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131

131 JSJ Conferences & Meetups with Dave Nugent


02:10 – Dave Introduction

02:32 – Chuck’s JavaScript Mobile RoundTable – November 5th

  • Text “MobileJS” to 38470

03:17 – Conferences and Meetups

04:06 – Forward 2

05:39 – Setting Your Event Apart

07:07 – Changing Conference Formats

09:34 – Conference Goals

  • Networking

10:46 – Multi-track Conferences vs. Single-Track Conferences

13:42 – Dave’s First Big Conference

  • Starting with Conferences

15:05 – Finding Speakers

  • Discussion Topics
  • Call For Papers (CFP)
  • Agile Methodology
  • Motivation
  • Diversity
  • JavaScript Meetup (see above link)

17:53 – Encouraging Diversity

19:18 – Running a Conference vs. Running a Meetup

24:35 – Mistakes During Conference Organizing

27:11 – Practicing Talks and Giving Feedback

33:36 – Increasing Diversity – Reaching Out

  • Scholarships and Invitations

35:39 – Diversity Goals

36:33 – Making Conferences Memorable

39:27 – Making the Most of the Event

40:16 – International Audiences

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TRANSCRIPT

CHUCK:  Autobots, roll out!!

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CHUCK:  Hey everybody and welcome to episode 131 of the JavaScript Jabber Show. This week on our panel, we have Dave Smith.

DAVE S:  Hello world from beautiful Paris, France.

CHUCK:  Jamison Dance.

JAMISON:  Hey everyone.

CHUCK:  Joe Eames.

JOE:  Hey there.

CHUCK:  I’m Charles Max Wood from DevChat.TV. And we have a special guest today, and that is Dave Nugent.

DAVE N:  That’s me.

CHUCK:  Do you want to introduce yourself really quickly, Dave?

DAVE N:  Sure. I’m Dave Nugent. I work at a company called PubNub. And what I do for fun is organize JavaScript meetups and conferences.

CHUCK:  Awesome.

JAMISON:  I didn’t know you worked at PubNub. I’ve used PubNub a ton at work.

DAVE N:  Oh, really?

JAMISON:  Both cursed and praised its name.

DAVE N:  Oh, my condolences.

[Chuckles]

CHUCK:  Before we get started, there is one thing I want to announce. And that is that I’ve been talking to the people who do the JavaScript mobile frameworks like Cordova, Ionic, Famo.us, and if you want to go to a round table where they’re all going to be there discussing what options you have, then you can actually do that. If you text the keyword ‘MobileJS’ to 38470, then you’ll get a reply text message that gives you information on how you can show up for that. It’s going to be on November 5th. And yeah, you’ll get more details if you text in. So, I just wanted to put that out there because I know a lot of people are trying to figure out which ones they want to use and which ones they’re interested in.

So anyway, let’s go ahead and talk about conferences and meetups.

DAVE S: Yay.

CHUCK:  So Dave, what conferences and meetups are you responsible for?

DAVE N:  So, I run the JavaScript meetup in SF and then also Forward, which is a conference about web technologies.

JAMISON:  Oh, cool. I didn’t know you ran ForwardJS either. I guess I didn’t know anything about you. So, everything you say I don’t have to say, “Oh cool, I didn’t know that.”

[Laughter]

CHUCK:  It’s just implied, right?

JAMISON:  Yeah, yeah.

DAVE S:  So, if Dave says something that you do know, you should say, “Oh cool, I knew that.”

CHUCK:  Hey, there we go.

[Laughter]

DAVE N:  Did you know JavaScript is a programming language on the internet?

JAMISON:  I thought it was on computers.

[Laughter]

DAVE N:  Oh man, I’m doing so bad at this.

JAMISON:  And I’m [unintelligible] of the difference between computers and the internet.

JOE:  I heard they have the internet on computers now.

JAMISON:  I thought, oh.

DAVE N: That’s heresy.

CHUCK:  No, not computers. So, ForwardJS. So, what’s the focus of the conference? You said web technologies, but usually there’s some kind of focus or message or something like that that the conference is trying to promote and put out.

DAVE N: Yeah, absolutely. So, part of it is that we definitely want to help push the web forward. So, anything that we can do around open standards, the open web JavaScript languages and also just helping people understand that they can build pretty awesome things without necessarily using tens of thousands of frameworks or products. So, we definitely have an affinity towards language talks as opposed to necessarily products.

CHUCK:  Interesting.

JAMISON:  Can you maybe talk about how you chose what to focus on and why you did that instead of just, “We’ll make a conference about the web”?

DAVE N:  Yeah, yeah. I’m sure everyone here has been to a bunch of different events where you’re like, “Wow. How did this person get up on stage and talk?” And it turns out that a lot of times, they’ll pay for it or they’ll just have a product that they want to promote. And then at the end of the talk, you’re like, “Oh man. I just wasted 30 minutes of my life right there. [Chuckles] So, our goal was a bit of a reaction towards that, because there really are a lot of super smart people out there doing really interesting things that you want to hear about. So, it’s a little bit reactionary. But then also, we’re just big fans of JavaScript and the open web, functional programming, different weird programming techniques that might not get an airing at a big conference. And so, we wanted to give those more exposure.

JAMISON:  It seems like there’s a proliferation of JavaScript-related events right now. And you have to focus or there’s no reason for people to attend your event because there are dozens and hundreds, especially if you’re around San Francisco. There are so many JavaScript events that if it’s just, “Hey, this is another JavaScript conference,” why would you go to this one over other ones? Do you agree with that?

