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10 things I didn’t do at my first unconference

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10 things I didn’t do at my first unconference


Emmy Tsang

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10 things I didn’t do at my first unconference

Posted by s.aragon on 17 April 2019 - 9:34am Emmy Tsang demo at CW19Photo courtesy of Mario Antonioletti

By Emmy Tsang, eLife. @eLifeInnovation

Here’s a brutally honest account of what didn’t happen at the Software Sustainability Institute Collaborations Workshop – and my first un-conference ever – last week.

  1. Be realistic with my demo. In the one week that I had to prepare, I also launched the eLife Innovation Sprint and conducted interviews for eLife Labs, and I still had an extremely ambitious plans for a 90% hands-on demo for the Reproducible Document Stack (which involved getting everyone to install Docker). I admitted defeat at 9pm on Sunday - had it not been for Naomi Penfold’s amazing slides from before I wouldn’t have had a demo to give.

  2. Speak the lingo. I was a toddler in the software universe – I tried pretending to know what was going on, but quickly realised that it didn’t work. I asked quite a few stupid questions that people were very kind to answer. I learnt a lot that I otherwise would not have (e.g. how dark matter is detected), and also realised that answering questions allows one to rethink concepts that one’s comfortable with.

  3. Define best practices. We all tried (see Sarah Maddox’s post) – it seems like every time we try to settle on something there is an exceptional use case that should be catered for. I think I’ve come to appreciate this: the diversity of our work and use cases sparked a lot of interesting conversations, and I gained insight into the requirements and constraints of different fields. What does everyone else think?

    How standards proliferate comic strip Image courtesy of xkcd.


  4. Code on hackday. I submitted my first issue on Github (high five Sarah!) – but I didn’t contribute a line of code. I learnt that there are many non-coding ways to be useful in a Hackday project team.

  5. Boast. In my short academic life, I went to many research conferences prepared to impress. At Collaborations Workshop, Catherine Stihler was so humble in her keynote that I felt 100% comfortable just being new and vulnerable, and people sought me out to offer help and I tweeted to ask others to help me.

  6. Feel unwelcomed. I didn’t feel at-home-with-my-best-friends level comfortable, considering I was outside of my comfort zone, but the Pac-man rule works like magic. Kudos to the organisers for going above and beyond to establish and implement good community rules.

  7. Pace myself - with energy and caffeine. Tuesday afternoon I hit a wall of social exhaustion that I didn’t know existed, for an hour I just wanted to cry and be wrapped in a warm blanket. I also didn’t use the quiet room - definitely should have done that.

  8. Speak with enough people. There were so many interesting people that in retrospect I wish I had one-to-one conversations with. I feel guilty for not trying harder (re #7).

  9. Take good notes. I’m kicking myself now - does anyone have a good system?

Thank the organisers enough. You have been absolute stars – from reminding people to bring their hotel key cards, to reducing the number of disposable cups. Your attention to details really took the event and the participants’ experience to the next level. ?

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