On Saturday, April 6, I had the pleasure to go to Minnebar 8. Minnebar is a free-to-attend, volunteer-run “unconference” put on by the Minne* organization. It was very good, and I highly recommend attending the next Minnebar if you are in the area. Minnebar focuses on the intersection of the high-tech, start-up, and social-outreach communities in the Twin Cities. This was the eighth annual version of the Minnebar gathering and it was held at the Best Buy corporate headquarters in the south Minneapolis metro (Best Buy donated the space). Over a thousand people were registered for the gathering, and from my view in the middle of the crowd, that seems like a reasonable estimate of how many actually attended.
There were sessions scheduled throughout the day much like for any conference you might go to. There were probably 10 or so parallel tracks going, so there was always a selection of topics. The sessions were 40 minutes long, and consisted of presentations about the topic at hand by one or two presenters. The presenters tried to take a conversational tone with their crowd, making it more of a dialog. Most sessions were very good. Here is an outline of the sessions I attended:
- Teaching Kids to Code. This session discussed a new Coder Dojo starting up in the Twin Cities (link). Coder Dojos are distributed volunteer organizations that are currently springing up across the world focused on getting K-12 kids interested in programming, especially kids from groups that do not typically pursue computing careers. They do this by hosting learn-to-program type events with a bunch of volunteer professionals to take the scariness out of coding, and provide the kids with a great experience. Outreach efforts are extremely important for the creativity and vitality of the profession, so I really hope it takes off.
- Agile Financial Modeling. This session was about putting together a quick and dirty financial model for a fledgeling company. I went because I have a fledgeling company, and had never heard of financial modeling before (it is essentially a codified way to sketch out projected estimates of income and expenditures over a year or three). I found the session informative, and the layout they gave for the models is more intuitive to build and use than the one I had rolled myself for my own operation.
- Managing Your IT Career. This was a great session by a local headhunter about the state of the high tech labor market in the Midwest. In short, the market is good for pretty much any computing professional. The Twin Cities is a good place to be.
- Civic Hacking. This was a session put on by Open Twin Cities, a local group devoted to ultimately getting structured, real-time access to government-collected data so that community members can use it to improve the local community. This group seems to be focused on software development with local hackathons and the National Day of Civic Hacking. I think this is an interesting idea, and I can’t wait to see what comes of it.
- Percolating Trep Net. To be honest, I am still not quite sure what this session was about. There was talk about the different social networks people have, both online and off. There was some information about categorizing these networks and people in them, but I never did figure out what the end result was supposed to be. I guess it was for people with a different educational background than I.
- This Old Website. This was a really great session about adding HTML5, CSS3, and Responsive Design to an existing website. They covered all three topics very quickly, and very well given the time constraint. Participating in this session was akin to drinking water from a fire hose. As someone whose web design tends to be pretty ad hoc (just see Birdseye College Price Comparison for an example), a lot of what was presented is very applicable to me. They even put their slides online here.
- Technology Behind the Obama 2012 Campaign. This was a great final session for the day. It was put on by a developer who worked on the information infrastructure behind the Obama 2012 Campaign. It is absolutely amazing what all they were able to build, deploy, support, and then tear down in under a year and a half. Political campaigns these days need a massive amount of software providing a variety of different functions to different groups of people. The Obama Campaign built their software on Amazon Web Services, which was a fantastic choice for this type of operation–they only need the massive data center for a relatively short, fixed time period, cloud services can adjust to exponentially exploding usage as the end of the campaign nears, and cloud services can be readily replicated to deal with parts of the infrastructure going down. Overall a fascinating look into what it takes to run a modern political campaign.
As can be seen from the list above, there was a very diverse range of topics covered at Minnebar 8, most of which were very exciting. Food was also provided, and it was delicious. We got Pizza Luce (a local gourmet pizza chain) for lunch. Beer was also provided for a social meet-and-greet at the end of the day. What more could you ask for?
Overall, Minnebar 8 was an excellent experience. It is astounding and heartening to me that a conference of this quality and magnitude can be organized and delivered in a completely volunteer manner. It was very cool and very impressive. I will definitely try to attend next year.