DAVE N:  Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, you definitely have to set your event apart somehow.

JOE:  I’m going to offer a counterpoint to that, because I think there are lots of JavaScript events that are general and they still do well, right? Like MountainWest JS and Texas JS. Even JSConf is just… well I guess JSConf has sort of got a theme like they only have talks that have nothing to do with what’s been going on previously. It’s brand new stuff.

DAVE N:  Yeah, totally. I don’t think you necessarily have to limit yourself as far as the type of talks you select, but having a theme to your event and also making sure that you’re true to that. I think definitely, it comes across to the attendees. We’re definitely having a lot easier time getting attendees for our second event after the positive feedback of our first event. So, I think there’s definitely a place for things like ng-conf. But there’s still a place for more general conferences. We’re also going to have talks about the overall culture of technology, working with teams. So, it’s definitely not just focused on JavaScript.

JAMISON:  So, this is the second time you’re going through this conference. What things are you doing differently? So, I know that sometimes conferences tend to expand in scope and scale, get more larger and more extravagant as they go. But are there things that you would have done in your first run through that you know now? So, not things that are like, “We’re going to have a live band come, get helicoptered into the stage because we have all this money now.” But I don’t know. Does that question make sense?

DAVE N:  Yeah, yeah, totally. So, we’re using a zeppelin instead of a helicopter, but your ideas are totally legit.

JAMISON:  Okay.

DAVE N:  But no, we actually are dialing it back a little bit in terms of we’re going to expand the number of people who we can fit into the venue but we’re decreasing the number of tracks from four to three. Last time we tried to go with four tracks because we wanted to have some smaller rooms where we had more esoteric talks so that people could potentially give a talk at a big event without necessarily having to appeal to everybody there.

This time we’re actually just going to do three rooms that are going to be slightly bigger And we’re going to shorten the length of the talks slightly with the idea, hopefully true, that if you take a 40-minute talk and condense it down into 30 minutes you’re going to distill out the best 30 minutes of that talk. And at the same time, we’re also increasing the number of attendees but keeping it artificially low. Like we probably could sell about twice as many tickets and we’re specifically trying not to. And then the last thing is we’re also [chuckles] limiting the number of sponsors that we have. We don’t want to sign up more than probably half a dozen sponsors just to make sure there’s not a tradeshow type vibe.

JOE:  So, interesting. You said quite a few points that really interest me. And obviously, I’m involved in ng-conf. I’m involved in a little local Utah JS conference. And then I’m also an organizer for LoopConference, which is a WordPress conference. And so, we’ve made some of the same decisions and some very different decisions from what you described. For example, the talk length. With ng-conf we went with mostly 20-minute talks. And we found that to be very effective. A lot of content, a lot of talks were given. Whereas with Utah JS, we go with a longer talk, like 45-minute talks. And it’s interesting to see the contrast between the two.

You can go through a lot more and you can show a lot more, but it’s probably about the same amount of content, just a little bit more complete coverage or maybe people feel a little bit more comfortable with what you talk about. But I get the feeling that when you go to a conference, what you’re not looking for is how to do something but instead the idea that something can be done. And then you go home and you figure out how to do it at that point.

DAVE N:  Yeah, I think everybody has a different goal when they attend a conference. A lot of people are just looking for networking. A lot of people want to deep dive into a specific subject matter. I think that’s why these focused conferences work really well. You could have an entire conference about Angular and just different aspects of it. Or, you can just have a 20-minute talk, sort of like an overview of the current Angular ecosystem. And each of those approaches I think is equally valid. They just appeal to different audiences.

We actually are splitting up some of our 30-minute slots into two 12-minute talks. And there will be people that give really, really awesome 12-minute talks. Previously we did 40-minute talks that were some pretty amazing 40-minute talks. I think it depends on the attendees and the speakers. And the nice thing about having multiple tracks, even though that’s out of vogue these days, is that you can actually have people choose. Yeah, I want to hear somebody talk for 30 minutes about this topic, or no I just want a couple of quick sound bites in 12-minute talks.

JOE:  So, it’s interesting you talk about multitrack going out of vogue, because I still attend a lot of multitrack conferences and I feel like at least as an organizer, that I organize a multitrack when it’s something where everybody’s not coming to hear a certain small set of people speak. Where at ng-conf and at LoopConf, the WordPress conference, that’s what we have. We have a lot of the big indus-, you know, ng-conf got all the ng, the Angular team coming. And everybody wants to hear them speak. So, if this was multitrack, whoever went up at the same time as one of those guys just wouldn’t have anybody show up, right?

But then you go to other conferences where you’re pulling in a variety of topics and something might be interesting to somebody else and might not be interesting to somebody. So, you want multitrack to let that go. So, that’s my opinion on multitrack versus single track, but it does seem like there are a lot of single track conferences popping up. I hope that’s not because there’s some sort of a style to conferences and people are trying to fit into some mold.

DAVE N:  I don’t know if it’s necessarily the case. I went to EmpireJS in New York recently. That was a really awesome single track conference. But you could tell it was super carefully curated. The talks were, you could tell that they’ve been gone over again and again because that’s the only thing going on right now [chuckles]. If that talk isn’t good, then there’s not alternative. So, I think probably…

JOE:  Right.

DAVE N:  It requires more careful curation. But it’s an awesome way to run an event if you have that kind of time.

