behind the velvet curtain

I have a confession to make – I’m not a web designer.

Or a designer. Or even a lowly IT technician. My day job is actually as a Supervising Social Worker for the Fostering and Adoption team. Quite far removed from IT, I can assure you!

Though being far removed from the design industry is not strictly true. I have been voluntarily designing websites for charitable organisations for about 10 years. I’ve worked with the RSPCA (local branches), The National Trust and Adult Survivors of Childhood Abuse, to name but a few. I don’t accept payment for my work, unless you count gingerbread. I also spent a stint as a fully qualified Print Estimator before making the jump into social work. A logical one, I know.

I am lucky enough to design for pleasure, and cut the hours I dedicate to this at any time. I also don’t think I’m good enough to charge for my work, but that’s a whole other issue. πŸ™‚

So how did I end up as a volunteer for New Adventures in Web Design?

About a year or so ago one of my “tweeps” tweeted a link to Simon Collison’s re-designed personal website. I was in awe. It was beautiful. Those illustrations! I added it to my list of blogs/twitters to follow, and was intrigued when he announced he would be hosting a web design conference in 2010.

I umm’ed and ahh’ed about buying a ticket. The talks definitely looked interesting, but felt like I am more of an outsider to the industry now so decided against it.

Then the date rolled closer. More tweeps announced they had bought tickets and I started to feel remorseful that I hadn’t stepped up to the plate when I had the chance. In my job it’s quite difficult to ring-fence time off, but as the day grew closer it looked like I might be able to manage it.

Then Simon announced he needed volunteers.

This appealed to the good samaritan in me. After following his blog/twitter he seemed like a nice enough guy, so I emailed him and volunteered my services. He got back to me with details and I managed to confirm the day off with my manager.

I was going to New Adventures in Web Design. Aieee!

The day started at 5am. I arrived at the venue at 7:30amΒ and met Simon, Relly and a couple of other volunteers. In my email to Simon I had helpfully provided my t-shirt size assuming there’d be a selection of shirts to choose from. There wasn’t, but Simon being the super nice guy he is had specially ordered one for me. Awww. This meant I had two. I went with the standard grey issue shirt as the other had a smaller logo on it. I know, ladies and fashion.

A few early-birds arrived at the venue around 7:30am too. We turned them away. We weren’t ready for them just yet. Given the queues maybe we should have just let them in earlier. πŸ™‚

We each took up our positions and the morning rush began. I allocated myself to handing out the goody bags. This was strategic as I didn’t want to miss any “tweeps” as they went in. I managed to say hello to quite a few of them, which made wrestling with those slippery goodybags all worth it! The queue snaked out of the door and around the corner. From a registration desk POV all we could see were endless people. Endless…

We managed to get everybody in, coffee’d and seated by 9:30am. Then we were told we could pick a few talks that we’d like to sit in on. A couple of volunteers were needed in/around the hall all day so we didn’t have to miss anything if we didn’t want to. I didn’t really know what I wanted to see so offered to stay on the desk. As it turned out I hopped in and out of the hall most of the day, catching interesting snippets here and there. Most of the volunteers did, hence attendees would occasionally see different heads popping up from the stairwells. Like meerkats.

I managed to catch most of Brendan Dawes talk, which appealed to me because I am a complete tationery fetishist. I’m also a casual member of the Nottingham HackSpace (I rarely have time to go, but bug them on twitter frequently) so the idea of “hacking things right” is really interesting to me.

Throughout the day I’d been monitoring the #naconf hashtag to see how attendees were feeling. The overwhelming majority of you were happy, content and thrilled to see the speakers. Occasionally a negative tweet would pop up and if there were a cluster of them (being hungry, wanting to see the morning Q&A, toilet lines) then I’d bring it up with Simon, and he’d address the issue accordingly.

Being able to directly monitor the mood of your audience was completely invaluable, and I’m so glad so many people were honest about things which they wanted to see/needed.

During Simon’s closing talk he handed me the microphone during a shout-out for Nottingham Girl Geek Dinner‘s. He hadn’t warned me he was going to do this. Cue me turning bright red and spluttering out my 10 second advert! I’d been poaching lady geeks all day to tell them about it, but I am truly thankful I was able to mass-advertise this at the end of the conference. πŸ™‚ Hope to see some of you there!

I stayed after the hall had emptied to help pack away equipment. There was a lot of equipment. I’m not very technical; it was quite confusing. We got there in the end and I think we all finally left the building about 7:30pm.

Simon re-iterated his thanks to the couple of us who had stayed behind to finish off the clearing away and then dragged himself off to the after-party, cigarette in hand. He looked delicate at that point, so goodness knows what state he would have been in at 2am. A well-deserved inebriated one, I wager!

I disappeared off home. An early start the next day and work emails to catch up on beckoned. By this point I’d also been up for a good 15 hours and just wanted to sit down somewhere, anywhere, quiet.

The day after I arranged to have breakfast with some tweeps, which was fab. It was lovely to finally meet people who had only existed in text form to me for the best part of 2 or so years.

All in all it was a fantastic day and I am very happy to have been a part of it behind the scenes.

Same time next year?


8 Comments on “behind the velvet curtain”

  1. katemonkey says:

    Dude, you were an awesome volunteer!

    Plus, you did the best plug for something, because it was short and sweet.

    (Although I am kicking myself for not realising we could’ve totally plugged the HackSpace. Whoops!)

  2. Shelton says:

    Good post. Interesting to see how others days went, when you were meeting Simon, i was jumping on the train πŸ™‚

    If you were handing out the goody bags, were you the short dark haired girl? or was that someone else lol

    I came through work this year, but if they don’t/i’m not with them, then i think i’ll buy a ticket and come again anyway (if they do it that is). The talks were great, not what I was expecting, but good netherless πŸ™‚



    • fluffoblog says:

      haha yes I was the short dark haired one. I went in the coffee room at one point and it was like land of the giants!!

      I enjoyed the talks too. I didn’t feel qualified enough to summarise them here because I thought they were all good on their own merits.

      As somebody “outside” of design I found they were very accessible.

  3. Shelton says:

    Ahh, i remmeber you then πŸ™‚

    well you seem enthusiastic, so why don’t you just get the books out and get learning, then you can do it for a day job too πŸ™‚

  4. Shelton says:

    pah, it’s easy. kinda of a word association game really…start from the logo, colours, what they do then you’re away!

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