You need a network, a date, a venue, speakers, attendees, sponsors, volunteers and KISS.
A. No lone rangers – No one is ever going to attend a Codecamp thrown by Santosh Hari. They will accept an invitation from Santosh Hari on behalf of ONETUG, one of the most respected and longest running user groups in the area. to Orlando Codecamp. Point being, join a group, network, get to know the movers and shakers in the community. If they get behind you, that’s half the battle. If there are no user groups in the area, form one. This itself could turn out to be the most enriching experiences of your life.
B. Pick a date – Everyone needs a date to go by. No date is good or bad except in and around holidays like Christmas, New Year and so on. Spring Breaks are tricky, venues are more easily available during spring breaks, but attendees and speakers may want to go on vacation for spring break. Point being, you have deadlines for projects that the stakeholders know about 6 months or more in advance, treat Codecamp the same way.
C. Pick a venue – Ideally work with a local university or community college and try to finagle multiple rooms for free. If your host is a college or university, you could sell the fact that this could be a learning experience for their students.
D. Invite speakers – See items A,B and C. If you have a network of people, a venue and a date, it should be relatively easy to reach out to the well known speakers in your field and advertise the opportunity to speak. Normally, if it’s convenient for them schedule and travel-wise, many speakers will be interested. Invite speakers from other tech groups in your area – no one ever said you have to restrict your Codecamp to certain topics. Once a speaker shows interest, elicit their bio and a synopsis for the material they will be speaking on. Similarly, elicit first-time speakers. Orlando Codecamp has a great track record of inviting first time speakers who go on to become regulars on the speaking circuit. John Sonmez has an excellent post on why first time speakers should use Codecamp as a launching platform. (Update 2020: A few years later, Sonmez, rightly, got canceled)
E. Invite attendees – Use your networks and invite anyone and everyone you think might be remotely interested. Invite attendees of other tech groups in-area and in-state. Again, it helps to have speakers from these tech groups. Don’t assume everyone you invite will turn up, in fact, assume over 50% of invitees won’t even bother to register. This is one situation where you have to throw numbers to come out on top.
F. Solicit sponsors – Once you have the makings for a Codecamp that runs for beyond a couple of hours, it becomes necessary to provide refreshment and meals to everyone at the venue. There are probably a bunch of local/regional technology companies that are looking to a. advertise their technology or b. hire/recruit tech talent and they will be happy to pay a few bucks to have access to a collection of talent like the crowds that show up for Codecamp. Remember – do not sell attendees personal/contact information to offset costs under any circumstances. Sponsors may want to know the number of attendees, this is tricky if you’re doing it for the first time. We assume that we’ll get about 8-10 attendees per speaker. So if you have some commitments from speakers and hustling to get attendees, you could probably use this as an estimation technique.
G. Invite volunteers – Before and on the day of Codecamp, there are always a bunch of tasks that need manpower like registering attendees and serving lunch that may not scale to the number of organizers. Reach out to the local community, ask them for help and treat them well (lunch/dinner/special t-shirts/gifts) in turn for their help.
H. KISS – And above, all “Keep It Simple, Stupid” or “Keep It Stupid Simple”. There are a number of variables to holding such events and at any time, Murphy’s Law tends to kick in and a few things may not go as planned. The trick is to throw in redundancy and keep the process straightforward and simple. Also, don’t worry about items beyond your control, everyone is too busy having fun if you got the other things right.
Happy Codecamp organizing!
p.s. I will be open sourcing the Orlando Codecamp website and related suite of APIs in the near future. In the meanwhile, if you need to hold a Codecamp, please feel free to contact me via the ONETUG website.