JOE:  But it also makes it difficult then, right? Because you might be less likely to include a newer speaker or somebody that doesn’t have anything that’s already been published so that you can see how good of a speaker they are. Because they can have a great topic but be a terrible speaker and vice versa, they can be a great speaker with a terrible topic. And they can be both. And if you haven’t seen them before, you really wouldn’t know.

DAVE N:  Well, and that’s a great point. And one of the things that we’re trying to do a lot with Forward is to first of all encourage new speakers to enter the ecosystem, because I’m sure you’ve seen that there’s these smaller community-run conferences and there’s these huge enterprise conferences. And you’ll see speakers come in at the community level and then sort of get “promoted” to these enterprise conferences. And I think one reason is that it’s very easy to approve a speaker who’s already had some experience, right? And so [chuckles] at some point, somebody has to go out and actually vet new speakers and help them along the way.

And one of the ways that I’ve found is particularly easy to do that is to say, “Look, there’s going to be three tracks going on. You only have to present for 12 minutes. We’ll help you with all the content and all the presentation style and everything. But don’t worry. It’s not all on you,” right? Whereas in a single track conference, I imagine it might be a little bit more difficult because you’re saying, “Okay, there’s 600 people. They all are going to be watching you. It’s either you or they’re going to take a bathroom break. So, no pressure.”

[Chuckles]

JOE:  Yeah.

JAMISON:  So, it’s a Dave talk, then.

JOE:  Well first off, I assume that was your first time speaking to so many people, and two it was also a very short talk, right? So, if you could talk to both of those aspects, I think that would be very interesting.

DAVE S:  Well yeah, that was my first time. And it was my first time giving a talk to that many people. What, were there like 600 people or something, Joe? Or like 20,000 people or something?

JOE:  Just over 700.

DAVE N:  [Laughs]

DAVE S:  Right. So like 45,000 people. That’s what I remember. And yeah, and it was actually a 45-minute talk. I was one of the longer talks of the day.

JOE:  Oh, that’s right. That’s right.

DAVE S:  And I was actually just super, I was really super grateful that the ng-conf organizers were willing to take a chance on me, because you hadn’t really seen me talk. I actually had never spoken at a conference. But I think in the end, it went really well. And I enjoyed it enough that I’ve started applying at other conferences to speak at and it was just super awesome for me. Hopefully, my other talks will be really good. I have one day after tomorrow here in Paris to give, which is really cool at least for me. Hopefully it’s cool for the audience. [Chuckles] But anyway, yeah I don’t know. Is there anything else you’d like to know about it?

JOE:  I guess it was that I’d forgotten you had the longer timeframe. I thought…

DAVE S:  Oh, yeah.

JOE:  We had most talks at 20 minutes. So, I was hoping you’d talk about it, but [unintelligible].

DAVE S:  Yeah, you were really regretting. At minute 21, you were like, “Oh my gosh. We made a terrible mistake.”

[Laughter]

JOE:  Your talk on YouTube. That’s one of the ones that I’ve referred to many times and watched. It’s a great talk.

CHUCK:  So, as a conference organizer, what do you look for in your speakers? Are you looking for people to just show up? And how do you know that they’re going to do well or give a good talk?

DAVE N:  Sure, yeah. So, you don’t. But generally conferences follow this tried and true practice of opening up a CFP and getting people to apply, right?

CHUCK:  Mmhmm.

DAVE N:  So, you have the CFP open for a month or two and you ask people to submit applications. You’ll get a lot of people who want to promote a repo that they’ve built, who want to promote a product that they’ve built, who want to talk about the product of the company that they work for. Those talks we tend to sort of add a bit of a demerit to, not because it’s not awesome and it could be a really good talk. That’s just not particularly what we want to use the platform that we’re building to promote.

And then also, you’ll find some people who you really just don’t know what they’re going to do. So, it’s great to have a conversation with those people, find out their motivations for wanting to talk. A lot of times, they’ll just want to further their career or talk about something interesting that they’ve built, share their experiences running a team or building a project. Those are the kind of talks that I particularly like.

And then as far as popularity of the topic or subject matter, you know obviously you want something that will resonate with the people attending the conference. But we definitely don’t just go for the stuff that we know is going to pack a room. We also go for the topics that we think are important for people to know about. Like, how do you build teams? How do you work with an agile methodology to [unintelligible] team? That has nothing to do [chuckles] with JavaScript particularly, but it’s something that we think a lot of JavaScript developers might be interested in. So, we’ll put a few of those throughout the schedule so that people, if people get tired of hearing about how the semicolon’s going to be used in ES6, then they can go to some of those other talks.

JOE:  So, besides the talk itself what about just the person themselves? What do look for in the actual speaker?

DAVE N:  You know, aside from their motivation is a big factor, just figuring out what they’re hoping to get out of the talk. People who just want to share their knowledge, that’s a powerful plus. And then as a conference organizer who’s concerned about diversity of attendees, one thing that I’ve noticed running the JavaScript meetup is that the diversity of the speaker lineup will tend to mirror the diversity of the attendees. I think there’s something about having a diverse speaker lineup that flips a switch in people’s brains. And they say, “Oh wow. This is the kind of place that I’d be welcome.” So, if that’s something that you care about, getting those attendees as an organizer, that’s probably something you want to look at when choosing your speakers.

JAMISON:  I think that’s a really good point about diversity of speakers. I think just the state of our industry is if you don’t do very much work, your speaker lineup, the people that submit talks, will not be very diverse. Can you talk about what you do as an organizer to encourage a diverse lineup of proposals and speakers? Beyond just saying, I mean there are obvious things like you have a Code of Conduct. You make it clear that it’s a welcoming and friendly atmosphere. But I feel like you have to go put a little bit of effort in to encourage it more.

