The best-laid plans

An essential part of my networking and exposure plan is volunteering.

Volunteering serves a genius multipurpose function of meeting people already in tech, allowing access to otherwise unaffordable events, trying out new responsibilities in a lower-risk setting, and looking quite nice on LinkedIn. In addition, of course, to the usual do-goodiness appeal of helping people.

Sometimes, though, volunteering plans go awry, and you can't peace out of the event without seeming like a jerk. One such recent occurrence was at the Silicon Valley Robotics Robot Block Party, held at Circuit Launch in Oakland.

The plan was clever - my programming skills aren't yet up to hackathon speed, but I could get a hackathon on my profile ... by running one! So smart.

The robot block party was connected with three entities who would partner in setting up the hackathon for the event. For several weeks, I reached out to all of the contacts, attended volunteer meetings, had phone syncs. All was looking rosy.

Then one contact ghosted.

Then one contact pulled out of the block party to host their own event.

Then one contact decided to make their own hackathon. With blackjack. And hookers.

So it was that two days before the event, the hackathon idea was scrapped and I was put on "tech talks". No other information given. I located a spreadsheet with organizations who had expressed interest months earlier, but the contacts were unavailable.
Luckily, I have years of experience wrangling tech talks for Nerd Nite, so the day of the block party I hunted down the potential speakers and gently harassed them into sharing their bios. Tech talks proceeded without a hitch.

While this was a win for the event and the organizations involved, it was a disappointment for me. No hackathon progress, and no programming contacts made. No new experience gained. It was, essentially, a major time sink that cost me many hours of studying and networking. Unfortunately, the volunteer I had engaged to help also pulled out - she had been counting on getting hackathon experience as much as I had, and she had zero desire to sacrifice a day for no reason. Fair enough.

What are some takeaways everyone can benefit from?
1. Look for red flags early on. The chief organizer was harried and showed signs months in advance of being overburdened and under-equipped.
2. Pull out while you still can. With two days remaining before the event, it was too late for me to feel okay about bailing. But had the news come a few weeks earlier, I could have abandoned the ship I didn't sign up for and saved a lot of hassle.
3. Stick to engineering events. I don't care about robots. I care about software engineering. As soon as the hackathon was cancelled, nothing else about the event applied to my interests or goals. Had this been an engineering event, there would have been any number of other relevant opportunities.

Lesson learned! Although ... my virtual volunteer shift for the Berlin Node JS conference is coming up in a few days. So many red flags were waved yesterday - once again, too late to pull out without being a jerk. At least SmashingConf SF next month is guaranteed to be awesome!

Robot Block Par-tay