What is community? A quick look at the Wikipedia defines community as “a group of interacting organisms sharing an environment” and I think that pretty much nails it. In this column, I talk about the developer community as a whole and highlight some people, organizations and events I think you should check out.

Back in my March/April 2010 column, I promised you an article on setting up and running a Code Camp. Hopefully you enjoyed last issue’s article on Give Camps, but if it wasn’t quite what you were looking for… take heart. This month I’m talking about Code Camps!

What Exactly Is a Code Camp?

I just barely mentioned Code Camps in my first column, so I’ll try to give you a better definition here. According to the Code Camp Manifesto, as written by Thom Robbins (which can be found here: http://blogs.msdn.com/trobbins/archive/2004/12/12/280181.aspx) Code Camps are community driven technical events, by and for the Developer Community. They are always free to attend, with no in-your-face marketing and they never occur during working hours.

Except, they aren’t and they are and they do and they don’t. Right now, you may be scratching your head and wondering what I mean. Keep reading.

The original Code Camp and many of its successors adhered faithfully to these tenets. Some still do. Others have deviated from the original vision slightly, or even drastically. Not everyone can agree on whether or not these events are true Code Camps, but I’m here to tell you it doesn’t matter.

Say it with me. “It. Doesn’t. Matter.” Seriously.

Regardless of whether you call your event a Code Camp, or slavishly adhere to the Manifesto, there are no Secret Community Police poised to swoop in and shut down your event. (In the event this does happen to you, I apologize in advance, but… please please please get pictures. I’ll see to it they get published. Don’t call me for bail money though.)

The important thing is to do whatever best serves the needs of your community and the attendees.

In my experience, most communities that have them only do so once or twice a year. There is a reason for this: organizing a Code Camp is a great deal of work, even for a team. Remember, a Code Camp is a community event, so including others in the planning and organizing process is very important.

How to Host a Code Camp

While this isn't a complete list of everything you need to consider to host a Code Camp, you do need to consider all of these items: location, sponsors. volunteers, speakers, food, attendees, swag, details.


Much like user group meetings and Give Camps, you need a location. If you’re organizing the first Code Camp in your area, you’re going to have a potentially tougher time if nobody understands what you are talking about or “Why on earth would you want to go through all this effort and expense to do something completely for free?” (That, my friends, is an actual quote.) I’ll come back to the “why?” question later.

When talking to people about using their facilities for an event, it is absolutely critical that you:

  1. Explain to them that you aren’t making any money off of the event.
  2. Talk to the right person. Not everyone will get it, or have the authority to approve it.

If you are talking to a school, you want to get the professors involved, especially the department chair. Facilities and administrative types will focus solely on the cost, but professors will see the educational value. Guess which one is more likely to host your Code Camp for free?

If you can’t find (or just don’t have) a school that is willing to accommodate you, consider professional training facilities (like New Horizons) or software development companies (like Microsoft.) These places tend to have lots of rooms that are suitable for Code Camp sessions.

If you still can’t find someone to give you space for free, then you have to consider paying. Fortunately, that’s a problem easily solved.


One of the key philosophies of Code Camp is that there’s no marketing fluff. Some folks have interpreted this as meaning “no sponsors” but if you read The Code Camp Manifesto (go ahead, I’ll wait) you will see that there is no mention of disallowing sponsors at the event.

Honestly, it all depends on how much of your soul you want to sell. I kid, but you should proceed with caution when accepting sponsors. Some will want attendee contact info or a guaranteed speaking slot, while others are content to just send some swag and marketing material in exchange for a few kind words during the opening and closing comments.

There is no magic formula and no guarantee when soliciting sponsors. I encourage you to push back on anyone who asks for too much, but it all comes down to what you and your community are comfortable with.

Technical book and magazine publishers, software vendors, Microsoft, etc… are all intimately familiar with the Code Camp scene, having sponsored it for years. They won’t require much more than a friendly email and a mailing address. Approaching local companies can be a lot tougher and I encourage you to come up with a list of selling points before approaching them. Use terms like “marketing or recruiting potential” and “community goodwill” and remember to talk to the right people. Recruiters and marketing folks might be more receptive to your pleas for money than the HR Director, for example.


It takes a lot of people to pull this off successfully. A Code Camp takes a lot of coordination and effort. Typically a team of 3-4 people can sufficiently plan everything, but you will want 6 - 10 people willing to help out the day of the event.

