Journey into preparing to host and facilitate the first Coderetreat in Crete

I don’t remember how I first heard of Coderetreats, but I remember it was around 9 months ago, in February of 2019. I really liked the idea of a one day event where you write code paired with others and basically learn through playing, but there was one tiny problem. The only place in Greece where a Coderetreat was hosted until then was Thessaloniki, which is 855km North of Heraklion, where I live.

I spoke to a friend, Yorgos Saslis, who also lives in Heraklion and has a lot of related experience. He suggested I could start by joining him in being an organiser for our local Software Crafters community where I already was a member. If I felt being up to it, we could organise the Coderetreat by November.

That’s what I did and I successfully organised 3 meetups between May and September. They needed some serious preparation, and I felt discouraged in the first one where only 2 people showed up. But things got better and more people came for the second, and even more showed up in the third event.

When a couple of participants asked if we were thinking on organising a Coderetreat, that’s when I started to think that maybe the time to begin had come.

I still didn’t know what needed to be done. Thankfully some experienced Coderetreat organisers were providing free online training sessions. So I participated in one where Raimo Radczewski gave us some valuable insight on what we need to know if we want to organise a Coderetreat. Two challenges appeared from this. First that it’s not ideal to prepare one if you haven’t participated in one before. And second, that you need at least 6 participants (so people will have the chance to create different pairs every time).

I couldn’t do much about the second, besides trying to advertise the event and then cross my fingers, but I could do more about the first challenge.

Oh! And one extra challenge was that Yorgos would be in Romania to give a talk in a QA & Testing Conference, so I was all by myself.

Preparation as a host

  • I found a venue, our local Software Crafters community’s beloved Office12. They would not only provide the place, but also be responsible for food and drinks.
  • I found a sponsor, the company I work for, Jadu, who didn’t think twice about signing up ❤.
  • I took seriously into account our Greek way of life and decided to begin the event at 10:00 and not earlier, if I ever wanted anyone (including myself) to show up.
  • I announced the event exactly a month before.
  • I tested the coderetreat booths, because connecting with other cities around the world and feeling the magic of the Coderetreat is beautiful.
  • I gathered pens, post-its and other necessary merchandise.
  • A week before the event, I arranged catering services for our lunch and contacted all participants asking for their food of choice.

Preparation as a facilitator

  • I read as many articles as I could about Coderetreats.
  • I was watching closely both #coderetreat and #gdcr channel of Software Crafters Slack. Many interesting conversations and ideas where posted there, from other facilitators worldwide.
  • And most importantly people were sharing material (someone even crafted and shared GDCR stickers!) and notes on that channel. I read these notes carefully, which were full of very useful guidelines.
  • Of course, I tried to write my own Game of Life code. I used Cyber-Dojo for that, so I could tackle knowing this platform and making sure it can be used by participants who don’t have the time to setup their own environment, or want to explore other languages.

I’m embarrassed to say that compared to the previous smaller scale events I had organised, I wrote the least code for this one. Nothing to be proud of, but it’s the best I could do within the 24 hours I had each day to work, spend time with my family, prepare for GDCR and sleep.

  • One of the most valuable advice I heard on my training session was not deciding which constraints to set in advance, because it’s best to observe the participants and decide on the spot which one would be more suitable for them next. That’s why I only prepared my first constraint, and I tried to remember most of them, so it would be easier for me to decide. I really think that setting the constraints is maybe the core of a Coderetreat day, so I spent a lot of time on preparing this one.
  • I tried to play in my head what the day would be like from the beginning to the end, so it would be easier for me to spot the things I could have missed.
  • I made a presentation of the things I would say as an introduction, and updated it through the day of the event with the constraints I decided to put. That way the participants could easily check the projector and remember exactly what the current constraint was.
  • I read and kept notes of possible topics we could discuss on the retrospectives.
  • I wrote on paper some rules of programming principles (like SOLID, Law of Demeter etc) and hung them around the room, so participants could see and remember them through the day.

The big day

Ιt all went well even with 7 people. The success is not based on the quantity of the participants, but on their enthusiasm.

The day passed very fast, we talked, wrote code, ate, had fun, and most importantly people learned things! I know they would learn more from an experienced facilitator, but if you think about it, there were no experienced facilitators in 2009 when the first Coderetreat happened.

Hopefully this is only the beginning of a series of Coderetreats in our small Mediterranean island. I can’t wait to see it happening again next year, hopefully facilitated by someone else, so I’ll have the chance to participate this time!

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