I've been watching a lot of discussion the last year or so on conferences - particularly in the realm of software conferences. Whether it be Approach, or Methodology or more niche areas like Agile, Lean, specific development styles - or, my favorite - Testing.
Wow. That was a long run-on sentence. That is what happens when I type what I am thinking and not worrying about format too much. I'll try and do better the rest of this post.
While looking at how people perceive conferences and ideas and sharing and learning, I often wonder what people are looking for in a conference. I know what I am looking for. I suspect there are others with similar criteria. There are also people who decide about going to a conference on totally other decision points.
I get that. Not everyone thinks in a similar vein as I do. It would make my day-job a lot easier if they did. However, I suspect it would be quite boring (as in, not stimulating in any significant way) and I probably would not learn much.
For me, a conference counts as a something I am interested in going to if, in looking at the program and reading the abstracts, I can say "This is something I am interested in and a) I want to learn something about it; b) I want to get different insights on this topic; c) I want to see how this speaker approaches something I am familiar with, but I don't necessarily agree with."
There are other things - but those are the big ones. Some of those other things are - do I know any of the presenters? As in, have I met them? Engaged in conversation? Exchanged emails? Maybe I've read some of their writings.
The thing is, I am fairly certain that a fair number of people don't use the same measures. I know some who look to see where the conference is. Some folks are more interested in the activities around the conference more than the conference itself.
Well, if asked directly not, but... well - if the conference is at a famous resort, are they drawing people for the content or for the non-conference activities? Now, in fairness, there is usually very good content at some of these. Others? Well, for me, there is not anything in the program as a draw.
What makes me different from still others, is that I don't really need to look for people who look, and sound, and think like me.
Because the majority of speakers at the majority of conferences look a lot like me: Male. Caucasian.
I get it. I really do.
Other folks, I'm not so sure that they get it. I also am not so sure that they see a problem with that.
I am working on a conference this year. I am the Conference Chair for CAST - the Conference of the Association for Software Testing. This year it will be held in downtown, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Where I live. The venue is nice. A conference center hotel that emerged out of a historic hotel - one of the grand old-style ones that have become rare in the US. The nice thing being downtown, there are loads of activities, events and nightlife within walking distance.
I am working with a group of people who are working hard on putting together the best program they can. Ummm - I don't get a vote on the track talks and workshops.
They are building that part of the program from the proposals that are submitted by people. Testers, Developers. Other software professionals and - maybe students and people who are interested in software and testing.
The thing is, if you are a person who is looking to see speakers who look like you at this or any other conference, there is nothing my colleagues and I or our counterparts at other conferences can do if people do not submit proposals. I can reach out to individuals and encourage them to submit proposals. The members of the program committee can encourage people to submit proposals.
But people must submit proposals.
If you want to see more women speaking, or more people of color speaking or more - whatever.
Submit your proposal. I'd be very happy if you submitted a proposal for CAST.
But - Submit your proposal.
Thank you. Other people will be happy you did.
Submit your proposal. Today.