You need people to help with signage, such as what sessions are in which rooms. You may want people to help direct traffic. Some Code Camps also assign a volunteer to each room to announce the speaker and give him/her a heads up when they are running out of time. You may need a couple of people on trash detail unless you got a cleaning crew as part of the facilities. If you are providing lunch or snacks, you’ll need people to help with those too. Cases of water and boxes of food get heavy fast.

Also, and this is important, remember you are dealing with volunteers. Sometimes work, life or even good weather can wreck the best of plans. You’re going to have some people drop off at the last minute, so aim for more people than you need and you just might end up with enough. (Extra people can always find SOMETHING to do.) I said that about Give Camps too, but it’s worth repeating.


It doesn’t matter if you have the best location on Earth and an army of volunteers, without speakers you won’t have much of an event (and you definitely won’t have any repeat attendees next year.)

Most Code Camp organizers issue a call for speakers at least 2-3 months before the event. This gives potential speakers an opportunity to make plans, come up with a new topic or polish an existing one. This also gives you an opportunity to beat the drum a bit so everyone knows about your event.

You may get more speaker submissions than you can handle. This is a good problem to have and can be dealt with in one of several ways:

  1. First Come, First Served - If you have 20 slots, then you take the first 20 submissions. Easy to manage.
  2. Selective - Get as many submissions as you can and pick enough to fill your slots. Strive for balance and variety.
  3. Voting - Let the community decide. Provide a means for people to vote on which topics they are interested in. This can also help with making sure you put the popular sessions in the big rooms.
  4. Get more rooms - Everyone’s a winner!

Whatever you do, be courteous and appreciative to your speakers. They are taking time out of their own lives to come speak at your event for free. Some may be local while others may have traveled great distances.

If you have to make a change to the schedule, or the lineup, be sure to let your speakers know as far in advance as possible. Most of them know each other, and they talk (a lot) about their favorite and not-so-favorite events.

Most Code Camp sessions are around 75 minutes, including time for questions. You can tune this up or down to whatever works best for your event.

When making out your schedule, some folks like to organize everything into themed tracks. Other folks base everything on the size of the rooms. Both methods work just fine, so pick the one that works best for you and don't worry about it.


Some Code Camps provide lunch, others don’t. Many events view lunch time as a chance to get outside, go for a walk and break bread with people they have never met before at a local eatery.

If you are located somewhere without convenient access to food, consider asking a sponsor to help cover lunch. It’s not mandatory, but it’s almost always appreciated. If you’re ordering enough pizza to cover several hundred people, make sure you call a few days in advance and see about a discount.

Also consider providing snacks in the mid afternoon stretch. Again, not required, but always appreciated.

Most of the Code Camps I have been to will offer at least coffee and maybe donuts or bagels during check-in and through the first session. If you have the budget to support this, great! It’s not a requirement (although people have come to expect it.)


Just as important as the speakers are the attendees. Without them, you have no event. Treat them well. Provides lots of clear signage, listen to their feedback and if you see someone that looks lost, offer to help them.

Also, pay attention to how much of a break you put between sessions. If your rooms are spread out across a college campus (unfortunate, but possible) then consider at least a 15 minute break.


Having a bunch of sponsor donated giveaways at the end of the day has become somewhat of a Code Camp tradition, but don’t let it be what your event is all about. People come there for the content, and the networking. The prizes are just a bonus.


The last little chunklet of knowledge I want to share with you is something you've probably already figured out on your own: every event, even in the same city, is different.

What works in one community has no guarantee of working in another community. Some places have one-day Code Camps, others span two days. Some manage a Friday and a Saturday, while others stay solely on the weekend.

Don't get too hung up in the numbers game either. Even if you only get 50 people, but they all leave feeling like it was a day well spent, then your Code Camp was a success. It will grow over time.

Lastly, nobody is going to hold a gun to your head and tell you that it must be called a Code Camp, or that you must do these things if you want to call it a Code Camp. I've seen so many "Days Of this" and "foo Saturdays" and "whateverPaloozas" that it clearly doesn't matter anymore.

Why Host a Code Camp?

I'm going to turn this around and ask you a question instead: Why NOT host a Code Camp?

Next Month

By the time you read this, I will have been to Twin Cities Code Camp VIII in Minneapolis, MN, Tech Ed 2010 in New Orleans, LA and Codestock in Knoxville, TN. While I'm there I talk to a lot of the fine folks in our greater community of developers. I'll share some of those conversations here next issue.

Have a great summer.