Geek Austin From BarCamp to BarCollege

Submitted by Lynn Bender on Thu, 10/02/2008 - 12:00am

-An accidental series of discoveries-

I have found that one of the biggest hurdles in hosting an event is to find the right venue -- one that people feel comfortable at, one that is suitable for the type of event you are hosting, and one that doesn't require me to break the budget. Any decent venue up in North Austin -- like Cool River, NXNW, etc -- already does a booming business during the week. They don't need the 200+ people I'll bring. In fact, they'll most likely want me to sign a contract guaranteeing that a certain amount of money will be spent. After 8 years of GeekAustin events, I have a pretty good idea of how much folks drink at an event -- and it's generally it's 3-7 dollars less per person than what I'll need to guarantee for x amount of space up North.

Contrast this with downtown. I can walk into pretty much any club downtown on a weeknight, saying : "Can I bring 200 of my friends here next Tuesday?", and immediately I've got a new friend. No contracts. No guarantees. Just "thanks." There are clubs of all sizes downtown. One can find multiple venues for groups of 20 to 600. Bear in mind, I am not talking about getting a venue during a club's bread and butter nights -- Friday and Saturday. I am talking about Monday through Wednesday, and for some venues, Thursday as well. This is why GeekAustin events are almost always downtown. I try to never displace a club's regular customers. I simply bring them additional business they wouldn't have had otherwise.

This is the same reason why so many of the BarCamp and BarCamp type events are held downtown. During the week, and during the day, there are a multitude of spaces available for little or no cost.

-From BarCamp to BarCollege-

When Daniel and I announced that we would be offering free SQL classes to individuals, an interesting but not unexpected thing happened. In addition to 100+ folks who asked to be included in the SQL classes, we had folks sending queries like "Will you be teaching JavaScript classes?", "Do you know where I can get Python classes?", etc. The following idea hit us over the head like a two by four:

With all the the available space during the day and during the week, we could easily turn 6th street and the warehouse district into a campus, where the tuition is a two drink minimum!

Imagine what a cool thing this will be for Austin. Instead of following the valley, here's something we can take the lead on. I don't know a city that has done this. Do you? Imagine downtown clubs filled during weeknights with people learning JavaScript, CSS, Linux, system administration, shell scripting, Cisco IOS, SharePoint, Java -- whatever someone is willing to teach and share.

This whole idea is too big for Daniel and I alone. We decided to offer the classes because we like meeting new people, sharing our skills, and love talking about SQL. We don't want to become coordinators for some massive enterprise. Fortunately, this does not need to be a massive enterprise. It does not need to have a organization to make it happen. For all the folks who use every opportunity to make themselves the hub of all things high tech Austin, your Grand Marshall services will not be required at this time. All that is needed are folks who are willing to share their skills.

There are already examples in Austin of similar skill sharing going on. Damon Clinkscales has done a tremendous amount to educate folks about Rails and build a strong Rails community in Austin. Scott Killen, Boris Portman, and all the folks at Agile Austin are doing the same to build a community focused on good programming practice. RefreshAustin does a great job of keeping members abreast of best practices in design and usability. I'm am merely suggesting that we take this a step further. In addition to presenting topics for those who have already acquired sufficient skills to be included in a particular tech community, let's offer basic instruction so that new folks can hop on board.

You might be asking yourself: "What will I get out of it?". Here are a few thoughts. Most computer book authors wrote their first book not because they hoped to make money off it, but rather because the recognition would allow them to increase their hourly rate. Similarly, as soon as Daniel and I announced the free SQL classes, we gained several new corporate clients. Everyone wins. You help strengthen the downtown economy, you help folks acquire new skills, and you expand and grow your community.

Thinking of stealing this idea? Please do. I want you to steal this idea. If you have a skill that everyone wants, share it. With LinkedIn, Facebook, and all the other tools at your disposal, you won't have any problem finding takers. Want to teach in Austin but don't know how to go about finding a venue? I'll be posting more about that soon. Until then, feel free to send me an email at

For those don't live in Austin, go ahead. Copy us. Steal this idea.