This year, I've been fortunate enough to attend some of the biggest tech conferences here in China. GMIC and Techcrunch Disrupt featured grand venues, eminent speakers, and massive audiences, but the tradeoff to all that is the missing element of close interaction. Last Saturday, I attended a smaller-scale event called Techyizu Barcamp, and came away thoroughly impressed.
It was held in the sparkling new campus of New York University in Pudong, and the wide open spaces provided the perfect venue for open discussions and casual encounters. The event was organized by a group of volunteers and startup enthusiasts in Shanghai collectively known as Techyizu. From their website:
"BarCamp is a fun, user-generated “un-conference” that started in Silicon Valley as a response to formal, exclusive, and boring tech conferences. BarCamp is a full-day event with multiple sessions, workshops, and presentations on topics like technology, design, entrepreneurship, and social innovation. It is an open and sharing environment — everyone can attend, and everyone can participate."
Indeed, it's an un-conference in every sense of the word. Unlike other events, audiences here are extremely diverse. Age is definitely not a factor, ranging from 5-year old robot tinkerers to gray-haired septuagenarians sharing musings on technological changes. In each room, you could hear an eclectic mix of accents spoken by people of all colors. Tech enthusiasts from all walks of life converged in that campus in Pudong that Satuday to celebrate geek culture.
The pervasive theme for the conference was assistive technology - finding new solutions to improve the lives of the handicapped. Workshops were held not just to brainstorm solutions, but to actually put together prototypes using sensors, Arduino boards, and good old tape.
The un-conference format practically throws out everything that's written in the event rulebook. There is no fixed agenda, so anyone with an idea to share could just pitch in to an open-minded audience. One session that stood out was virtual reality, as the speakers made each person try a working Oculus Rift. When I asked the speaker why he would do that, he simply said that he was extremely enthusiastic about virtual reality, and wanted everyone to feel the same passion for it as he does.
This is how tech events are supposed to be - diverse, hands-on, fueled not by commercial interests but a genuine desire to make the world better through technology. Barcamp is an innovation wonderland, and I believe that in the years to come, it would continue extending its reach to the growing tech community in China.