Why I Volunteer For The Big Android BBQ: Aaron Kasten

When I asked the team to write down why they volunteer so many hours for an event they hardly get to enjoy, I wasn’t thinking that I needed to write my own as well. They made sure I knew I needed to though.

When I sat down to outline what I wanted to say I realized I had a very complicated answer. This was not going to be an easy assignment. I am going to lay it all on the table, the good, and the bad.

Why I lead the organization of the Big Android BBQ has changed significantly over the years. I think this event takes more time, effort, and emotional energy than most people realize. It’s not easy, and it’s certainly not as easy as I thought it would be when I had the idea walking down the street in San Francisco during my first Google I/O in 2010.  I’d had so much fun meeting many amazing people and absorbing all the interesting information, that I thought it would be great to offer something more accessible to anyone that might like to go.  Knowing nothing about event planning and little about community management, social networking, and marketing in general, I decided to see what a motivated enthusiast could do.  I put a post out on twitter to see if anyone was interested and received pretty positive feedback.  So I reached out to one of my best friends Keivan Askari to see if he would cook the food and provide his backyard for what we called our Beta BBQ (we even had shirts)  It was great, I think there were 14 of us.  Everyone paid $25 to cover the cost of the shirt, beer and meat.  Some people even brought food and drinks to share with others. We spent the evening hanging out, eating some delicious home cooked BBQ, talking about android, and sharing our experience with others on Twitter and FaceBook.  It was a small get together but it set the stage for bigger things to come.

Aaron cruise 001

In the days following the Beta BBQ the social networks were buzzing. Others wanted to join us and share their love of Android.  I hit Twitter again contacting any Android Media site I could find.  I knew if we were going to do this we would need their support.  Then I met TheDroidGuy (I know some of you will cringe reading that name) but the truth is the Big Android BBQ would not be where it is today if he had not helped me that first year.  His tenacity, marketing and social media experience gave us access to companies I had no idea how to contact.  As I have said, we have no company backing and do not charge attendees enough to cover costs.  I knew from day one we needed sponsors.  For all his faults, the one thing TheDroidGuy could do was bring in sponsorship.  With his help that first year we pulled it off, not without problems, but we made it.  Anyone remember the pizza and laser tag party?  That was hard night for me. However, by the end of the event we had all had so much fun and the event was such a great success that I knew I had to do it again. I also knew I had to have more of Ray Walters and Keivan Akari’s amazing and delicious BBQ.

There were some tough times. I lost a lot of motivation when a significant portion of our funds were misused prior to kicking off the second Big Android BBQ. Fortunately, we were able to get the money back and I learned some valuable lessons at a minimal cost.  I formed a new team, and took complete control over all finances. Russell Holly came on board in a big way for the next BBQ, along with several others, but they will be telling their own stories so I will leave that to them.  This go around we added sessions! Something our sponsors had expressed interest in and that we thought would benefit our attendees.  We were still an enthusiast driven conference but the 2011 Big Android BBQ really marks the beginning of our transition to a conference with a focus on developers. As I said, we rely on our sponsors and if developers is what they really want, we need to try to satisfy that without losing sight of what we are; an Android event for everyone that loves Android.  Thanks to Russell and Stacie Dauffenbach we were able to just barely achieve our sponsorship needs.  I’d love to tell you all about the 2011 BBQ but I honestly don’t remember it.  It’s like a foggy nightmare I have tried to forget about. I did not have a good time. I was miserable.  I’m not sure what happened, but I think I forgot how to manage and was suddenly doing everything myself.  There were so many crazy issues, like city burn bans due to an insane Texas drought. That was a pretty big problem when you plan to smoke meat for about 800 people. Bussing people to Fiesta Gardens and coordinating the sponsors became a logistical nightmare due to poor communication. If you were at the 2011 event you might remember a constantly moving blur, that was me. By the end of the 2011 Big Android BBQ I was done.  There were not going to be any more Big Android BBQs.  I felt I was putting in way too much work and getting nothing out of it. I wasn’t even able to enjoy the event I was organizing.

