Angels at Chaos – about volunteering and fitting in
After three years of involuntary break the Chaos Computer Club finally could invite to the 37th Chaos Communication Congress (37C3) in Hamburg at the CCH. I was not attending but I was as part of the leadership of a team involved in some preparation. In the Call for Angels (volunteers helping out running the event) we asked for new people to join our team. As expected we got some emails from several folks asking to join. But we got more: Emails with a CV and a motivation letter. Those maps were by people attending the Congress for the first time and eagerly trying to contribute to the community. With some of them I wrote emails back and forth because I wanted to understand why they sent emails which read like applying for a job. After all these conversations I wrote the present text in which I try to lay out my understanding of volunteer work at a CCC event. The text could work as a general text for first time volunteers at an event from the wider Chaos family
Words of advice to new Angels at the Chaos Communication (Congress|Camp)
Welcome new Angel. Without our hundreds or even thousands of helping folks it would not be possible to make Congress or Camp happen. Thanks for joining our ranks!
As you might have seen there are many different shifts and roles for Angels of which some sounding more appealing than others. There are shifts where you need to have some knowledge before you can take them. This knowledge is given in introduction meetings or by taking an unrestricted shift in the team and getting trained on the fly. Heaven and the teams try to make sure that there are only restrictions for shifts in place where they are absolutely needed. Most restrictions really only need a meeting or some unrestricted shifts at the team to get lifted. Harder restrictions are in place where volunteers need to have special certification, get access to certain systems with a huge amount of data (e.g. mail-queues with emails from participants) or handling big piles of money.
I know especially the restricted shifts are tempting because after all we want to get the event running and do as much interesting stuff at the same time, aren’t we? From my personal experience what gets the event running are the most common things: Guarding a door, collecting bottle/trash, washing dishes in the Angel kitchen, being on standby to hop in when spontaneous help is needed or check the wrist bands at the entrance.
In 2023 I got many mails from folks applying as a first time Angel in my team. Most times just a few lines asking if it would be possible to join. I read some lines about their motivation and why they want to join the team. I read things like »I am curious about these tasks« or »I was some years in another team and just want to try out new things«. I liked these. I read about giving back to the community and helping out to make this event which feels like home getting done.
And I had some mails with an attached CV lying out computer skills (which most teams do not care about), prior and actual job and some corporate bullshit about personal growth and supporting the mission. I felt like an HR manager looking for the next working drone and got a little bit upset about this. Most of those applications came from folks attending the first time. Suddenly it got me: They just want to find a place in our community and want to give back (whatever that means).
I took my time to write back to these folks telling about how I see the volunteer work as an Angel and tried to give advice without killing their enthusiasm to help out. Disclaimer: other folks working at congress or camp may have other views on this topic.
My first advice: do not try to fit into special roles at your first event. The roles will find you – not the other way around. Our community is not about personal growing but about contributing to each other and growing by doing this.
I started as an angel watching a parking lot at CCCamp back in 2011. I did not think about how the event is run before and I certainly did not in this moment. From my point of view it was just right to help out because this community welcomed me just a few months ago warm hearted and helped me out more than one time (which is more than I could have ever thought taking in account what kind of person I was). I got a warning vest and a radio and some introduction to the job (guide arriving cars to the nearest empty space, guide leaving cars to the correct exit). it were the most boring two hours I had in a long time because no car was entering or leaving this lot. I did not know about the concept of Angels or anything about the Engelsystem, I just got hijacked by the person responsible for the parking lot. I made some bar shifts as well because I wanted to. I still knew nothing about the Engelsystem or Angel shirts for a certain amount of time helping.
I was a speaker at 28C3 and after checking in and getting my wristband I was asked to help out at the Speakers’ Desk (back then it just had the German name »Referentenbetreuung«). I helped out guarding a door as well which was quite fun because people always tried to take this door and I met more nice people in this two hours having good chats than every before in this small amount of time. At/right after this Congress my role found me and I joined the Speakers’ Desk as a regular angel.
Nothing of the things I did and still do as an Angel is about personal growth, for me it is about being part of something bigger as oneself. It is about living utopia, hacking technology, thinking and society. It is about sharing common values, arguing sometimes for years about those values and still bring a variety of people together.
My second advice: Be humble about the angel shifts you do and be proud about all the other things. There is no »who worked most hours«-contest. There is no glory in having 40 hours volunteering shifts in four days. But there is glory in giving 2 or 4 or a little bit more hours a day as an Angel and having time to make new friends, look at all the cool stuff that is happening, all the marvels and wonder created for a few days. We are at the Chaos Communication Congress|Camp and sometimes I suspect that especially first time attendees do not recognize the word »communication« in the name of the event. It is hard to communicate when doing 10hours shifts per day.
My third advice: the community is about contributing the things that are needed – not contributing what benefits me. We need communication. We need your thoughts and ideas even if some may say otherwise. Maybe you think by yourself »what do I have to contribute? I am not a hacker and I do not do special things«. Let me assure you: Hacking is more than doing computer stuff. Being a hacker is not being able to write code but to have a certain state of mind.
Contributing to this community is more than doing volunteer work. Contributing is looking with open eyes, listening with an open heart and thinking with an open mind to recognize all the astonishing things this world could offer to us if we would let it and talking about them to others.
I ask you to be yourself and try something new: guard a door or collect some bottles, empty the trash bins, guide people to the next toilet or help out in the Angel kitchen chopping vegetables. These ordinary work is giving more to community than my volunteer work could ever do. Thank you for being an Angel making this event possible.