editions I have tried finding ways to turn the event into something that is slightly more family friendly:

  • There once was an offer to bring your non-tech spouse or relatives with us organising a city tour for them. In an initial trial run this was tried on speakers - there was some response, but overall too few people made use of the offer to run it again.
  • There usually were play areas featuring foosball tables, table tennis and the like - but those mostly catered the geeks themselves really.
  • We ran at least one blog post asking for people in need for child care to get in touch with us - though there is the occasional request on twitter, nothing substantial came out of these initiatives.
  • I asked parents who I knew were visiting the conference themselves what would make them bring their children - the ones I asked mostly came back with a need for child care for very little people or a conference date during school holidays to bring older kids.
This year the approach we try is slightly different: We again host the event in Kulturbrauerei - a venue that is itself very well suited to experimenting with different formats: Several rooms from large to small, a nice back yard, a cinema and a few shops, well located in Prenzlauer Berg which itself is known for being almost too family friendly. We got in touch with the organisers of EuRuCamp to learn how they got baby sitting services sponsored - Dajana, thanks a ton for your input. In addition we put the invitation to bring kids and the baby sitting offering up online where every attendee inevitably will see it: There is a special ticket for kids (with limited availability though as this is the first trial run) that includes catering and day care you can book.

In addition there's also a catering only ticket that is way cheaper than the full conference access pass - so in case the conference pass is too expensive for you to pay privately however you'd still like to be at the event during your lunch break or in the evening this is the ideal option for you.

I have to admit I'm highly curious how this will play out. For me Berlin Buzzwords always was a great excuse to hand to friends in order to get them to visit the city at the best time of the year. As a result it meant that I could go to the conference by bicycle and have everyone else I would love to meet in town. It would be great if these two changes enable more people to be with us. It would be even better if these two changes did actually support the community flavour that I have been told Buzzwords has. Looking forward to seeing you in June!