My experience of being a volunteer at NDC London 2017.

NDC has been built up in my head as this awesome, magical conference ever since Moreton came back from it two years ago. Part of this was because he came back an excited kid, telling all these stories of the amazing time he had; part was because I thought it would be a long time before I could afford to go.

Last year I learnt the amazing thing about being cheeky. The best thing that can happen is that you can have a grand adventure. The worst thing that could happen is that you hear the word “no”. I reached out to the world and asked how I could go even though I was skint. Thanks to twitter (particularly @khellang) I was told about the possibility of volunteering.

Day 1 - training

Honestly, I was very nervous walking towards the ExCel. I didn’t really know what I was in for. After meeting the crew and organisers those worries went out the window. We got shown the area, given our t-shirts and shown what we would be needed to do

After training, one of the other volunteers and I walked back to the Travelodge. That would be the last good nights sleep I would have for a few days.

The Conference

I woke a 6.30am ready for my first day at NDC. Put on my rockin’ NDC Crew Tee and walked to ExCel in the dark. The first part of the morning involved unpacking the free hoodies for the attendees and doing various other jobs. After the attendees had been checked in, all volunteers got to attend the keynote.

Now NDC is the biggest conference I have been too. The keynote was about Humanitarian Toolbox, which if you haven’t heard of it, you should click that link. Do code that’s good for the soul.

The whole set up was impressive. The stalls, people, food… it was all impressive. Volunteering at NDC is a really good deal as well. I’m not going through the whole conference experience but as a volunteer you spend half the day taking care of a room and the other half doing what you want. Taking care of the room involves making sure the speaker is happy, counting the votes and reporting them back and giving the speaker their gift.

For the first day, I worked the afternoon. The first talk I attended was Patterns for application development with ASP.NET Core by Damian Edwards and David Fowler. It was a great first talk to attend. They were enthusiastic, really knew their topic and note only did I learn a lot but I was buzzing with excitement afterwards. The day continued in the same vein. I watched Scott Allen’s talk on ASP.NET Core and then my first shift started. The first room I had to look after was room 5, and as such the first speaker I kept an eye out for was Mathew McLoughlin. Being nervous, I arrived a bit early but that was fine because it meant I got to talk to him a bit. This not only calmed my nerves about the volunteer work, but he told me a a lot about how he got into speaking.

Another great thing about volunteering is that you end up seeing talks you might not otherwise have seen. I saw some great talks. That afternoon alone I heard more about data and Docker, caching, and about process involved in delivering projects.

After the end of the first day, I went on the evening boat cruise on the Thames.

Aboard the Dixie Queen, a memorable night was had. Volunteers, speakers and attendees all went on this trip. Getting to know strangers is great fun, and it’s so much easier when they are held captive on a boat!

Joking aside, I got to have a laugh with the volunteers, talked to some developers from Tombola about their stack, their experiences and the conference and have a casual drink with some of the speakers as well.

For my first big conference alone, it was the perfect first night. Turned out everybody else was just another person wanting to learn, have a great time and have a bit too much to drink. Also, it was a boat on the Thames! It was beautiful (and cold).

After and eventful night, I was up again at 7am for another morning of volunteering at the conference. Did I mention I really, really love NDC? The range of talks, the people; it is all done right. I tried to do a mix of topics I would use at work and topics I had had no exposure to before. This has led to a strong interest in functional programming - we’ll see where that leads.

The Thursday night was the social. My favourite bit was the short talks by speakers on times they had messed up. Sounds cruel, but it’s a fun way to learn and reinforces the fact that all the people who are on the stage spouting knowledge bombs are just people who f*ck up sometimes too. This was followed by the hardest pub quiz I have ever taken part in. I am a nerd n00b. Seriously studying to up my game for next time as the amount of unusable nerd knowledge in that room… if I was wearing a hat I would take it off to everyone. Honestly, I left early because I was exhausted - but there was no chance for our team anyway.

The next morning was the last day of NDC. No time to get emotional though as the day was packed full with talks and rounding off with PubConf. I had been lucky the day before and won a ticket to PubConf from a KataKoda Twitter give away (cheers folks!) as I missed out on buying a ticket beforehand.

Everybody was tired, hungover or both but the talks throughout the day was still a really high standard. I worked the morning, so got to relax for the afternoon. After attending a final few talks, eating my fill of the wide selection of food and taking a last sweep of the stalls, I dropped my stuff off at the hotel, I wandered back to ExCel to find someone to follow to PubConf. Yes I know I could have used Google Maps, but this way is more fun.

A couple of the excellent people I got to know over the course of NDC and I travelled together to the venue. PubConf is the perfect ending to NDC. Jokey, unrecorded speedy presentations, music, food and beverages. It was the most surreal night of the week. I made memories which will last a lifetime and some friends as well.

The End…?

Before NDC:

I was nervous. The not knowing what the experience was going to be like and worried it wasn’t going to live up to the hype I had built around it.

Talking at conferences was a “no”. It’s scary. I am too early in my career. It’s scary.

Tech was interesting but not nearly as exciting as I used to find it. I was an eternal n00b but not in the good way.

After NDC:

NDC lived up to all the hype. It’s an amazing experience. It’s not just about the learning experience but also about the community. Going to NDC was also great personally. Since NDC a week ago:

  • I’ve already signed up for NDC Oslo as a volunteer
  • I’m in the process of writing my first CFP - with help from people I met at NDC
  • Being scared is not going to stop me again
  • I’ve had to try and lose ALL the weight gained from the excellent food

Along with learning about some great technologies and re-igniting my passion or tech, it’s also been a big confidence builder. There are people I can reach out to about a range of things, technical and personal. There’s tonnes to learn and get excited about. Everybody is a n00b in some way and that is awesome. I have years to learn and get better as a developer.

NDC is good for you. It’s not great for your waistline.