Some get-togethers turn into dominance displays -- participants see each other as someone to defeat. We often see this pattern in technical spaces, such as conferences, mailing lists, programming classes, and code review. Skud's 2009 piece "The community spectrum: caring to combative" mentions a few groups who created caring technical subcommunities in response to a competitive or combative culture. Since 2009 we've seen more such efforts -- more and more tidepools where I feel welcome, where I gather strength between trips into the ocean.
Hacker School recognizes that dominance displays discourage learning. For years, Hacker Schoolers have worked to "remove the ego and fear of embarrassment that so frequently get in the way of education", to replace constant self-consciousness with a spirit of play. (Apply now for summer or fall!) During my batch, my peers and I balanced plain old webdev/mobile/etc. projects with obscure languages, magnificently silly jokey toys, and pure beauty. We made fun in our work instead of making fun of each other.
No one "wins" Hacker School. There is no leaderboard. Whenever possible, Hacker School culture assumes abundance rather than scarcity; attempts to rank projects or people would defile our ecology.
And now we have a conference, !!Con, with that same philosophy. It's by Hacker Schoolers but open to anyone* and encouraging talks by everyone.
I love that the !!Con organizers are designing this conference to inclusively celebrate what excites us about programming. If we learn and enjoy ourselves by writing implausible or derivative or useless or gaudy code, and by sharing it with others, the proper response is to celebrate. By focusing on sharing our personal experiences of joy, we let go of dominance-style objective ranking (which is impossible anyway), and instead celebrate a diverse subjectivity. The organizers' choices (including thorough code of conduct, welcoming call for proposals, and anonymous submission review) reinforce this.
I think about this stuff as a geek with many fandoms: programming, scifi, tax history, feminism, open source, comedy, and more. In the best fannish traditions, we see the Other as someone whose fandom we don't know yet but may soon join. We would rather encourage vulnerability, enthusiasm and play than disrespect anyone; we take very seriously the sin of harshing someone else's squee.
This is the fun we make. Not booth babes, not out-nitpicking each other, but wonder.
So, I'm submitting talks to !!Con, and I'm going to be there, May 17-18, soaking in this new warm mossy tidepool of love that's appeared right here in New York City. Join me?
* !!Con will be free to attend, but space will, sadly, be limited, as will the number of talks.