Adventures in JavaScript Development

Inaugural North Carolina jQuery Camp

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I’m just back from the inaugural North Carolina jQuery Camp at Viget Labs in Durham, N.C., and a couple of people have asked how it went, so I thought I’d write a quick post. I had a whim a few weeks ago to organize the camp; I envisioned an unstructured day where fellow jQuery developers could get together and talk about how they use the library. I figured that since the jQuery Conference had sold out and had a huge waiting list, getting a couple dozen people together on a Saturday in Durham, N.C. wouldn’t be that hard.

We had around 25 people show up to the camp today, from novices to experts, including Scott Gonzalez, a contributor to the jQuery UI library. True to my (utter lack of) vision, it was a very unstructured day, but productive and fun I think. My only experience with unconferences was at BarCamp RDU just a few weeks ago, so it took me a bit to get into full go-with-the-flow mode, but when I didn’t know what to do, I just asked “what do I do now?” and usually someone would tell me.

We started out by writing some topic ideas up on the wall, and quickly had enough to get started. I split off with the novices to give an intro to the library, while the main room dug into the topics that had been suggested, starting with a talk by Scott about stateful plugins. Up next was Brian Landau from Viget, showing off the code for his mapping plugin and giving an overview of ScrewUnit; then, David Eisinger, also of Viget, showed us some simple strategies for improving perceived performance.

Lunch – made possible by the generosity of Rich Orris, FireStream Media, Ignite Social Media, and DesignHammer – was time for informal conversations and demonstrations. Here’s Scott and someone whose name I don’t remember doing some quality whiteboarding:

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We came back from lunch with a reprise of my presentation from the jQuery Conference about using objects to organize your code, minus FAST FORWARD but otherwise largely intact. I was grateful to have more than 30 minutes this time, and we ended up having some good conversation about code organization in general.

From there it was on to some great show-and-tell – people are doing excellent things with the library, and doing them with ease – and then Scott wrapped up the day with an overview of jQuery UI. Probably the biggest hit of the day was Scott’s “just one more thing …” moment, when he showed us a whole new API for using the position method as a setter, coming soon to a plugin near you. Lots of oohs and aahs about that one.

I said at the end of the day that this first camp was really just a proof of concept – yes, I can get 25 people to show up to talk about jQuery. I’m hoping to do another jQuery camp in January, perhaps. There are a few things I’d like to do differently next time. For one, I’d like to be a little bit more intentional about having more than one session that’s suitable for beginners – a lot of the presentations were super-interesting, but way over the heads of people just getting started.

Also, there were a number of people who signed up who didn’t make it, which is a shame because I ordered food expecting a larger turnout. I’d asked people to let me know if they couldn’t make it, but alas only a handful did. Next time, I think I’ll charge a token amount to attend – say $10 or so – so people will feel a bit more committed. If they don’t make it, at least their food will be paid for! Charging a few dollars will also help reduce the need for sponsors – not that I don’t love the sponsors, just that it was a bit of work and stress to line them up.

Finally, next time I’d like to be a little bit more intentional about setting up and promoting the event. This time around, I started promoting it before I even had a venue, and shortly after I secured a venue (thank you Viget!) all the slots were filled. Next time around, I might approach that a little bit differently, especially if I can line up a few different venue options.

That’s my report. For more pictures, visit Flickr.

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