DAVE N:  Yeah. I think as an organizer you choose what you put your time into. And one of the things that I do is incessantly bother prospective speakers. [Chuckles] This is not just in the name of diversity but just if I see a talk that I would really like to have somebody give, I just try to do whatever I can to make it so that we can get that to work, whether it’s paying for a plane ticket or lodging or finding some way of working it into the schedule so that it works with their work schedule. Just going out there and saying, “Hey, I know this is not necessarily something that you’ve thought of before. But I’d really like you to give talk X.”

Depending on how many slots you have to fill, you can probably get a good number of speakers just from personal contacts. Of course, you always have to be understanding that not everybody will want to give a talk at a conference. Not everybody has the time or the inclination. So, it’s not like they owe you anything, right? [Chuckles] It’s not like you’re giving them this amazing opportunity. Some speakers will think, “Oh wow. What an amazing opportunity.” And some of them will think, “Stop clogging my email.” But you have to ask.

[Chuckles]

JAMISON:  So, we’ve talked a lot about conferences. Can you talk a little bit about the difference between running a conference and running a meetup?

DAVE N:  That’s a great question. So, there are lots of different types of conferences. And one of the things that usually set them apart and this is going to sound self-evident, is the time of day. So, a lot of times conferences will happen during the day. So, you’ll have to find a venue, usually you’ll have to pay for it. You’ll have to feed people, give them coffee, stuff like that. So, the overhead tends to be higher. And so, generally you have to also charge for tickets. And at that point, it starts to become a job. You have to put down a deposit. You have to fly people out. You have to print up programs and find hotel rooms and stuff like that. So, it starts to get complicated really quickly. Meetups seem to be something that you can just churn out a lot of, especially if you have contacts with venues and sponsors. At my job at PubNub we’re able to do about 150 meetups every year.

JAMISON:  Whoa.

DAVE N:  But it really strains me to do more than a couple of conferences a year.

JAMISON:  When you say do, that means sponsor or run or what?

DAVE N:  We usually will run and/or host about 150 a year, not counting easy ones like office hours or something.

JAMISON:  Wow.

DAVE N:  Yeah, lots of different formats. Some of them will be your standard lecture style meetups where you’ll have anywhere from 50 to 120 people show up. Some of them will be happy hour type meetups. Some of them will happen during lunch. We call those ‘lunch and learns’ where people just drop by and spend a couple of hours hacking on something. I’m a big fan of the multi-format meetups. I think people self-select the format that they’re most comfortable with. But with conferences, because of the added expense and the preplanning required, it’s definitely a lot more work. I haven’t cracked the nut on doing more than a couple of those a year.

CHUCK:  Do you do things differently? Let’s say that it’s a meetup where you actually need somebody to present on something. Is your process much different in finding somebody to present at a meetup than it is for selecting speakers at a conference?

DAVE N:  I tend to look for the same things in presenters. But it’s much easier at a meetup because you can give people different amounts of time to do things. So, you can say, “Okay. You want to present your platform? That’s fine. We can give you five minutes to do that,” whereas somebody else might what to give a more in-depth topic. You can give them an hour to do that. So, I think you can definitely open yourself up to a more diverse range of topics, or formats, lengths of talks, experience level of speakers. It’s just easier I think from that perspective. You could even have a meetup with a single 20-minute talk and then a bunch of time for socializing. You might not get a lot of attendees, but it’s strictly voluntary and it’s free. So, I think there’s a lower barrier to entry.

JOE:  On the other hand, you might get a ton depending on who it is talking and what they’re talking about.

DAVE N:  Yeah, or maybe you’ll get a ton of people RSVP-ing and you’ll get five people showing up. [Chuckles] You never know what [unintelligible].

JOE:  Yeah, yeah.

DAVE S:  So, it seems to me organizing a meetup is really easy these days. Do you agree with that? Basically, you just go to Meetup.com, throw something up and provide some space and away you go. Is it harder than that? Or do you think it really is that easy?

JAMISON:  So, I have some feedback on this.

CHUCK:  Jamison’s going to say, “Order pizza at every meetup.”

JAMISON:  No.

[Chuckles]

JAMISON:  That’s the anti-feedback.

CHUCK:  [Chuckles]

JAMISON:  Meetups are hard in different ways. The individual event is smaller, but it’s constant effort instead of a conference, which is an annual effort. Or you’re doing a lot of work for a conference over a long period of time but it’s all for one event. And with a meetup, as soon as your meetup is over you have to get on organizing the next one and chasing down speakers. And if it’s hard finding 20 speakers for your conference once a year, it’s harder to find three or four speakers for your meetup every month.

JOE:  Yeah.

JAMISON:  So, I think they’re hard in different ways. It’s not that…

DAVE S:  So, it sounds like you’re saying you should do an annual meetup with just one speaker. And then everything will be perfect.

[Chuckles]

JAMISON:  Yeah.

DAVE N:  Yes.

JAMISON:  That’s called my house conference and everyone just comes to my house.

[Laughter]

JAMISON:  And I talk about video games. And it’s already organized.

DAVE S:  Perfect.

CHUCK:  Woo!

[Laughter]

DAVE S:  Easy, so easy. What’s so hard about this whole thing? It’s easy.

