"How did you get invited?"
I understood what he was asking--"what noteworthy thing have you done to be able to grace your presence at Foo Camp"--but I couldn't help but notice how derogatory his question was. As if since I hadn't created the Pebble watch, came up with the term Data Science, or been another prominent figure in the tech community that I somehow snuck my way into the conference.
Honestly I wasn't sure what to say. The truth was that I was invited because my brother killed himself, something that would further prove that I didn't truly belong; nothing would have satisfied him.
Foo Camp, or Friends of O'Reilly Camp, is an annual invite-only conference that O'Reilly holds. "It's all about the connections," Tim O'Reilly proclaimed as he introduced the conference over dinner on Friday night. He went on to explain the structure, or lack thereof, of the conference. There would be sessions every hour created ad hoc by the participants. The sessions were meant to be more discussions around a central theme rather than lectures.
He then subjected us all to a Foo Camp ritual: everyone had to introduce themselves by saying three words or phrases. By the end of it, I had gotten to the point where if one more person had uttered a tech cliche--mobile, big data, social, etc--I was sure I was going to run out screaming.
The first night proceeded like a standard cocktail party; liquored up introverts attempting to act as if they weren't. It was pleasant to a degree though; while the conversations were not particularly deep, it certainly beat talking to strangers at bars.
After talking deep into the night and only getting a few hours of sleep in a tent, I found myself awake far too early, conversing with other Foo Campers in the kitchen.
After drinking my 3rd cup of coffee and eating what seemed like my 5th granola bar, I found myself engaged in conversation with another Foo Camper:
"How did you get invited?"
Maybe it was the drowsiness of being unable to sleep well the previous night, but the question hit me like a moving train.
I mumbled something about some work I had done at Google and quickly deflected the spotlight onto my inquisitor. It wasn't too long until the first sessions of the day began.
I headed to my first session, and, while I can't say that I had high hopes for what the discussions would accomplish, I couldn't imagine that the hive mind created by bringing together 200 tech geniuses could have created the level of drivel that I experienced in the first hour and a half.
To be fair, there were some good discussions around the future of programing and some killer discussions by some of the data scientists at Kickstarter, but between those the hive mind's love for circular discussion knew no limit.
By the middle of the day, my sleep deprivation had caught up with me and I took a short nap. I was not looking forward to the remaining sessions of the day.
After bouncing around again, I went to what I overheard as one of the best sessions every year: the war story session. For a little over an hour people went back and forth going over ways they fucked up and attempting to pin down the root cause.
Dinner began, and I remembered how awesome it was to just converse with people like I had done the night before. I had a great conversation with some people at Amazon about the troubles with tech hiring and what could be done to fix it (this was in stark contrast to an earlier session where certain people were convinced that asking Fermi questions were the answer--despite evidence to the opposite).
After dinner Ignite talks were held. These were amazing. It reminded me that even under the limit of five minutes, intelligent people can give interesting presentations.
Later that night, deep into what was certainly like my fourth pint of beer, I came to the realization that as cliche as it sounded, Tim was right: It was all about the connections. Intelligent people, for the most part, are really interesting to talk to.
While I certainly didn't deserve to be invited to this Foo Camp, I can only hope that I will be in the future.