The next several months were very hard for me.  I stopped talking to almost everyone and I disappeared from social networks. I often wouldn’t respond when friends attempted to contact me.  I was depressed.  I had spread myself too thin.  I tried to get involved in too many small businesses and I was burnt out. I had failed. Or at least I felt that way....

Thanks to some truly magnificent friends and my loving family, in March 2012 I started to break out of my funk.  I still was pretty sure I didn’t want to organize the BBQ again and I was no longer involved with all of the companies I was part in 2001, so I started trying to figure out what to do.

I remember I was in a Google Hangout with Michael Lipson talking about how I didn’t want to organize the Big Android BBQ anymore but felt an obligation to do it because of the wonderful group of people it brought together.  I just couldn’t deal with the issues of planning it in Austin anymore.  Maybe if I could do it a little closer to home, indoors, at a location that could take a lot of the burden off of me...  maybe... yeah, maybe that could work.  So I started looking for locations closer to me in the Dallas Fort Worth area.  Like a beacon of hope right here in the suburb I lived in was the brand new Hurst Conference Center. It was beautiful and it was a good size for us to grow into.  The Hurst CC would take care of all the little things like restroom facilities, trash, power and internet. All the things I had to handle when planning the event at an outdoor park.  I started to believe this could actually work.  Then Michael made his biggest mistake. He told me he would take on as much responsibility as he could, to take some pressure off of me, and become a sort of co-lead organizer.  He saved the Big Android BBQ that day. I don’t think he regrets it, but he has quit on me at least a dozen times since.  Fortunately he was never serious, or if he was, he didn’t follow through.  Once we confirmed the Hurst Conference Center was available to us it was time to get rolling.  Russell and Stacie rocked sponsorship like never before. Moving into a facility like the Hurst Conference Center significantly increased our operating costs. And because after every previous event Ray Walters looked like he was ready to die from exhaustion, I decided we were going to let the Conference center handle the food for 2012. I still think this was the right decision for 2012, but looking back I wish I hadn’t made it.  We lost something in 2012, it’s hard to nail down exactly what it was, but it wasn’t the same.  It could have been the move indoors, or the catering, or the greater focus on developers.  In reality it was probably just the insane 2+ hour raffle that just wouldn’t stop.  I think despite whatever it is I feel we lost, what we gained significantly overshadows it.  The Big Android BBQ grew up in 2012.  There were about 30 sessions and we had some really great sponsors, as always. All-in-all, things ran pretty smooth.  Other than the crazy raffle and after party food, I have no negative memories.  In fact, I had a wonderful time! I had a great team that was running things smoothly and problems were solved before I even knew they existed.  John Katzman and my mother handled our volunteer teams wonderfully.  Registration was also smooth and we even had a working wireless internet connection the second day! There was no doubt in my mind at the end of the 2012 Big Android BBQ that we would be back in 2013.

So here we are 2013. Things are still a lot more difficult than I want them to be.  Finding sponsors and selling out tickets is still a struggle. But I don’t do this because it is easy, I don’t do it to promote a company I work with, I don’t do it because I get paid (because I don’t), and I don’t do in some hope that it will lead me to greater things (I gave up on that in 2012).  I organize the 2013 Big Android BBQ because it is fun.  Because I truly love the people I get to work with on this project.  Because I am excited to meet with this team every Wednesday and chat with most of them daily.  Because without the BBQ I don’t get to talk to them as much as I do when we are working on it.  And most importantly, I am organizing the 2013 Big Android BBQ for you.  If you made it this far into this ridiculously long post, you care.  That is what motivates me now.  The passion and the love for others that, sadly, is only visible in the Android world a few times a year. I believe the Big Android BBQ is not only one of those times, but also our shining and defining moment.  When people who argue on forums and social networks come together to have a good time, learn valuable information, and remind ourselves we are all human behind the keyboard.

We have some very exciting announcements yet to come.  We try to grow this event in new ways every year and very soon we will be announcing what could be our most exciting addition ever.  Tickets are still available over on our eventbrite page, and although we’ve sold out one hotel, there are two more that are equally as great.

I hope to see you at the 2013 Big Android BBQ. I’ll be the guy having a great time enjoying the show. Please make sure to come up and introduce yourself.

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