February 26, 2013

Barcamp Yangon 2013: A Personal Experience

Last month, my colleague at the iLab Southeast Asia and I were fortunate enough to attend BarCamp Yangon.  This was my second time participating in the event focused on spreading ICT knowledge throughout the country.  As part of the international network of BarCamp conferences, or rather “unconferences” as organizers refer to it, people from a variety of different backgrounds and geographies come together to create user-generated sessions focused primarily on technology and the web.

While Myanmar is not well known for their technological capacity, they are still responsible for putting on the largest BarCamp events in history. People come from all over the world to participate and I was happy to see lots of international participants (much more than when I was last here in 2011) as well as participants from high tech companies like Google and Firefox.  Having such a diverse community allowed me to connect with local Burmese startups as well as both local and international developers and BarCampers.

In terms of internet connectivity, Myanmar still has a very slow connection, but it is significantly better than before.  Back at BarCamp 2011, people had to go through a proxy to access basic services, like email and social networks. Now, that is no longer the case.  In addition to having more freedom online, the cost of a mobile SIM card has dropped down from $500 to around $20.  This is incredibly important since it’s a primary way for people to communicate.  It’s great to learn that communications and information sharing are growing!

As part of my contribution to the event, I gave a presentation about the technology community and start up scene in Cambodia.  It was a pleasure for me to speak about the InSTEDD iLab Southeast Asia as one of the examples of available resources for the region.

In addition to my presentation, I also spoke on a panel about developing a career through work experiences. Surprisingly, I was the only woman on the panel!  I’m hopeful that when I come next year there will be more women who are interested in IT who have something to share about their experiences that will be valuable to the participants.
In the interactive “Career Work and Experience” session, the panel speakers were from tech startups, developers, Googlers and more.

One of my favorite sessions was a joint session on the topic of “Women in Technology”.  The session was created by a group of Burmese women with the support of Emily Jacobi, the founder of Digital Democracy, and one of the BarCamp Yangon initiators.  As a woman in the male-dominated technology field, this session was personally very touching for me. And I wasn’t the only one.  During this session, several Burmese participants stood up and contributed their thoughts about the session as well.  I was only able to understand some of the session since it was primarily in Burmese, but it got me thinking that we need to have this type of session at the next BarCamp in Cambodia as well!
Htaike Htaike Aung – Program Manager of MIDO (Myanmar ICT for Development Organization ) writing down her session topic for the schedule board

Htaike Htaike Aung and Emily Jacobi, Founder of Digital Democracy, in their session on Women in Technology

Me sharing my experience of being a women in technology

From left, Pin and other burmese presenter in session Women in Tech

One of participant sharing her opinion in the Women in Technology session

Several of the people that I spoke to at the event told me that they would like to collaborate with the tech community throughout the region.  Specifically they would like to share resources and do online training sessions with the community groups in Cambodia.  The biggest obstacle that we face right now is that Myanmar still has a comparatively low level of internet connectivity, which will make conversations like through Skype or Google Hangouts difficult.

We are optimistic about the future of working together and hope that by the time we come back to Barcamp Myanmar that we will be able to develop more concrete community collaborations that carry on beyond the event weekend.

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