How to survive an un-conference when it thrives on disorder. My Mozfest story.

Hot on the heels of my third Mozilla Festival (Mozfest), I wanted to share a modified exert of a discussion I facilitated on stage this weekend.

Imagine being one of 1700+ attendees who embark on a journey to London for an event where they are unaware of what will happen but are promised it will be chaotic. That is what Mozfest is. For anyone that has attended, it is one of the most confusing and wonderful times of their lives. Mostly because you don’t know what to expect from Mozfest, but somewhere in the chaos you find the beauty. The chaos is thousands of people with millions of ideas on how to make the world a better place and the beauty is the steps they take that weekend to achieve it. The magic carpet ride, as I like to call it, is different for every single person and it’s differs every year. Every year I learn something new.

In my first year, I was reminded the importance of the buddy system and the value of new friends. I remember being one of the last ten people in the building on the closing night. A new friend, Christos from Greece, a Mozilla Rep, messaged to ask why a few us weren’t at the closing party. We told him we were still working at Ravensbourne and to my surprise less than 30 minutes later he appeared ready to help. I will never forget the kindness my new friend showed me that day. It was the little things like this that really showed the spirit of the people who attend this event. The people who care, invest and share with each other just mere hours after meeting. In my second year, I learned that each person is the controller of his, her or their Mozfest experience. You get to determine what you want to achieve in the weekend and you make it happen. For myself, it’s was about meeting new people and seeing how I could support their work to teach the web in their local communities. Last year I had a conversation with Jess from New Zealand about a project she wanted to bring to her local maker community. In Mozfest spirit, it was rushed and we had limited time but we promised to continue the conversation afterwards. Just last month, I helped support her in a grant application to make that dream a reality. She’s a semi-finalist! This year I organized a pathway on helping people grow Mozilla Club or on-going learning programs in their local communities. Embedded in the space was a live club with many youth working together to create an activity course by attaching MakeyMakey, Raspberry Pi or Arduino and programming it using Scratch, S4A or Mind+ etc. What I learned this year is that when you are building for the future, the future generation needs to be right there building it with you.

My favourite part of Mozfest has always been the uniqueness and diversity of the people in the room. I asked a series of questions in the morning plenaries to help illustrate to the audience. It was clear that there was a global audience presence and much of the world was represented geographically. While there was a large amount of people who were developers and designers, there were also a lot of journalist, scientists, advocates, educators, librarians, policy developers, students and kids. What I enjoyed the most was that individuals didn’t just resonate as being a developer or designer, they associated themselves with being much more than that. A large amount of the room indicated they were from multiple categories, i.e. a student who designs in the media field. Of course, most to all hands were raised when I asked if they identified as being a learner.

Photo by Erik Westra

Mozfest is a time to get to know different people, and yet a time to realize that no matter how different each person attending might appear to be they’re a lot more similarities than they think. They might bond over astronomy, open practices, shared values, love or distaste for the royal family, or their favourite cat meme. And they know know the web is meant to be an open and collaborative place. That’s why they attend.

It is up to each person to determine how magical the weekend can be and the friends you make, the friendship you further develop and the things you create. There’s a lot of advice you receive when coming to Mozfest (seriously, it’s confusing!) and how to navigate a chaotic event. The most important part to remember is that you are the creator and director of your own magic carpet ride. You get to decide who’s on it with you, where you go and when (or if) it ends.

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