The following is an edited interview with Chris Thalinger, the founder of LavaOne being held on the beautiful island of Oahu in Hawaii.
JM This is the second year of LavaOne. What was and is your vision behind starting this unconference?
CT Having lived in Hawaii, and noticing that more workers are remote, I thought it would be great to put Hawaii on the map. Hawaii is mainly known as a tourist destination and I wanted to start an event that would let local college students see that something is happening here. I want to help the local Hawaiian community get better jobs on the island.
JM You are building a community here, what word in the Hawaiian language reflects this?
CT It is probably Ohana. Ohana means family, but it can extend beyond that to include members who cooperate with one another, and that is exactly what we do.
JM What are the challenges you are facing to start a community here?
CT Just the name “Hawaii” has a stigma attached to it. As Hawaii is a tourist destination, it is seen as just a place for having fun on the beach. I want to turn that around. I want Hawaii to be perceived like any another state which has a technology hub.
JM If you were to try and capture the state of affairs of Hawaii technology wise and socially how would you describe it?
CT There are at least three universities in Hawaii and each has a Computer Science department, which is awesome. The challenge is that to get goods jobs, people go to the mainland and so we have a brain-drain going on. Also with Hawaii being a tourist destination, everything is expensive, that makes it harder for locals. There are people coming from the mainland to retire here, and the twist is, as it is getting too expensive here local retirees are moving away from the island and going to the mainland.
JM How are you reaching out to the developer community and college students?
CT When I first started this, it was very hard to reach developers. Over time I am learning about the different channels, everything from Slack, to 1990s Bulletin boards and more.
JM Are you modeling this unconference after another event?
CT JCrete is an uncoference that happens on the island of Crete in July. I thought it would be great to do something in January on another island, in this case it is in Oahu.
JM Looking ahead how do you see the event going forward?
CT Besides having an increasing number of participants and after reaching a certain threshold we may alternate the conference vs unconference format. To get more college student participation we may have to move from North Shore and closer to Honolulu where the universities are.
JM For those who read this blog post and want to help, what are the kind of activities that you would like to kick off to help build this community?
CT It would be great if we could have a Java User Group or for folks to do Meetups. It requires local participation and for folks to take it on.
JM If people want to reach you, what is the best way for them to connect with you?
CT @christhalinger or firstname.lastname@example.org