JAMISON:  [Chuckles]

DAVE N:  That is actually a good point though, the constant upkeep of a meetup. And one other data point that I’d like to share is that Meetup.com, which is separate from the idea of just a generic meetup, but a lot of them are hosted on Meetup.com. And Meetup.com is, it functions really well as a discovery platform. It also functions as an RSVP system. And it’s okay at that. But its real value is the discovery platform. So, people move to your city, they’re interested in JavaScript, HTML5, and iOS, whatever it is, and Meetup says, “I’m going to connect you with all these different meetups.”

But at the same time, if you don’t host meetups on a regular basis, then your group gets stale. The people that were newly arrived in your city or were interested in networking because of their job or whatever it is, they get social lives [chuckles]. They have kids. They move into different positions. And they no longer come to your meetups. So, you really need to continually have a series of events if you want to keep that list fresh. Otherwise you’ll have a meetup with 5,000 people in it but nobody actually attends the events. So, I think you’re totally right. It’s an ongoing commitment.

DAVE S:  What common mistake would you say that conference speakers make? Maybe they’re new and they’re inexperienced and they make this mistake. Can you tell us some of the mistakes that are easily made and how to avoid them as speakers?

DAVE N:  That’s a great question and it’s a little hard to answer, because every speaker has their own style. And it’s important to separate constructive feedback on your presentation with stylistic feedback. So, at the end you want to convey some information to your audience and you also want to keep them engaged. And so, I think most of the feedback that I end up giving to speakers has to do with the method that they use to convey the information.

So for example, I’m a big fan of using a lot of code and a lot of examples and just going really fast and figuring if people don’t understand this particular example, they’ll understand the next one. And then they’ll be able to go back and consult your slides and your screencast. I think proceeding more methodically can make for a slightly dull presentation. And then also examples and use cases make it easier to understand you can’t just go through logically and say, A therefore B therefore C therefore D. You’ve got to pepper in some jokes and use cases and explain the ways that people use things.

And that, once you give a few of these presentations, I think it quickly becomes apparent what parts the audience responds to, what parts they don’t understand. And you can adapt that presentation. Even if you’re not the most [chuckles] social person, you can still have a really, really good talk.

DAVE S:  So, if you give enough talks, you can do A/B testing on your talk. Is that what you’re saying?

[Laughter]

DAVE S:  You have to give five million talks to get real data.

DAVE N:  Yeah [chuckles]. Just tell the people, “I’m going to have a counter at the door just counting how many of you leave. But don’t worry, it’s just because I’m doing the B version of this talk.”

[Laughter]

JAMISON:  An alternative to that is you can practice your talk. That usually involves making sure your talk is done before you give it, which is hard for me [chuckles] and I think hard for some other people, too.

DAVE N:  Yeah, it can be hard.

JAMISON:  But yeah, if you can ideally get that feedback before you give the talk to a live audience, then it just makes it better for everybody.

DAVE N:  [Chuckles] We actually did an event in Saint Louis before Strange Loop this year where I was tech director, called “Powered by JavaScript”. And we sat down with the speaker and walked through their entire talk slide by slide about a month before the event. It took quite a while. And the feedback that we got from a lot of speakers is like, “I usually don’t even start thinking about my talk a month [chuckles] before the event.” [Laughs] And so, that was not entirely reassuring. [Chuckles]

DAVE S:  So, do you find that there are speakers who are able to give a same or similar talk over and over enough times that they can actually garner some of the feedback from the audience and get it and actually modify their talk and give it again? Or do you not like to choose speakers who give the same talk over and over?

DAVE N:  I don’t particularly mind it. I think even if you find somebody that gives the same talk over and over, you’ll find that they adapt it as time goes on. And I don’t know that I’ve run across a speaker that gives the same talk for more than a year at a time. So, they’ll give a talk in February and then when they give it again in June, they’ve adapted a bunch of the information to reflect current trends. So, that doesn’t, if it’s a different audience, if it hasn’t been given in the same geographic area, then that’s not a deal breaker for me. But yeah, I think especially speakers who speak a lot, who go to a bunch of different conferences, you’re always going to find some information that they’ve gone over before.

DAVE S:  Okay. Earlier you mentioned that speakers should give jokes and stuff. And I was wondering for the benefit of our audience here, if you could just list off four or five of the best jokes.

[Laughter]

DAVE N:  Oh my gosh.

DAVE S:  I’m just kidding. But on a serious note, as a conference organizer, after a conference is over do you feel like you’re dis-incentivized from giving feedback to your speakers at that point because it’s like, “Well, the conference is over. I’m not going to bother. It’s too late to fix it if you want, if you thought they could do something better”?

DAVE N:  So, this is actually where I’m in an interesting position and I’m sure that you all have found the same thing. You don’t as an organizer necessarily get to see all the talks in person. Usually, you’re finding somebody a MacBook Pro adapter or putting out a metaphorical fire or a literal fire.

[Laughter]

DAVE N:  You really don’t get to, I remember one time somebody tweeted at me, “This room is too hot,” and I had to run into the room and adjust the thermostat. I didn’t know because I was not watching the talk.

DAVE S:  Was that due to a literal fire?

[Laughter]

DAVE N:  Yeah, yeah. So, I killed two birds with one stone there. So, when you guys do events, I’m guessing that you have a bunch of co-organizers, right?

JOE:  Yeah.

DAVE N:  And so, somebody will give a talk or somebody will propose a talk and you’ll have wildly differing opinions about that particular talk.

JOE:  Yeah.

