This fall, my employer sponsored me to attend Pycon Uk in the lovely Cardiff. This was my first experience at a developer conference and it was nothing short of awesome: I met a wonderful community, and left full of energy to try new things at work and personal projects.
While attending, I met Iacopo at a workshop and found out he was one of the organizers of Djangocon Europe for the 2017 edition. Being a fledgling Django developer myself, and totally not influenced by the fact that the conference would be hosted in Florence, I quickly gave him my email address and signed up as a volunteer, joining the organization's slack channel.
When the call for proposal was launched, a similar call for volunteers to help review and categorize the abstracts was also launched, and I got myself involved representing a beginner's point of view. As we're now getting closer and closer to the conference, it was suggested that, as the 'new guy', I wrote a small blog post on the experience.
I'd like to start by saying that, when I committed to review the talks, I was not expecting the sheer volume of proposals that eventually found their way to our inbox (and to be honest, I think nobody did!). This made the selection process all more delicate, and for that reason I'd like to use this blog post to illustrate how we went about choosing the final schedule, as I'm sure it can be interesting. Constructive criticism is very welcome!
Once drafted in the selection room, we were briefed on the process, and presented with the full list of all submitted proposals. We all read and know the code of conduct, but to eliminate as much bias (implicit or otherwise) as possible and judge all the proposal fairly, the list was stripped of the author's personal information and notes.
A first round of voting had the people of the panel go through the list individually, giving a simple -1, 0 or 1 vote to each proposal. I tried my best to promote submissions that were on topic, had a well-thought abstract, made their aim clear, and seemed to be well-suited for the 30 minutes time slot we had available.
After a few days to go through the submission and score them we had a conference call. We used this time to tally the votes and categorize the proposal in interest areas. This was very useful at later stages when we tried to achieve a balance, between technical and non-technical talk and between different aspects of the Django community.
During this call we also removed a few talks that we considered off-topic and a few talks that might be better suited as workshops. By the authors' request and permission, we also forwarded the proposals to PyCon Otto (and quite a few of them made into the final schedule!), and transferred the workshops to the appropriate selection.
We then proceeded to review and comment the top proposal together, discussing which one might suit the conference better. Looking back at the google sheet document, I count almost 50 proposal scored very high and still in the running at this stage.
A second meeting was scheduled after some more days, where we met to discuss once more the proposal, giving some more though to proposals with lower score that individual reviewer felt were being wrongly overlooked.
We also revealed the author names to make sure we were not scheduling two talks from the same person. The result of this - at times heated! - discussion was the final shortlist. The list of selected speaker was then sent to the DSF Code of Conduct commitee for the final vetting and then everything was ready to make it live!
The final schedule is, I think, a nice overview of Django and its many aspects, with a slight focus on the ORM and on themes pertaining the conference manifesto. BTW, if you haven't read it yet, go and do that!
I already said that we were overwhelmed with the community's response to the call for proposal, and I was not overstating that. We received over 150 proposals, and initially had about 25 slots to fill. This meant discarding 80-85% of the entries...it goes without saying, that was HARD. We ended up squeezing Iacopo and the poor people at Fuzzy Brains dry for a few extra slots, and shortening the lunch break a bit just to fit more speakers (sorry.).
A dense program will mean we'll end up spending a lot of time in the theater rather than playing tourist around the city. There is a fine line to walk between 'too few' and 'too many' talks, but I think this schedule is well worth the sacrifice. Beside, the forecast at the time of writing tell us that it’s going to be a bit rainy anyway