Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Code Retreat Boulder - From the perspective of an organizer & a participant

Took care of the last piece of work - getting the check from a sponsor - around the organization of Code Retreat Boulder earlier today. Before I jump into & get totally absorbed in another project, thought it would be a good idea to write a blog post about the event. It has been a terrific experience for me as an organizer, and this could quite likely help others who may be interested in organizing one.

The history...

I had come across Corey Haines' idea of Code Retreat sometime last year - when I was beginning to learn Ruby and was looking for ways to improve, and was fascinated by the idea - mainly about how it can make software developers learn from and teach each other. While I was interested in organizing a Code Retreat with Corey Haines in Boulder at that time, things did not work out, and I had moved on to other things.

In late Jan this year, Chad Fowler tweeted about possibly organizing one, and got a good response from many folks who were interested in participating. What can be better than the author of The Passionate Programmer taking on the responsibility of organizing the Code Retreat?! I wrote to Chad saying its an awesome idea, and offered to help in organizing the event.

Chad & Corey decided that Sat Feb 26th would be a good day for Code Retreat Boulder; and Chad asked me if I could help with setting up the event registration site. I guess I had given enough thought to organizing a Code Retreat by then; so from then, I took over the full responsibility of the organization work and ran with it! I did have some concern initially about possibly stepping on toes, but both Chad & Corey gave me a free rein in the organization, and that allowed me to go about doing an awesome job of creating the event.

A few interesting aspects of the organization process:

Number of Participants:
With 56 people participating, this was by far the largest Code Retreat event. The initial number we started with was 30. Corey Haines usually limits the number of participants to 40 if there is only one facilitator for the event. The demand though was for a larger number. When the event was open for registration the first time around with 40 spots, the seats got filled up in less than a day! We increased the number of spots to 60 with the understanding that, with Corey & Chad co-facilitating the event, 60 would be a manageable number of participants.

The remaining spots too were gone in no time, and a few people informed me that they would like to be put on a waiting list. As the event drew closer, many people dropped out, and I had the people on the waiting list sign up. In the end, only a handful of people did not show up.

It is not a surprise that 60 spots got filled up in no time; in addition to Corey Haines and Chad Fowler, the event had big name attractions in Dave Thomas, Michael Feathers and Mike Clark.

In the initial 40 registrations, there was only one woman - Lisa Crispin. For the next round of registrations, we put in some extra effort to get more women to sign up, and had four women participated in the Code Retreat.

Location for the event:
With the smaller number of participants in the initial stages, we were considering Dojo4 or Pivotal Boulder as the options for the location. Once we decided on 60 participants, we had to drop these and look for more spacious options. We did hit the jackpot with Boulder Digital Works in downtown Boulder. BDW turned out to be a perfect location for the Code Retreat. It had everything that was required - large space to house 60+ people for a whole day; separate space to arrange for food, coffee & snacks; enough power outlets and cables for 60+ computers to be hooked on; two projectors & drawing boards (mobile ones at that!) for the facilitators to use; and even microphones to be used at the closing circle. In addition, BDW was perfectly located in downtown Boulder, with quite a few free public parking spots in the neighborhood.

BDW was so good as a location for the event, that I hardly put on the Organizer's hat on Saturday, and could participate fully in the Code retreat.

This was the first event I was organizing and having people register online for the event. I chose to use EventWax for this purpose simply because I had noticed Corey Haines use it for the previous Code Retreat in Ohio. EventWax turned out to be a joy to work with! Everything was easy & straight-forward. Also, the couple of times I had questions about how to do something with the site, the EventWax support team was very prompt in responding to my emails! EventWax + PayPal combination made it easy for me to manage the whole registration process. I used Paypal refund functionality to pay back the registration deposit to the participants after the event - that allowed me to not worry about it at the event, and instead take care of it offline.

Costs & Sponsorship for the event:
The total cost of organizing this event came to around $2100 (detailed breakdown at the event site). This amount is only for the Code Retreat, and does not include the costs for organizing the after-party. There was no difficulty in raising this amount, especially with Chad Fowler's clout pulling in big name sponsors in quick time!

Thanks again to Foraker Labs, The Pragmatic Studio, The Pragmatic Bookshelf, Databasically, Indra's Net & Gnip for sponsoring and making it a successful event!

The event itself:

The event itself went very smoothly, and as far as I know, there weren't any complaints from anyone. The only thing I seem to have overlooked is to arrange for water bottles. A few people asked me if there were any. I had totally not taken that requirement into account, and had directed them to use the water from the tap in the BDW kitchen.

Most of the participants had words of praise for the food from Tibet Kitchen and the coffee/snacks from The Cup Boulder.

I was able to be a participant in the Code Retreat without any disturbance from any organization-related work for most part of the day. The highlight of the day for me was undoubtedly the session when I paired with Mike Clark and he gave me a master-class in how to test drive the solution for a complex problem. The other pairing sessions too were very useful and instructive as I got to stretch myself in working with others on solving the problem.

In closing....
I had a terrific time being the main organizer for this event, and was amply rewarded for it by the applause & praise I received from everyone. I did enjoy being the organizer of a popular & unique event that was valuable for many developers in the area.

As a participant, I got re-introduced to the power and value of pair-programming.

I must say I am very satisfied and proud of my accomplishment in organizing Code Retreat Boulder!

1 comment:

Marty Haught said...

You did a great job! Congrats! I should have mentioned the water thing before hand but I don't think it was all that big of a deal. Next time, right? :)