So what is a Dev Camp?

Luke Canvin
Devs at the OpenSocial Hackathon
Photo taken by Jason Cartwright at the OpenSocial Hackathon 2008

First, a little introduction might be useful. I’m Luke, a developer and product manager at Oxford Computer Consultants. We build web and software applications for a really wide range of clients all over the UK and further afield – you can take a look at the OCC site if you want to know more.

As part of my annual review process, this year I was particularly interested in finding new ways to give our developers a chance to express their creativity and to try out the very latest in web technologies; things we would not normally have the opportunity to implement as part of our client projects. Thanks to tight budgets and risk management, it’s often the case that we need to stick to what we know best when implementing a product, but it’s vital to be able to stretch your legs as a developer and find out what you can achieve with the latest tools. We must be continually learning.

I took inspiration from several companies that foster creativity through giving their staff time to explore with little or no constraint, allowing them to work on their own ideas in whatever way they’d like. This concept took many different forms, from annual hack-days, to Google’s 20%-time, but all of them had that freedom at their core.

So I put my idea to our directors like this:

Scheduling time away from employees’ usual project work to spend an amount of time to develop a start-up idea into a rough and ready product (be it software, a web app or site, etc.). I’m thinking about sessions of five days for teams of four or five people.

The idea is that this will have the following benefits:

  • Knowledge and the process of learning are both really exciting things to most developers. Time spent pushing the limits of what you can absorb and using that new knowledge in practice is essential and inspirational. Of course this new knowledge has a very real impact on what we can achieve as a company.
  • A change of scenery, away from the usual stresses and time on something a bit more fun and exciting. Giving our colleagues the chance to do something new, rejuvenating and hopefully staving off any boredom they may have in their current work.
  • Team-building; bringing people together from different parts of the company to learn more about what their colleagues are capable of and forming bonds, generating ideas that might not have existed before.
  • Pride and discovery of your abilities; a small team with a short time can do a lot, and the sense of achievement in creating their solution in such a short time can be a real boost to the team members.
  • Marketing! We can use these start-up projects to really show what we can do, getting word out, working on interesting ideas, writing about what we have done.
  • New products – last but not least, there’s every chance that these projects could be taken on and expanded into something more; products that we can sell. At the very least, the process of going through the idea-generation and realisation process will plant a seed in the mind of those that take part, which should see them more readily share the ideas they have for products with the company.

Those are six amazing benefits, any one of which would see this time well spent, so the directors were excited to see what we could do, and for us to share what we learnt.

How are we going to share?

Throughout the dev camp we’ll be writing about our decisions, our plans, the technologies we’re using and sharing as much of our process as possible.

We’ll do this primarily through the blog, but when the week’s over we’ll also put together a “show and tell” (which we have pretty regularly at OCC) to present what we have come away with, be that a product, new ideas, practical knowledge, or even a list of things we now know not to do…

How can you participate?

Everything we post here will have comments enabled, so please let us know your thoughts about what we write. If you have any tips, or want to know more, we want this whole thing to be as useful as it can to as many people as possible.