I help run SPA, a workshop-based conference on all aspects of advancements in software development – technology, processes, people and practice – and we are looking for people to join the organising committee for the 2018 conference.
The advantage of helping shape conferences is that it gives you an opportunity to use and develop skills that you might not be using in your job, for example influencing people to submit sessions, encouraging and supporting people who might not otherwise feel able to speak at a conference. It means you can shape the conference into one that you would like to go to.
It helps you to understand a conference from the other side of the fence, so when you are applying for conferences you have a better idea of what people are looking for. It also looks good on your CV!
Once you’ve had a bit of experience organising one conference you can get involved in others. For example, after being the programme chair for SPA from 2013-2015 I went on to be on the programme committee for Velocity, Software Architecture and Continuous Lifecycle, all of which gave me an opportunity to shape high-profile conferences (and network with with some people I admire!). You also tend to get free tickets to conferences you help organise so it’s another way to get to go.
SPA is unusual in that all the sessions are interactive in some way. There are coding workshops, games to teach you about personal resilience, goldfish bowl discussions about technologies, guided group work sessions on Agile processes and more. For an idea of what the sessions are like, have a look at this year’s programme; the keynotes (for example exploring the intersection of knitting and coding, needles provided) or previous conferences.
SPA’s submission process includes a period where submitters can receive feedback on their submissions before the deadline to allow them to refine their submissions, and all speakers are offered ‘shepherding’ to help make their sessions the best they can be. Submissions are reviewed anonymously to promote diversity.
The committee consists of two conference chairs and two programme chairs and other roles as needed. Traditionally there are two of each, with one moving on every year so you are never thrown in at the deep end.
We’d also very much like a marketing chair though we’ve not had someone in that post this year.
The conference has been running for more than 20 years so there is a great community and many of the existing team will stay in place, so it’s an opportunity to learn the skills involved in running a conference in a supportive environment.
There is a lot of admin and organisational work involved in putting on an event and we are really lucky to have an excellent events executive, Mandy Bauer, at BCS, who manages that side of things. SPA is a specialist group of the BCS, and we also usually host the event at the BCS offices in London. So as a conference chair you can focus on making the conference the best it can be.
For programme chairs, the work is usually from around September to March. Initially you’ll be publicising the call for submissions, and contacting people to encourage them to submit. Ideally you’d reach out to lots of people to encourage a broad range of speakers. Around January, you will be working with people to help give feedback on the sessions (there are lots of people involved in this so you won’t have to do it all yourself), followed by a review period and then working out the programme.
For conference chairs the work is mostly January to June; getting sponsors, inviting keynote speakers, arranging evening diversions (this year you can build a laser bot for cats!) and then running the actual conference on the days themselves.
In addition, there are other, non-chair roles and the commitment here is as little or as much as you can offer – helping spread the word about the CFP, helping give feedback and review sessions, attending the programme meeting if you can, helping out at the conference itself.
If any of this sounds like something you’d like to take part in, or you have more questions, please get in touch with the organisers. We are having a meeting about next year’s conference on July 11th, and if you’d like to come to that please do get in touch.
Whether you are interested or not, it’s worth attending this year’s conference. This year we have sessions on topics as varied as knitting and coding, blockchain and pairing across skill levels without the drama.