Gather 2015

a loosely structured conference emphasising the informal exchange of information and ideas between participants, rather than following a conventionally structured programme of events.

This was my first year attending the Gather conference. Or, more to the point - an *un* conference or, as it was known in the olden days: a bar camp. These events differ from a traditional conference in that anyone with something to contribute or share is welcome and encouraged to lead a session. Everyone is expected to participate - there are no spectators - and when you’re done for the day, you share what you’ve learned with family, friends, colleagues, the rest of the world.

A Google Drive sheet was shared in the weeks leading up to Gather, so people who wanted to lead sessions could book appropriate spaces. On the day, more sessions popped up too, and people moved from room to room depending on what took their fancy.

Participation could involve anything from conversation to demonstration; storytelling to roleplaying. Topics at Gather ranged from the Internet of Things to keeping bees in your back yard; building robots; constructing lego; playing Dungeons and Dragons for the first time; learning to pack carryon luggage; just to name a few.

Session 1: First Timers

I'm a 'first timer' so that's the session I attended first. It was a super session hosted by Louise von Randow (@louisevr) that showed exactly what Gather is all about: participation. She let us know that Gather was all about us and that we needed to "get up and say stuff". She asked us to break into groups of three and each tell a quick story about something we'd made or had participated in. Then the groups would change, and we'd tell our story again. The idea was that by the end of the session, we'd honed our story enough to stand up and give it to the group if asked.

It was a fantastic session that not only showed what Gather was about, it meant we meet a bunch of new people and heard a wonderful array of stories. It was encouraging and confidence boosting and lots of fun :)

Gather Conference Sessions one and two

Session 2: Teaching Kids to Code

Tanya Gray (@tanya) is an incredibly generous woman who spends a great deal of her time volunteering with kids of all ages (and teachers too) to get them interested in coding. She's not alone in that endeavour, thank goodness, because it's a huge task.

This session was very well attended and we worked together to develop a list of all the organisations and opportunities available for children of all ages to get interested in computer coding. Because it's Gather, some handy-dandy person captured that list in a Google Drive sheet so it's more helpful outside the environment of the Gather session (see link below in Associated Links).

Session 3: OMFG Bees!

This is a pure example of talking about anything you're interested in at Gather. Rowan Crawford (@wombleton) has been keeping bees for six months. He's new but he knows a lot more than I do about keeping bees in his back garden.

He polled the room for pros and cons of bee keeping - then tackled them one by one. It was a super interesting session and I learned a lot about bees - mostly that they're pretty self sufficient, safe, and sneaky robbers if they smell honey from another hive.

  • Auckland Council allows one hive per urban garden
  • There can be as many as 70,000 bees in one hive
  • Urban hives can generate more honey than rural hives
  • A Queen bee can lay 1,000 eggs per day
  • Bees have very good colour vision (they see blue best)
  • Bees can be breed for temperament


Session 4: Interviewing for talent

We've all been interviewed for jobs; some of us have interviewed to hire. All of us have stories to tell about when these processes go well and when they go badly. Lisa Wong (@haikugeek) lead this session - she had us break into groups and brainstorming the good, the bad, and the unfortunate to determine if there were any trends to help improve the probability of hiring the right people, and getting the better job.

  • Keep the candidate informed at all stages of the process
  • Ask questions as a chance to explore:
    • What the job/culture is like
    • The personality of applicant/workmates
    • How people interact and communicate
  • Show your work/bring some work (come prepared, be prepared) and don't expect candidates to work for free
  • Cross-functional interview teams or panels
    • train staff to interview well
    • make sure interviewers are briefed before candidate arrives
    • know the correct answers to technical questions before asking them

Session 5: Wearable Tech

I wear a Pebble watch and a Fitbit monitor so was interested in hearing about projects being developed around technology we're currently strapping to our bodies. There were three *actual* Apple Watches in the room so that was nice because I'd *actually* forgotten about them.

We talked about the strengths of interactions on small devices which included:

  • glances/bite sized information
  • data tracking for fitness and some medical info
  • reminders from calendars
  • directions from GPS

Session 6: Never Check a Bag

How to pack a carry-on bag and live out of it for up to two weeks - or more if you utilise "version control and crop rotation". This session was hosted by three Gather veterans: Rob Issac (@rmi), Natalie Dudley (@natdudley), and Vaughan Rowsell (@rowsell) who currently holds the unofficial record for living out of the contents of carryon luggage for six weeks.

A super fun, hands-on session we learned the tips, the tricks, and how to "ranger roll" t-shirts for optimal space saving, and crease-reduction. Hot tips included:

  • invest in a packing cell from Kathmandu
  • align your carryon bag zip with your packing cell zip with your toiletries bag zip for easy quick access on planes and through security
  • Always Be Charging (ABC) (your devices) see a plug - charge your phone
  • Set all electronics to Air Plane Mode before packing them away
  • Befriend hotel maids and snaffle small toiletries as often as possible


Session 7: Wisdom in the Workplace

Mel Rowsell (@melrowsell) lead a discussion about wisdom: what is it? how does it lend itself to the workplace? is it practical?

We got a bit bogged down in semantics and intuition. It was a good discussion and agreed that wisdom is something that "comes with time" and is heavily "experiential based) In other words, if you live long enough, feel the feelings and reflect often enough, you are able to articulate the feels and become right more often: we kind of think of that as Wisdom.

As you can see from my brief account of the sessions I attended, the topics are diverse and participation varied. The food at Gather was very good; the coffee was great; the people were friendly and encouraging. I’m already looking forward to Gather 2016. 

Associated links