You know what? This post seriously deserves a better title. I know it sounds quirky, but I couldn’t manage to jog my mind up to bring out a better one. Well, anyway, going by what it says, I’ll have to agree that Open Weekends was indeed a great thing that happened in the recent times for me, Mozilla and of course, for most other people here in Chennai. Frankly, a couple of months back everything was just a thought. Well, hey, no. Not even a thought. An ‘Ambition’ may be? Hmmm… Yeah, you could say that. So, there it is, ambition – to do something for the city, that’s known to have a great geek culture.
So, how did this happen? Before we begin talking that, let me tell you, we’re not doing this the usual way – this guy came, the other one spoke that, he clapped, she thanked, yadda yadda yadda… – Dude! Everyone knows what happened. It’s there in the agenda. What really matters and should matter to each one of us is the reason why everything happened the way it did. For what its worth, I believe in this – When you tell others something, its really important for you to communicate what you did, why you did and how you did. People simply call it – the ‘takeaway factor’ –What you take or learn out of something you did or see happen, that inspires others to do things with a better vision and motives. It becomes particularly significant in cases like our communities where most of the learning comes from within ourselves.
I really have this habit of drifting away once I start talking :D So yeah. It was February. I had just returned after attending GNUnify in Pune. From the very beginning I was thrilled about the very idea of different communities coming together to do something. After all, community collaboration and sharing is what that defines the concept of open source and sharing, right? The moment I was invited to attend the conference, believe me, Pune didn’t excite me. Rather what piqued my interest was my intention to see how these conferences happen. I mean like, I wanted to see if meetups like these did really have the potential to bring out successful partnerships among the various communities in India.
And trust me, learning took up a whole new curve those two days. Sharing of practices, ideas and the methods –that’s what happened there. And me being a Chennai fanboy, each time when something was told or discussed about Pune being a great city and the opportunity it provided, I would think, “Why not do this at Chennai? Why not here?” - Just like how your parent would think when your neighbor’s son scored better than you in exams. :P I didn’t know what the problems would be in organizing such an event here. Honestly, I couldn’t think of any reason otherwise and just wanted to do it sometime soon and thought, may be I’d wait for the right moment to host one.
So well, I had returned from Pune and was busy with college and my other priorities back home ;) And there comes Karthik and Naresh into the story –The guys who bugged me to host a MozCafe here. They had like, been telling me to organize a get-together for about a month and I failed to do each time – had too many things in mind. Finally, somehow, like about a month after GNUnify, we managed to host an informal meetup of sorts here in Chennai. We didn’t have much time to plan ahead on things but wanted to do with something cheap but, out of the box –Marina Beach! Yes… Myself and few other fellows here met at the city’s own paradise – the Marina beach. Meeting with us was Wikimedia India’s executive council member, Bala Jeyaraman or Bala anna as how we’d call him. [fondly, of course, as people used to write ;) ]
Among the many topics we spoke that day, this “A GNUnify in Chennai” was one. He was so supportive of the idea. And was okay in doing one right on! “Why not do this sometime in May?” he said, we have ample time to plan and execute things. Everyone agreed. And thus became Open Weekends a reality!
Organizing an event like this is so much fun. You get to say hi, talk and shake hands with many people you might not even have heard about earlier. You develop your circle far and beyond. Personally, as an organizer, this is what I’d always look out for, whenever I do or get myself involved in something. So, as soon as it was decided that Open Weekends was happening, I wrote a one page agenda – in English – with a language that’s plain and simple – and no mumbo jumbos – putting forth why I thought this had to be done in Chennai. I had sent it to my guys here and they agreed too.
Next was promotions. We had no ideas on what to do, how to do and the rest. We just wanted to see if there were any takers or people who were interested to participate in this mission. We extensively used Facebook, the Linux user groups’, Wikipedia’s and Mozilla India’s lists. Most of them who came forward to reply, were very appreciative of what we had planned to do. And some people had doubts and once you spoke to them, they were okay as well. That’s how Atul Jha from the Open Stack community and Shrinivasan from the Chennai wing of Indian Linux Users Group had come forward to participate in Open Weekends. I really thank them for their support towards organizing this event.
For about a month and a half, it was all like this. Talking to people, writing emails, posting updates, tweeting – just the online stuff. And then once we had the list of people interested in participating – a tentative list – from which we had called for the ones who wanted to speak at the event. The whole idea of doing this event was providing opportunity for everyone, not just the guys we know who could speak well. Well, mind you! You’re making a calculative risk here – of putting the participants who come to the event to sleep. :D But you know! At times, its worth taking. You see new talent emerge. So, I made that choice – calling for people who wanted to speak at the event. And that’s how we had roughly about five speakers that also included our very own Soumya Deb – Well, I needed at least one guy as a backup who could wake the people up in case everyone had slept, right? :P
So, the plan was ‘just talking’ the first day and hackathon the second day. Yeah. We also had a hackathon. We didn’t want to restrict the guys on just a thing or two. Mainly because, we didn’t or won’t know what the participants might be knowing about or be interested in. So, we generalized it as ‘Mozilla hackathon’ – Do whatever you feel like doing – Build Firefox addons, hack Thunderbird, make apps for Firefox OS or just whatever you feel like. Along with it was the Mediawiki hackathon handled by YuviPanda – thus giving all a wide variety of choice to choose from. And I was so confident that every guy or girl who comes there will atleast know any one of the above. Acquiring venue was no big deal as well. Thanks to ThoughtWorks and Railsfactory for their timely help. Original plan was to host it at ThoughtWorks but unfortunately, the venue had to be shifted to Railsfactory for a few reasons.
So, rest is all the same. Event had proceeded exactly as expected. One thing, I was not very sure about was the participant count. I thought may be we’d have about 20 to 25. But, never in my wildest of wildest dreams, did I think of a count like 40. Sometimes, it brought me both shock and surprise to find that even old Wikipedia contributors like Sengai Podhuvan had turned up for the event.
Anyway, that was my take on Open Weekends. The list goes on and on and on! So, let me just put , “thanks to all who made it happen!”. I knew this event would be fun – meeting friends, talking tech, learning new things – and everything that we wanted to do couldn’t have happened in a better way. And this is definitely a great start for Chennai :)