DAVE N:  Or at least this is my experience about some of them. Somebody will be like, “Oh my gosh. Yes, an Angular talk. We really need that,” and somebody else will be like, “I’ve heard too much about Angular. Enough, enough already.” And usually, they’ll be on the upper core team. I’ll have to be like, “Quiet, you.” But no…

[Laughter]

DAVE N:  You’ll [unintelligible] people.

[Laughter]

DAVE N:  That have wildly different opinions. And so, you don’t necessarily want to give the speaker that kind of feedback unless they ask for it.

JOE:  Right.

DAVE N:  So, if they ask for it I’m totally happy to. If they don’t, then the only feedback I would give them is if it’s explicitly against the Code of Conduct of the conference which unfortunately has happened before. And in that case, you really do want to let them know so that it doesn’t happen again.

JOE:  Yeah, I’ve definitely had that experience with multiple organizers, with ng-conf. In fact, I’m pretty sure we had that same exact conversation you described at ng-conf organizing.

DAVE N:  [Laughs] Really, you had the “Enough Angular”?

[Laughter]

DAVE S:  Enough Angular already.

CHUCK:  I didn’t come to this conference to learn about Angular.

[Laughter]

JOE:  I think another problem with giving feedback as an organizer, again part of it is just not having seen the talks. I think I saw one of the talks at ng-conf. The organizers were actually doing the emceeing, they got to see far more. But I was too busy handling other issues. But I think another issue is the fact that our opinions may not be as valid, just because they’re here to talk to the audience, not to us. We’re here just to put together an awesome event. And if the audience enjoys the talk, then that’s the talk that needs to be given, obviously with the exception of Code of Conduct violations. So, I’d rather have the audience give the feedback than me.

DAVE N:  Yeah, I’ve heard your co-organizers say the same thing about your opinion. It’s just not that valid. So, [I’m glad you worked that out].

[Laughter]

DAVE S:  Joe was the guy who was saying “Enough Angular”.

JAMISON:  What do you do to solicit feedback specifically from the audience then? Some people will do it on their own. But can you do anything as an organizer to encourage it?

DAVE N:   So, I don’t know how you all do it, but we always send out a feedback survey to the speakers and to the audience members and specifically ask them to rate each talk. Try to make it as simple as possible. Hopefully, they can get it done in three minutes or so, and then ask them if they have any additional comments. And that’s usually a great way to get an overall view of what talks the audience liked and what talks they particularly didn’t like.

But then, you also run into the problem of small sampling rate. So, out of a conference of 600 people, maybe you’ll have 20 people respond and each of them only went to a third of the talks because it’s a three track event. And so, I remember one time, I think it was for the last Forward, we looked and Brian Lonsdorf who’s this crazy functional JavaScript genius and a friend of mine was rated one of the lowest speakers. He got three out of five or something. And I was like, “Oh my gosh.” I always thought he gave great talks. And then I looked and it was because he had gone through and rated himself a zero.

[Laughter]

DAVE N:  So I go, “Okay.” Yeah, so that’s the problem with the small sample size.

DAVE S:  So, he had a zero and he still got a three. Yeah, that’s a great talk.

[Chuckles]

DAVE N:  Yeah, yeah. It was actually pretty good. It’s funny.

JOE:  I think another good way is just to actually talk to attendees and get their personal opinions, because it’s maybe a little bit less self-selecting since you’re selecting the sample size. Obviously you’re not going to talk to 600 attendees. But you can at least talk to a few and find out what talks they liked, what talks they didn’t like. And that’s a little bit different than the few people that will bother to respond to a survey as well.

DAVE N:  That’s true. One thing that we found with the survey is that a lot of the constructive criticism we got was totally contradictory. So, we had a four track event.

JOE:  [Chuckles]

DAVE N:  And some people were like, “You know what? We really just, we need more tracks. We need more speakers. I want different things.” And then we got other feedback, including from our keynote speaker who was like, “Four tracks? Are you crazy? This is too much. This is just too much. You need fewer tracks.” So, I’m not sure exactly how you handle feedback like that [chuckles]. But I was happy to receive them.

DAVE S:  Well, for that you handle it with quantum conferencing. I’m sorry.

[Laughter]

DAVE S:  You let the attendees have a single track and a multitrack conference at the same time.

DAVE N:  Actually, I do have a question. [Chuckles] You all have done a few of these things, too. Is there anything in particular that you do to increase the diversity of attendees? Because that’s something that we’re trying a few different things with this year.

JOE:  The one thing that we did was we tried to reach out to user groups or meetups that represented diverse sections of the population and invite them specifically to send attendees, whether we were giving out discounted tickets or in the case of ng-conf simply reserved tickets was a big enough deal, or free tickets, something like that. But that’s one way that we tried to increase the diversity of attendees.

JAMISON:  One thing that Strange Loop did that I thought was awesome is they had diversity scholarships for attendees. So, your company or yourself or whatever could sponsor the ticket and the travel and the lodging for someone and then they’d be distributed out by the conference. The conference donated a ton of money and tickets as well. But I talked to a lot of people that got to go to Strange Loop because of that. And it was pretty amazing. You need to have a fairly successful conference established to do that well, I think. So, it might be harder if you’re just starting out. But it definitely worked.

JOE:  Yeah. Yeah, that’s a great idea.

DAVE N:  We’ve upped the number of tickets lately and we’re trying to give away about a third of them as diversity scholarship tickets. We’re focusing on three particular areas which are groups underrepresented in tech, the unemployed, and students. And so, we partnering with organizations in those three areas.

