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Changing face of FOSS4G North America 2015

There have been some excellent write-ups of FOSS4G North America 2015 so far. Thank you so much to Peter Batty, Christopher Harrod, Bryan McBride, and Randal Hale.

A few of the write-ups noted differences in the conference this year. I would like to add a bit. Deep gratitude to our organizing committee and program committee for the work they did, and for the feedback on this post.

One area we thought would increase the quality of the conference and our dialog there was to push for greater diversity in the conference. Technology events and especially open source technology events tend to be dominated by caucasian males. For instance, it is not unusual for a FOSS4G related event’s audience to be around 10% women.

A lot could be said about why this matters. Open communities are fuelled by ideas, energy, and contributions. Losing people’s participation needlessly really hurts. More importantly, women participating in an open community can be seen as an important health check. Strong participation could indicate that the community is reasonably welcoming to all. And no, the current lack of women participating is not because they aren’t interested in technology & engineering!

Explanations for why this happens are long and complex. To share a few quick thoughts, open source and open data communities experience strong forces to self-select. As more people with similar ideas get together, barriers can form against newcomers, particularly people with notable differences from the incumbent group. While the barrier often is not intentional, or even overt, it is definitely there. It’s also worse than just a barrier to getting started. It’s a constant drag to all participation. Sadly this frustrates and pushes good people away from the community.

How do you help? Well, first off, it is very hard to change a culture at all. It’s darned near impossible starting from a position of convincing people they’re wrong, bad, ignorant, etc. There are so many outstanding people in open groups doing what they feel is the right thing, and they are deeply passionate in that conviction. Convincing passionate people that they may be discouraging others often falls flat. Nevertheless, open communities can become toxic without even realizing it.

In the context of conferences, many other events have hosted panel discussions to talk about diversity. While I’m glad there’s something happening, I find these discussions by themselves to be a missed opportunity. Rather than inviting people to just talk about their sex, gender, race, etc. we felt something more could be accomplished.

Like most conference organizers, we wanted amazing speakers to talk about tackling important challenging problems. We also wanted to make sure a good proportion of speakers just happened to be women. We were willing to do hard work to make it so, and that’s what we did (I will write more on the specific actions we took in a later post).

The important thing was the results. 30% of the speakers at FOSS4G NA 2015 were women. To the best of my knowledge, this was at least double the next highest proportion of women participating in past FOSS4G events.

The women speaking talked about the impressive work they were doing, and the innovative solutions they developed to address challenging problems. The change in the audience mirrored the increased proportion of women speakers. For what it’s worth, the audience feedback on these talks was extremely positive.

We hope that next year even more amazing women share their experiences & knowledge by participating in the conference. There’s a long way to go, but it’s a good start.

How do we select the site for FOSS4G NA?

The recent FOSS4G NA conference in Burlingame (March 9-12, 2015) was the third FOSS4G North America. On Monday, I blogged to communicate some of the cities being asked for in the attendee survey & from other interested people.

The conference is big enough that it takes a fair amount of work to organize. And, there’s a lot of thought that goes into where + when it should be hosted. How do we decide? Well, historically FOSS4G NA has had a very informal decision process. We’d like to do a little better. A chat started amongst the chairs for past North American FOSS4G events. We’d like to take that public now.

For what it’s worth, the conference’s big sibling, FOSS4G Global is selected by a panel of previous chairs. One tricky thing about this model is that it is a body of people who select who gets to join them. There’s a real risk of self selection and favouring people with similar ideas in this model. Also, as the conference evolves, does this model adapt to reflect those changes?

Another potential model proposed is to have participants (attendees, speakers, & sponsors) in the conference elect the team who will guide the conference and select the content for the next year. It has been suggested that this model should include representation from groups like OSGeo & LocationTech who have a strong interest in a well run conference. As well, diversity to reach out to underrepresented groups is very important, and there should be appropriate representation. This model is a bit more work to implement, but perhaps it’s worth the effort as it may be more dynamic?

There are pro’s and con’s to each approach. There’s likely another model we haven’t thought of yet. If you’d like to participate in the discussion & help figure out the model, please join this Google group. Everyone is welcome, and encouraged to participate. The discussion is public and archived.

Where should FOSS4G NA 2016 be located?

For those who came to NA 2015, please take a moment to fill out the attendee survey we emailed to you. Included in that survey is where you’d like next year to be hosted.

Assuming the survey results show people were happy (so far so good!), we plan to get venue (& other service) bids from a number of cities.

For 2015, we looked at D.C., Austin, Boston, San Francisco, Portland, Denver, Philly, and more.

When the data all came back, it became very clear that San Francisco was the winner for various reasons… notably on the list, the hotel rate was $50/room/night less than the other bidders which we felt was important. Very nice to do outreach in the bay area too. Working with Ragi & the bay area geo community was awesome too!

In addition to the above… Charlotte N.C. & Raleigh might be possibilities for 2016. Normally having an international airport is a really big deal. For a regional conference like NA, maybe we have a bit more wiggle room and thus can consider other cities and maybe get an even better hotel rate!

