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‘Geeks’ have their day at BarCamp Tampa Bay

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Published:   |   Updated: September 28, 2013 at 05:23 PM

TAMPA — Omar Stewart, a self-described “closet nerd” and “tech-head,” just moved to Tampa. When he heard about Saturday’s BarCamp Tampa Bay, he jumped at the chance to mingle with like-minded geeks at the University of South Florida.

By noon, he was at the controls of a robot rolling along the sidewalk behind USF’s Business Administration building, positioning the contraption to toss flying discs to some of its co-creators.

“I can’t believe these guys are in high school,” said Stewart, with a nod to a team from Hillsborough High’s robotics club. “I’m not big on robotics, but this is so cool.”

Robot-builders, code writers, Google Glass “explorers,” and about 750 others immersed in computers and technology turned a section of campus into nerd nirvana on Saturday, hearing presentations, talking tech and networking. “It’s all about sharing the information that you have,” said Susie Steiner, one of the event’s organizers.

“Organizer” may be a stretch when it comes to BarCamp. There’s not much structure — a board with rooms and time slots goes up at the beginning of the day, and volunteers scratch out subjects they want to present on a sticky note, and claim a room and time.

On Saturday, there were sessions on everything from “Crowdfunding” to “What Can Neuroscience Tell Us About Learning Online” to “Lessons from Game of Thrones.”

BarCamp veterans talked about “Philanthropic Capitalism” and “Building a Tech Ecosystem” while 11-year old Josh Kimble led a session on “mods” to the Minecraft video game.

Justin Downey, a first-year business student at USF, said he came “to meet incredible people.”

“Some of the most intelligent, ambitious, really innovative thinkers come to these events, and it’s awesome,” said Downey. “It’s amazing to be surrounded by people that have such a drive and such passion.”

While Downey watched a demonstration of a 3-D printer, the Hillsborough High whiz kids tinkered with a robot they will be entering in a series of competitions this fall.

“Since I was young I’ve always liked engineering,” said Ronald Allado, a senior. “This (building robots) has actually been a chance to apply these skills.”

Bruce Burke, chief marketing officer for Mize, a local provider of customer engagement applications and one of 8,000 Google Glass “explorers,” shared his thoughts on the intriguing eyeglass device with anyone who approached.

Bottom line? “It’s real light information,” he said. “If you just want to make some phone calls, send and receive some text messages, take some pictures, take some videos and get directions, it’s great. If you’re looking to create documents, create films and do heavier-weight stuff, it’s not for that.”

The first BarCamp was held in 2005 in California, and the events are now held around the world. The name is an obscure reference to computer programmers’ slang. “It’s not associated with drinking,” said Steiner. “A lot of people are like, ‘Ooh, Bar Camp, that sounds like fun.’ ”

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