Should I Get Involved?

William Carlson, aka William from Texas, writes about his experience in getting involved and helping with GUADEC 2010.

I was standing in a park in the rain, 13 hours into my work day, trying to figure out where I could cram 30 people for dinner, and my phone rang.

“Hey, I just left the field but I forgot my jacket. Can you pick it up and bring it in tomorrow?”

I looked at myself: to avoid getting wet I had my big camera around my neck and now also under my shirt. A soccer ball was under one arm, the other arm balanced my bike. My backpack weighed me backwards already, crammed with a full size laptop, various notes and papers, posters and signs, hundreds of blank registration badges, my rain jacket (why wasn’t I wearing it?), and various other supplies I needed helping put the conference on.

It was GUADEC 2010, and I was loving it.

Days later at the after-party someone found me sitting at RevSpace, beer in my hand, contently watching the big screen slide show of photos I’d taken all conference.

“Are you really William from Texas?” he asked.

“That’s me,” I replied.

“I really appreciated all that you did.”

And the days and weeks of work I had poured into the conference paid for itself then and there.

I have a few tricks up my sleeve, and friends and colleagues might say differently, but I am not a hacker or coder or developer. I don’t even report bugs, unless I get to add a cynical comment. I’m just a guy who decided to get involved.

An ex-pat with an editing job in real life, I’ve been a Linux hobbyist for a few years, and when I learned that GUADEC 2010 was coming to my city I emailed the organizers asking if the communications team needed help. As my day-job allows me space to my work, I always had extra days per month that I decided I could devote to the event lead-up. I always felt the need to give back to the FOSS movement and I was interested to try my hand in the communications field. Volunteering seemed like the natural option.

RevSpace – officially, the Revelation Hackerspace, is a cozy environment, and where I first met Koen Martens, principal organizer for GUADEC 2010. A large main room with couches, over-sized pillows and hundreds of computer carcases, RevSpace was Koen’s idea and in a way resembled him: with short dreadlocks and seemingly always in sport pants, neither him nor the RevSpace really expected any disasters. It was a comforting feeling to first step in to.

I was assigned onto the communication team, where I would be helping out with press releases, website information, social media and other miscellaneous duties. I opened a new folder in my email account and happily began sorting through the many list emails that began pouring in. With the event now well over, I still find it difficult to believe that I am not receiving all the emails that I should.

The first few weeks and months involved regular blogging and site updates. I researched local information and tried to think like a visitor. I picked up side tasks as well – helping coordinate the design team with the badge team, for example, or visiting locations to try and find a nearby soccer field.

The real fun came a week before the conference: we were operating at full steam. Site updates were now critical. We publicized the GNOME Open Desktop Day pre-conference like crazy. What seemed like a hundred new tasks popped up that needed attention. And through it I made blog posts, answered messages and attended meetings in addition to my day-life. More than a few late night emails were sent after emergency text messages arrived on my phone. The team worked together well, and my only regret is that because GUADEC moves around Europe, I won’t be able to work directly with this team again!

When the first day of the conference arrived and there were no fires or explosions, I finally began to relax. Little by little I realized that a conference of self-organizing volunteer hackers would be very difficult to disrupt. The first few days I slept very little, not only because of the excitement, but also because I wanted to be there every morning as early as possible, and would only go home when I knew the job was done for the day.

That long day in the rain after the FreeFA soccer match wasn’t fatal. Luckily I didn’t need to find a restaurant for those 30 people, because some wanted to stay and others were hungry for different things. But we would have found something.

I knew coming into the conference that I would need to be flexible with my work, and I knew I would learn new things. I just hadn’t realized how much I would love it.

Discuss this story with other readers on the GNOME forums.

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Posted on September 1, 2010, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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