So, you have ask about, much earlier about the ethos or what you’re trying to do with the conference. And I think for us it’s a little bit less important to be focused on a particular technical area as it is to be focused on a particular goal. And I guess in this case it’s a bit of a social goal of getting more students involved in tech, getting more underrepresented groups involved in tech, and also making sure that if somebody is currently unemployed, that they’re able to attend regardless of their ability to pay. So, I think that’s where our goal for this event is. I’m not sure if it’ll work, but that’s where we’re trying to get to.

DAVE S:  Can you tell us a little bit about your diversity goals that you’ve seen or maybe that you’ve implemented and seen at other conferences? And what kind of outcome that had for you. What kind of diversity are you looking for in an audience and in presenters?

DAVE N:  So, I don’t know that we’re necessarily looking for a particular, we don’t have a particular quota. But it is really pushing forward those three goals of increasing underrepresented groups in tech, students, and the unemployed. Obviously in the Bay Area, when I say unemployed it’s not necessarily unemployed developers but perhaps people who are looking to break into development from other areas who don’t necessarily have the job that they want. So, maybe the underemployed. But we don’t have a particular way of doing that. I love the Strange Loop scholarship tickets. That’s something that we cheerfully stole this year and that we’re trying to implement ourselves.

DAVE S:  That’s really cool. I like that. I have another question about making conferences memorable. Can you tell us about some times when, whether conferences you’ve organized or attended, some things that have been memorable to you and that you thought were really cool?

DAVE N:  I think the most memorable stuff to me and the coolest part is the feedback from attendees. I’m sure you all remember after putting so much blood, sweat, and tears into organizing an event and then just watching it all unfold and having people come up and say, “Wow, this is really great.” [Chuckles] I think that’s incredibly fulfilling. And so, the feedback that we got last year about how it was organized well and how it was a diverse lineup, highly technical, and people who appreciated the dearth of product talks, we took that to heart. So, that was incredibly gratifying. And as far as memorable, there is one other really memorable thing from “Powered by JavaScript” which is when we did a game show to close out the event. It was the JavaScript version of The Newlywed Game. And that in particular for me was really, really great.

JOE:  Sounds fun.

DAVE N:  It was so fun and just so unbelievably stupid, I can’t even tell you. [Laughs]

DAVE S:  I’m having a hard time picturing exactly what that would look like. Were people married to JavaScript as newlyweds or something?

[Laughter]

DAVE N:  That’s kind of what it was. We took people from different sides of the JavaScript world. So, Trek from the Ember team and Brian Lonsdorf who’s super into functional JavaScript, we paired them together.

DAVE S:  Oh, okay. I’m getting it now. [Laughs]

DAVE N:  And Dan Shaw, we paired him with Tomomi Imura who does a lot of HTML5. So, Dan’s obviously super into Node. And we said, “Hey, the nice thing about the JavaScript community is it’s really homogeneous and everybody agrees on everything.”

[Chuckles]

DAVE N:  So, if we just ask you the same question that we asked your partner and you come up with the same answer, then we’ll give you five points. So, we asked each team 12 questions. And in the end, each team had five points.

JOE:  Wow.

DAVE S:  Oh, that’s so funny.

[Laughter]

DAVE S:  That is so funny.

DAVE N:  Yeah, yeah. I think my favorite part was at the end, when we were asking the final question. If there was one thing you could change about the JavaScript community, what would it be? And so, Trek said something technical, and Brian his partner guessed ‘more diversity’. And so, obviously that’s not the same so they didn’t get it. And so then it was down to Dan and Tomomi, right? And it was like, “Okay Dan. What do you think Tomomi said? One thing that she could change about the JavaScript community. What would it be?” And Dan guessed ‘more diversity’ also. And so, it’s like, “Okay. If Tomomi guessed more diversity, then they will win. They’ll get the prize. What did Tomomi say?” and she had previously answered ‘mandatory semicolons’.

[Laughter]

DAVE S:  Oh, that sounds like so much fun.

DAVE N:  Yeah, it was a great stupid way to end an event. [Laughs]

DAVE S:  That’s awesome.

CHUCK:  Well, we’re getting toward the end of our time. I’m curious. Do you have a couple of things that attendees can do to make the most of their experience when they go to a conference?

DAVE N:  You know, the thing about conferences that I think that they get a bit of a bad rap for are that it’s a single moment in time. And after the event is done, there are not necessarily a lot of artifacts left over. There are videos obviously. But the more that you can do to connect with speakers, connect with organizers, write up your experiences, share your experiences during the event, that’s going to create a digital trail that’s still going to be there after the event ends. So, that I think is the best way to get the most value out of your attendance, is just share, overshare.

[Chuckles]

DAVE S:  I like that. It’s like you get out what you put in, in some ways. If you wanted to talk about something else, I would love to talk about conferences with international audiences and just any advice for hosting that kind of a conference.

DAVE N:  So yeah, I was just, I’m doing a bunch of traveling in November. One of the things that I’m super interested right now is this whole internet of things. And since I’m only useful with JavaScript, I’m stealing a bunch of Tessel microcontrollers and bringing them around Europe and organizing a bunch of free hack nights. So, we’re going to hit up Munich, Berlin, Paris, London, and Singapore which is not in Europe but which will still be a lot of fun.

And I just talked with somebody who is working with a bunch of co-working spaces in Singapore looking for different events to pop up. And I had been a little bit reticent to host an event in Paris because [chuckles] as somebody who only speaks English and a terrible small amount of Spanish, I wasn’t sure how an English only event would go over. But indeed, they’re running a dotJS event there November 17th which is going to be English only. So, she was super supportive of the fact that we could run an event where the instruction was in English but all the discussion is in French. So, that made me super excited.

