Yodeling in the South: BarCamp Charleston 2010

This past weekend, I brought the Yahoo! yodel to BarCamp Charleston. During registration, you could feel the energy in the air as speakers and attendees got their morning coffee fix. From 10 AM to 6 PM, over 50 sessions were held spanning technology, salsa dancing, geocaching, chiropractics, and even home beer brewing. The event was held in downtown Charleston, South Carolina at the College of Charleston.

Yahoo! was proud to sponsor BarCamp Charleston for the second year in a row, and I am honored to have been able to speak at it, but more on that later.

A BarCamp is a user-generated conference, where the sessions and workshops are proposed and scheduled at the opening of the event. During the morning pitch session from 9 AM to 10 AM, aspiring presenters jotted down their topics on notecards, then gave 30-second pitches at the microphone on stage. Fortunately, the schedule was able to accommodate all speakers, so no voting was required. BarCamp Charleston was off and running!

BarCamp Charleston 2010 pitch session. Photo by Eugene Mahbarcampcharleston-sessions

Photo by Eugene Mah

The first session slot included talks such as "Understanding the Cybercrime Ecosystem and Protecting Yourself," "Internet Marketing for Business," "Social Commerce," and "A Whirlwind Tour of Film." The diversity in content was evident first thing in the morning.

BarCamp Charleston 2010 Robot showing Twitter Feed. Photo by Charleston's TheDigitelbarcampcharleston-robot

Robot showing Twitter feed. Photo by Charleston's TheDigitel

The second timeslot included an introduction to Drupal, a beginner's guide to Git, and "A Layperson Guide to Reading Code." I attended a session entitled "High Frequency Trading and the Tech Behind It," from a team from Automated Trading Desk. This particular talk covered the basics of the stock market, then dove in to the mechanics behind high frequency trading systems. Data storage requirements call for all trading organizations to store data for a period of seven years. During the course of one year, "we need to store 50 to 100 terabytes of data." At peak, their system handles 1.5 million messages per second. This massive volume of transactions and data storage is quite impressive. Orders are created, routed, and executed milliseconds or less! Needless to say, high frequency trading is an intense technical environment that pushes hardware, software, and networks to the limit. Every microsecond matters.

Next up, "Podcasting 101" exposed me to the logistical and technical aspects of podcasting. One important technical tip for aspiring podcasters: backup your audio files! It's easy to create your podcast, rambling on about random topics, but it's important to outline your agenda and form your content a bit. It's also very important to apply meaningful ID3 tags to MP3 audio files that you produce in order to maximize SEO, and just provide useful, accurate metadata on your audio files. Sure, it's easy to record a podcast and post it up for the masses to hear, but it's much more powerful when carefully planned and executed.

Getting into the afternoon, I presented on the Yahoo! Query Language to a packed, standing-room-only audience.

In "SELECT * FROM Internet: Using the Yahoo! Query Language," I covered a basic overview of YQL. YQL offers up an SQL-like syntax that allows users to query, join, and filter data across web services. Normally developers would have to pour over documentation for the various web services they want to consume, then perform a separate integration for each one. Such an undertaking generally requires a non-trivial amount of code and testing. With YQL, developers can access all of their web services with a consistent interface using SQL-like syntax. By using Open Data Tables, a developer can provide YQL tables that will allow them to access their services with this handy SQL-like syntax.

My talk consisted of a number of interactive demos using the YQL console. The audience was very curious and put me on the spot on numerous occasions, asking if they could get specific data using YQL. We worked through some of their questions right there on the spot, as one big team. Ultimately, we were able to use YQL to retrieve a lot of the data that the audience was curious about! It was very rewarding to be able to use YQL in this nimble manner, in front of a live audience, which illustrated just how powerful it is. I think my audience walked away with a strong interest in YQL and curiosity as to how they can apply it in both existing and future applications.

Among my demos, I showed the audience how to perform a Twitter search, perform IP-to-location lookup, search Craigslist for bicycles for sale in Charleston, and search Yahoo!.

A special thanks to all of the attendees, and especially to those who challenged me to dig deeper into YQL on the spot. This interactive, rapid fire environment was a great example of what a BarCamp is all about.

Later in the afternoon, I branched out into design-related topics with "A Button By Any Other Name - Symbolic Imagery in Interface Design," which touched on how user experience design comes into play when designing and building effective web applications that users can quickly understand.

BarCamp Charleston proved to be a fun-filled day with a wealth of technically-oriented sessions. With such a large, knowledgeable set of attendees, the content was incredibly diverse. Maybe next year, I'll branch out further and learn how to salsa dance.

Group photo of BarCamp Charleston 2010 attendees. Photo by Chris Rynearsonbarcampcharleston-group

Photo by Chris Rynearson

Charleston is a beautiful, historically-rich city filled with some of the brightest minds in the South. This Yahoo is definitely looking forward to attending BarCamp Charleston 2011. Congratulations to the organizers and speakers for making it a informative, educational day for all.