It’s been almost exactly nine years since I attended my first unconference: SoCraTes, in Germany. At the time, it was around 60 people, gathered in the ever-fascinating SeminarZentrum Rückersbach, nestled in a forest, on a hill, about 50km away from any kind of civilisation. A bunch of people, trapped, with very little to do except talk about computers.
SoCraTes is special, even for an unconference. It attracts an incredible mix of makers, educators, connectors, hackers, facilitators, and philosophers. People who work for large companies and small ones. People who create for themselves, and people who help others do their best work. People who care.
It’s also long, for an unconference. Two days of serious discussion and ensemble programming. Three nights of discourse and hatching ideas. A hotel with good food and tasty beer. Always-perfect weather.
The nights are where the magic happens.
Every time I visit an unconference, like SoCraTes (or SoCraTes UK, or SoCraTes Canaries, or one of the many offshoots across Europe), I come back emotional. I come back inspired, wanting to create better software, do more important work, strive for solutions to problems that have never been quite solved.
I come back knowing I have life-long friends as a result of the three days we spent together.
It’s been two years since I’ve participated in any unconference. I miss the joy, and the education, and the late-night revelry. But most of all, I miss the nights. I miss the discussions that go on late, building and building on top of each other to reach new ideas and new levels of expressiveness, fueled by the various topics brought up in the daytime. I miss pairing with someone at 2am because we had an idea and we couldn’t wait to implement it.
It doesn’t even matter if the idea didn’t work out. We learned something that we could never have learned any other way. Usually about ourselves.
Terry Pratchett often wrote about “inspiration” as particles flying through the air until they impact someone’s brain. Maybe he’s right, but they’re not totally random: we can attract them. Unconferences are a magnet for inspiration, and that, I miss most of all.
SoCraTes turns 10 years old this weekend, and like most other gatherings this year, it will be virtual. I won’t be attending. I hope it’s wonderful, and that the participants get a lot of joy out of it, but it’s not for me. I don’t miss the talks, I miss the community, the meeting of minds. I can’t get that feeling over a video link, even with a super-fast Internet connection.
Best of luck, SoCraTes. I’ll be missing you.