We had people from, I think it was nine different countries come to the last Forward conference. I don’t know how they found out about it, [chuckles] but they seem to get quite a bit of value out of it. So, I would love to increase that as much as possible without involving me flying everywhere. Yeah, I’d be interested in your feedback on that, too.

DAVE S:  Oh, I’ll let you know in a couple of days.

CHUCK:  [Chuckles] Alright. Well, let’s go ahead and do the picks. Jamison, do you want to start us with picks?

JAMISON:  Yup. I have three. So, there was an article that Raquel Velez, rockbot on the internet, she works at npm and does a  bunch of robotic stuff, she posted it on The Pastry Box back in August and it’s about how to increase the diversity of your speaker lineup at conferences. So, I thought it was related to what we were talking about. I think I’ve picked it before. But it’s really well-written, very good. So, read that again if you’re interested.

The next one is Gold Panda, is the band. The album name is ‘Companion’. I was looking in my picks notes and was like, “What is a gold panda companion?” So, I kind of forgot about it.

[Chuckles]

JAMISON:  But now I remember. It’s kind of, I need to branch out in my musical styles because I always pick the same kind of stuff. It’s more mellow electronica.

The last one is a thing called Cursors.io. It’s a little multiplayer interactive game in the browser. It was on Hacker News a while ago. But you basically play every game by moving the mouse cursor on the screen. You either move your cursor through a maze or you have to work together with a bunch of people that are playing at the same time to click different buttons and stuff like that. It starts out as a simple game and as the game goes on, it gets more and more involved. And you need more and more participation from other people. So, it almost ends up as a weird social experiment with these random internet strangers, which is cool.

Those are my picks.

CHUCK:  Nice. Dave, what are your picks?

DAVE S:  Okay. Continuing in the…

JAMISON:  Which Dave?

DAVE S:  time honored tradition of picking vim plugins as my picks, I’d like to share with you one vim plugin called Fugitive. This is a Git plugin for vim that lets you write inside vim. You can issue a git blame. And without leaving your editor you can see who was most recently responsible for editing every line of your file, which is super handy. And it does a bunch of other cool vim Git goodness integration. It’s called Fugitive. It’s kind of a pun because the word Git is in the middle of Fugitive and it also has V-I in there backwards. I don’t know if that was intended. But it’s a really handy plugin and I like it.

My other pick is a nifty way to do slides for presentations, which is relevant because of today’s podcast episode. But it’s called Slides.com. And it’s a very basic but handy way to do your slides for presentations. And of course it’s hosted on the internet so you don’t have to save them anywhere. And when presentation time comes, you can just use anybody’s computer to present. So, it’s pretty cool. And it has a really cool mobile presentation feature where you can put your presentations up on the screen and then use your mobile app, or sorry just use a mobile page in your browser on your phone in order to control the slides, which is pretty cool. So, I like that. It’s called Slides.com.

Those are my picks.

CHUCK:  Awesome. Joe, what are your picks?

JOE:  My first pick is going to be a board game in my tradition of picking board games. [Chuckles] I’ll stick with that. I recently picked up a copy of a board game called Steam Park which is super awesome. In this game you build an amusement park for robots and you’re trying to build a better amusement park than the other people that are playing and try to get more robots to come to your amusement park. And it’s got cool art. It’s got a really fun theme. And it’s a really well done game, very fun to play.

And my second and final pick will be a movie that will probably stink, but I really hope that it doesn’t because I really loved the first one and hated the second one. But Taken 3 has been announced. There will be a Taken 3. And I really love watching Liam Neeson kick everybody’s butt. And so, I hope that Taken 3 is good like Taken 1 and not like Taken 2.

CHUCK:  [Laughs]

JOE:  And while I’m at it, I’m going to make one unpick and that is I saw Transformers, the latest one, last night and I’m pretty sure it gave me cancer.

CHUCK:  Geez.

JOE:  It was so terrible.

DAVE S:  Joe, I join you in unpicking that.

CHUCK:  Thought about Redbox-ing it. Are you telling me don’t bother?

JOE:  Unless you’re son really loves it and it’s a daddy-son activity which it was for me. That’s why I watched the whole thing was because my son loved it. But it was, literally I think that they may have kidnapped my son and had him direct a majority of the movie.

CHUCK:  [Laughs]

JOE:  He’s 10. That’s exactly what it was like.

CHUCK:  It was that good, huh?

JOE:  Yeah.

CHUCK:  Alright. Well, I’ve only got one pick. It’s just something that I’ve been involved in for a long time. And I think it’s a great organization. It’s Boy Scouts of Americas. I think they teach young men good values and do a lot of good out there in the world. And so, that’s my pick.

Other Dave, what are your picks?

DAVE N:  My only pick is Taken 2, the best movie of all time.

CHUCK:  [Laughs]

DAVE N:  It really touched me. It’s awesome. No, I’m just kidding.

[Laughter]

So, there’s an organization called Girl Develop It I’m sure you’ve heard of, one of our partners for Forward. They do free and low-cost training for women in tech.

Also another couple of organizations. Lesbians Who Tech and The Tenderloin Tech Lab here in San Francisco that does free classes for low-income and homeless people in SF.

CHUCK:  Cool. Alright, that’s all we’ve got. So, thanks for coming and we’ll catch you all next week.

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