Thursday, November 12, 2015

Why proposals are due so many months before PyCon

“Why does PyCon make us submit proposals six whole months before the conference? They expect us to start thinking of topics for PyCon 2016 while it is still 2015!”

To be honest, I used to ask the same question about PyCon myself. Now that I am the conference chair, I have the privilege of working directly with the volunteers who make the conference possible! They have been generous with their time in bringing me up to speed on how each of their committees operate, helping me see the big picture of how the conference schedule is negotiated each year.

And better yet, they have proved willing to accept a challenge: we have made the schedule more aggressive this year, to close some of the gap between the close of the Call for Proposals and the start of the conference itself! I am excited about the results of their hard work:

  • Tutorial proposals are due on 2015 November 30, which is 25 days closer to the conference than the same deadline last year.
  • Talk proposals are due on 2016 January 3, which is 59 days closer to the conference than last year — an improvement of nearly two months!

It would have been less risky to simply repeat the PyCon 2015 schedule over again, so I thank the volunteer chairs for their boldness here. In an upcoming post I will share more details about their process, and about how you can volunteer on their committees to help them achieve this year’s more ambitious schedule!

But, for now, let me introduce the whole subject by answering the question I posed — why does the CFP close so many months before the conference?

Imagine a speaker from another country who wants to give a talk at PyCon. Their salary is low by United States standards. They might have a hard time obtaining a visa. If the Python Software Foundation wants its flagship international conference to be able to welcome speakers from all over the world, what constraints does that place upon the schedule?

Unless we are going to ask speakers to undertake personal financial risk for the mere chance of getting to attend and speak, PyCon will operate under three constraints:

  1. International speakers are one of the constituencies we try to serve through our Financial Aid program, so after we announce PyCon’s schedule of accepted talks, tutorials, and posters, the speaker will need time to turn around and apply for Financial Aid.
  2. We will then need time to complete our Financial Aid process and make award decisions before we expect an applicant to spend money applying for a visa.
  3. It can take more than a month for the government to rule on a visa. Only once a speaker has received a visa — instead of a rejection — can they risk purchasing an airline ticket and making the other financial commitments involved in arranging travel.

If you imagine that each of these three steps takes roughly a month, then you understand why talk and poster proposals are due on 3 January 2015. January and February belong to the program committee process that chooses talks and posters. March is when the financial aid committee receives applications and decides on awards. In April the government will process and (hopefully) accept the speaker’s visa application. If all goes well, that will leave an international speaker with only a bit more than a month to purchase an airplane ticket and travel to the conference!

So the long lead time between the CFP and the conference arises from the PSF’s goal of making PyCon a conference not just for North America, but for the entire world. We make it the one event each year where the Python community sets the stretch goal of not just welcoming people from a single region or continent, but of welcoming everyone. That means we have to close our CFP earlier than any other Python conference — but we believe it’s worth it.

2 comments:

A. Jesse Jiryu Davis said...

This is a great insight, thanks. The long CFP window is hugely generous this year.

Alexander Hendorf said...

Thanks for sharing. We have very similar issues at EuroPython.
To address the big gap between CfP and the conference we will try something new this year. We will announce it in four weeks ;).
BTW, CfP for EuroPython is now open