NodeSchool @ NationJS Postmortem
November 7th, 2014 @NodeDC in conjunction with @NationJS put on our first official NodeSchool. @NodeDC has been running the NodeSchool workshops as part of our monthly Node Night meetups for quite some time, but this was the first time we explictly set out to advertise and run NodeSchool. Very quickly we realized this was going to be a very big thing. First, we were promoting this NodeSchool with NationJS a ~200 person conference. This gave us a lot more visibility than we usually get through our meetup group. Second, this was the first time we were advertising it as NodeSchool. Like I said above, we usually have a NodeSchool session at our Node Nights, but it's not the main focus of our events. NodeSchool has done a great job of getting their name out there and associating this portion of the conference with them was great.
After we realized what we got ourselves into, we set out to make sure this event was going to be as successful as it could possibly be. I already knew we had great support within the NodeDC community, but when dealing with something at this magnitude I want to make sure everything was going to go smoothly. The first thing I did was schedule two meetups on our Meetup page. The first meetup I scheduled was for the mentors. We wanted to get together and make sure we could walk through the NodeSchool workshops (which of only a few of the mentors have done) and get a base knowledge of what the answers were. I will go through a bit more detail of this meetup below... The second meetup was to notify NodeDC that there was a NodeSchool taking place.
The mentor meetup was awesome. We got about 8 of the 12 mentors together and walked through LearnYouNode. We were assuming that the majority of the attendees would start here, and many of the mentors have only rudimentary looked through this workshop. This was probably the single most helpful thing we did for NodeSchool since it gave us a look into what the attendees were going to be doing, it allowed us to work through the answers, and it made us realize how nontrivial LearnYouNode was. We were much more prepared for the event after this 2 hour meeting. I would highly suggest you get your mentors together before NodeSchool! It really helps. It was nice, we had someone who wasn't going to be a mentor but thought NodeSchool was that night show up. He left saying he felt much more comfortable with Node and was looking forward to the future Node Nights.
This meetup was scheduled, as I said above, to let the NodeDC meetup community know there was a NodeSchool scheduled to take place at NationJS. I thought this was going to be a great idea, but because NationJS was doing the ticketing and planning for the event, I didn't want people to sign up for the meetup and not the actual NodeSchool... so I locked this meetup to only the four organizers. What a mistake. We quickly learned that people do not read Meetup's event pages, and we were flooded with messages as to why this event was closed. Sure sending a note out linking the EventBright page is not hard, but I thought this meetup would explictly elevate that need. In actuality, I think this meetup probably did more worse than good and I would have just sent out an email to the NodeDC community instead. Lessons learned!
We wanted to put together a welcome document that would get the attendees to a comfortable place before the event. We were hoping to have everyone install Node.js and install at least LearnYouNode. To do this, I wrote up a quick gist which we had sent out to everyone that signed up. This document laid out the links required to install Node on the user's platform. It informed them on how to install the LearnYouNode workshop. And most importantly it reminded everyone that this event is suppose to be fun. We had great success with the preparedness of our attendees, and I lend a lot of it to this document. I cannot recommend something like this enough.
Other things that we did to prepare for NodeSchool was to create thumb-drives with all the relevant technology there. (Thanks Dan for the idea!) We had about 6 or so thumb-drives that included the Node.js binaries, and the three workshops we were planning on focusing on at NodeSchool. Having these thumb drives turned out to be invaluable since there were a few people that needed help setting up their environment and the conference wifi was terrible. Being able to set up people's environments without access to the internet should be a requirement when planning for NodeSchool!
All in all, I feel like we did a great job preparing for the NodeSchool event. NodeDC is lucky enough to have some very awesome people who really are passionate about Node, and without them this would have gone nowhere. It was also really important to prep as many people as you can before the event; make sure your mentors are familiar with the material and make sure the attendees have the required packages.
The event itself could not have gone any better. Most of the mentors showed up early to help set up the venue. We had internet in the beginning so we could nail down some last logistics and help the few earlybirds who came to get help with setting up their systems. We ended up with 13 mentors and 120 learnyounoders; I was shocked at the numbers! The plan was to start NodeSchool at 9:30am and work until lunch at 12:30pm. This gave the attendees about 3 hours to accomplish at least LearnYouNode. And after walking around observing the attendees, I feel like this was the perfect amount of time for a NodeSchool. Quite a few attendees were able to finish the LearnYouNode workshop before we had to break for lunch.
What I'd Change
As well as this NodeSchool event went, there are a few things I will do differently next time. One, I would really push for working internet. Not only was this a pain point when people came without their computer set up, but it was also a pain for people wanting to use the internet for research. However, this could also be seen as a positive, since I do think we got a lot more people interacting with each other with the lack of internet. Two, I would do a better job of outlining the expectations of NodeSchool. I think quite a few people came into NodeSchool thinking this would be an easy exercise in learning Node.js, but there's quite a bit of rigger build into each of these workshops. And lastly, I would definitely take some more time to script how I ran the NodeSchool. I felt that a lot of time when I spoke to the attendees, the point I was trying to get across was muddled. I knew I was going to be leading the event, but the severity of the event didn't hit me until it was too late and I was already talking into the microphone. These changes obviously didn't have too detrimental effect on the NodeSchool, but something to thing about for the next one.
I have to say I really enjoyed putting on NodeSchool. The workshops are an amazing way to get people into Node and I look forward to doing this again, better and stronger. I want to thank NationJS for this opportunity to pair up. And I would like to thank NodeDC and the wonderful, amazing people who helped organize and mentor this event. Until the next one!