A Brief History of CODECABIN

CODECABIN is a weekend retreat for Umbraco developers, following the unconference style of learning, sharing and community growth.

How did CODECABIN come about?

We set up this event back in 2016, together with fellow Umbraco dev Lee Kelleher, after years of procrastination about how it would be great to part of such an experience. We were inspired by many of the Umbraco conferences and festivals we had attended over the years, such as Code Garden and UK Fest. However the elements that really struck a chord with us were the in-between bits. Those ‘down-time’ moments where we could catch up with old friends, new faces and get into more in-depth discussions, sharing knowledge and learning new tricks. And if time allowed, whip out the laptop and have a bit of a hack-a-bout with some fellow devs (after-all, it’s how the best packages are made!). However, with little time available we found these moments to be few and far between. So the idea behind CODECABIN is to maximise on these moments by making the whole weekend about open discussion and learning.

How Does CODECABIN work?

With only two CODECABIN weekends under our belts we have yet to get the perfect ‘formula’ for the sessions. The format is pretty loose, with opportunity for attendees to choose topics for discussion via the open circle on the first night, which goes something like; everyone writes topics of interest on Post-it Notes, which are collated and then voted for by the whole group to fit into time slots already allocated (usually 1 session in the morning, 2 in the afternoon). This also allows for downtime and opportunity for people to choose other things to do, whether that be smaller group discussions on other subjects, a show and tell or heading out for some fresh air to clear their head-space.

For the first year, back in 2016, this format worked quite well, which the venue helped to facilitate given it had multiple spaces for attendees to congregate. For the second CODECABIN in 2017, our venue was a vast improvement in terms of facilities (bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchen), however there was only one main room for people to reside during sessions. And while it did have some ‘separation’ in that one area of the room was ‘dining’ and other a lounge area, there wasn’t that chance for attendees to escape to another room indoors, without retreating to their bedroom. Outside would have been an option, however it did rain for the majority of the weekend (hello British weather!).

Each year we have sent out feedback forms to our attendees which are proving invaluable as we enter the planning phase for the next CODECABIN. It’s clear an open circle works for choosing subjects, but we do need to have some topics chosen prior to the event to allow ideas to flourish along with preparation, which would help to foster more hacking sessions between attendees. We already set up a Slack channel for attendee introductions, travel planning assistance and any other queries. So this would be a great place to start having conversations over topics and ideas ahead of the event. We could even use Trello to log ideas and gain votes to choose the main sessions.

What makes a good venue for the event?

We’re already on the hunt for the next venue, with hopefully a few that we like so we can book a year or so in advance. We have a number of requirements we need to meet when selecting accommodation for the weekend. We now realise that bunk style sleeping arrangements, whilst suitable for some, are in fact too off putting for many. Going forward there will still be a need to share a room, but our aim is for two people per bedroom, maximum four (as most places have some rooms with 2 singles and a bunk bed), as well as en-suite where possible. Budget plays a big part in getting the right place. We run this event as a not-for-profit, with ticket sales covering the cost to hire the venue, food, drinks and any equipment needed. We endeavour to keep costs to a minimum, however ticket prices may fluctuate to reflect to costs involved on any given year.

Since we cater the whole weekend (find some of Lucy's recipes here) with continental breakfasts, luxury sandwich platters, home-cooked evening meals, snacks and beverages, we have a number of stipulations for kitchen facilities. We need to be within range of receiving supermarket food deliveries and within reasonable driving distance of somewhere to purchase catered sandwiches for lunches. We also need ample refrigeration for all the food and drink, space to prepare, cook and serve meals and wash up (ideally dishwashers) for the whole weekend. It also needs to be big enough for people to hang out in there as well. The kitchen tends to be a place people want to congregate or take a little break. Plus Lucy likes a chat and get a hand with serving the food and clearing down.

Where does CODECABIN take place?

Initially we hoped (and still would like to) move the event around the country so there's an opportunity for people to attend if it's in their neck of the woods, keeping travel costs down and to not be a London-centric event. However we are at the mercy of wherever we find a suitable property. That said, we have had a number of attendees from overseas, which is very encouraging!

We ideally like to have a venue in a rural location. We feel this provides the opportunity for attendees to head out and enjoy the countryside should they wish to. The slight downside to a countryside setting is the potential for poor Wi-Fi. For our first year we booked a cabin set in woodland and we had been warned that Wi-Fi was intermittent, however we didn’t experience any issues over the weekend. The second year in rural Derbyshire (near Buxton) we had the same warning and the Wi-Fi turned out to be very poor, in-fact it was non-existent most of the time. At first this was a bit of a sore point, along with the fact there wasn’t really a phone signal unless you headed out and up a near-by hill, but people soon began switch off from social media and other external distractions, really taking part and getting fully involved. Many fed back that this, whilst not planned, was actually quite refreshing. We do however understand that Wi-Fi and more importantly a phone signal, is needed from a safety perspective to allow attendees to check in with loved ones. It isn’t always in our control, but is an element we will look for when choosing a venue. 

What's next for CODECABIN?

Our plan is to keep this annual event going, so long as we get the response we've had so far. It does take a lot of hard work to pull it off, but it is more than worth it to see so many enjoy themselves, learn new things and head home with a sense of community. As we look forward to the third CODECABIN we will be mindful of all the feedback we have had and we will aim for another successful weekend for all, strengthening the Umbraco community, propagating ideas and making new friends. 

Will we see you at CODECABIN '18?