Those words came from the mouth of my line manager today. In speaking the words, I supposed there was an undeclared but intimated indictment of the way I chose to spend my Saturday - at an 'unconference' relating loosely to my work, along with 200 or so other people, who had chosen to do exactly the same.
In the process of explaining, I realised something. Well actually, I realised a lot of things. And it seems important to share those things, because if we truly are to expand the circles that the camp and unconference encompass then we are going to be increasingly asked to explain and justify why we choose to do what we do.
Some people work in central or local government because it's a job. It pays bills. It puts a roof over families heads. And some of us don't. We work as an extension of an ever ongoing internal conversation which looks at processed, workflows, systems and services and wants to make them better. The motivation for this questioning is as varied as the type of person you will find doing the asking, but one thing unites us all - passion. A pride and love in what we do, and why we do it and an increasingly unashamed attitude to collaboration and sharing. A determination to be part of the conversation which defines where we go in future and how we get there.
So, the question then becomes, how do you share that with people? How do you explain that talking about how to make things better and sharing ways of solving problems can make deliver you back at your desk on a Monday morning with a new way of looking at the world and with a new assurance that you are on the same page and that you are not walking alone. How do you explain that time passed so quickly while you were at the unconference that somehow you missed lunch and never noticed, that you wanted to clone yourself 3 times over because there were Unlibrary sessions mixed with Flickr sessions and Open Street Map sessions mixed with hyperlocal and there was so much to learn that you'd go again and again and again and give up more Saturdays to heasr it all.
How do I explain to someone that's never experienced the wonder of seeing a grid of 50 empty sessions magically fill in seconds because so many people have something to say but also something to ask and that this is amazing, that yes, some of those people are selling services quietly, be it their own or their companies, but in the majority, expertise and learning is given freely and with no other motivator than that it is a cool thing to do.How do I explain the relief in finding other people just like me, who want to change the world a bit, want to think about how to do that in all seriousness, a group of people who create buzz and enthusiasm, who are Italian with their hands, French in their passion, but terribly British in their ability to queue? So many personalities, so many hubs, so many interpreters, willing to share and be questioned?
Then there's the fact that egos are checked at the door. That job titles are never referred to, only Departments and then only if it's relevant. The liberation of being able to speak freely of problems, but also of successes, of being able to share workarounds and say 'we tried this, it didn't work, if you decide to go for it, try this instead'.
But most of all, the very most of all, how do I explain that I am a different person, almost entirely because of an unconference called City Camp, where I met some people I'd never normally meet, who blew my mind with their simple assumption that the world will change and it will be a good one. That this weekend was an entirely different experience to that weekend but that one could never have happened without the other, that the gift for a shy person of being able to choose and sit quietly and listen, and that that shy person will grow, grow up and start to contribute, will sit and listen but also say something if relevant, that finally, after years of trying and trying, confidence has landed in a lap which had almost given up all hope, that the professional development which I have obtained at these events for free is only counteracted by the personal development which I have taken away with me as I have walked a little taller day by day as I have realised that I do not know everything, but that I do know something - how do I explain that?
Well, I suppose with a blog post. One which comes as a result of a government camp I wasn't even supposed to be at but where I was welcomed, and learnt so very much, about facilitating, project managing, presenting, public speaking, sheep herding, as well as the more obvious things like Agile system design and how to encourage people to get blogging. For free.
Why should you attend an unconference? Because it will change the way you see your job. Your desk. Your team. Your Department. Your role in the behemoth which is government. Because you will feel like your voice is heard, no matter how small and insignificant. But also because you will learn from the very best - because (this girl excepted, I'm still learning) only the very best turn up on a Saturday. Only the best bother.
But it rubs off.
And glitter has a habit of sticking.