What do you think? I’d love to hear from you.

If you weren’t at NA 2015, please feel free to comment here or drop me a line at andrew dot ross at eclipse dot org. I’d love to get your thoughts!

FOSS4G North America is going to be AWESOME!

The team & I have been very busy since the last time I posted about FOSS4G NA. With less than 2 months to go, and many newsworthy items, I felt it was definitely time to do an update.

On behalf of the organizing team; the speakers; the technology projects; and the community, we hope that you can join us in Burlingame, California from March 9th to 12th! It is going to be an outstanding conference, with so much great content, a lot of fun, and with plenty of camaraderie.

Here we go!:

The FOSS4G NA Program, and Schedule has been announced and what a strong program it is! For what it’s worth, the bar for what it took to have a talk selected was extremely high It was very difficult to have to turn down some really great talks & excellent speakers. We’re so sorry we didn’t have room for everyone who submitted. Our deep gratitude to all those that submitted and congratulations to those who had talks & workshops accepted.

For what it’s worth, I would like share that roughly 30% of the program are talks by extremely smart & talented female speakers. Historically, female speakers have been underrepresented so we’re grateful to have these amazing women to speak at the conference. Thank you.

We have some excellent keynote speakers and presentations for you.

This year we’re doing something awesome. The conference is co-hosted with EclipseCon. So you can attend any talk from EclipseCon or FOSS4G NA without added cost. We have also collaborated with the PostgreSQL community to organize PGDay. PGDay is a 1 day conference with an impressive lineup of speakers with presentations about PostgreSQL.

PGDay isn’t the only theme day. We also have organized theme days for Big Data & Web Mapping.

It is not too late to be able to speak at the conference. The deadline for our Call for Posters & Maps is February 23, 2015.

We also have a scholarship program for those that might need a little support to get to the conference. The deadline to apply for a grant is January 21, 2015.

We still have a few more sponsorship spots left, but they’re going very fast. If you’re interested, please visit the FOSS4G NA sponsor prospectus. We are glad to help you find just the right sponsor package.

I’ll blog later about the social events. There’s enough planned that it deserves a dedicated post. For a quick summary, things get started on Sunday night, March 8th with an icebreaker and optional workshop, and run right up to the closing plenary March 12th.

On behalf of everyone involved with FOSS4G NA 2015, we hope you can join us. See you in California!


p.s. A special thank you to our team: Rob, Kristin, Ragi, Jody, Kate, Robert, Beth, David, Regina, Eddie, Andy, and Alyssa.

Today is the early deadline for FOSS4G NA & EclipseCon 2015

Next March 9th to 12th, FOSS4G NA & EclipseCon are coming together at the Hyatt Regency in Burlingame, California. For one low price, attendees can attend any presentations or workshops/tutorials from either conference.

Today, Monday November 3rd, is the early bird deadline for the call for papers for both conferences. The final deadline is November 17th.

A friendly reminder that speakers who get their talks accepted get a free full access pass to the conference!! Submit your proposal today at either:

  1. FOSS4G CfP – for anything geospatial related including open source software and open data.
  2. EclipseCon CfP – for anything Science, IoT, Development Tools, and other topics covered on the CfP Page.

Also co-hosted with the larger conferences include some very interesting theme days:

  • Science Day, featuring open source software for Scientific research
  • PGDay, featuring presentations on the PostgreSQL database
  • IoT Day, featuring presentations exploring the Internet of Things
  • CDT Day, featuring presentations on C/C++ development
  • Polarsys Day, covering embedded system development for safety critical systems such as aviation, space, and energy

A case study in being creepy

Apathy is easy. Especially on the Internet. There’s so much “shit going down” that looking the other way and not getting involved is often necessary to avoid being overwhelmed. Not this time.

Last week, my partner was annoyed with how her hair was behaving and felt it was overdue for a trim. She posted a headshot of herself for a before and after sequence. Soon afterwards, some random jerk posted:

“Wow. I had no idea how breathakingly beautiful you are. Just…wow….”

A compliment, but a creepy one. Not surprisingly this made her uncomfortable. In my opinion a big part of it was the comment was made in a tone that was inappropriate for their level of familiarity (pretty much zero). It was something I, as her partner for 22 years, might say. I’ve earned the right & trust to say it. This person clearly had not. It was an electronic invasion of personal space. Further, this person felt they had the right to publicly voice how physically attractive (or not) they felt she was. I want to educate my fellow men. No, we don’t have that right. It is highly inappropriate and creepy to overstep like this.

This person then went on to further reinforce my opinion that they have broken attitudes towards women with this comment:

“Theres a stunning redhead next to me as I wait for the car to be serviced. Boyfriend or not, I can’t help myself from staring at her…”

Whether a woman has a boyfriend or not does not change inappropriateness. It is pretty crap that this guy feels otherwise.

The attitude that this guy can just help himself and stare if he finds some woman attractive and her comfort be damned is not OK. That he felt comfortable publicly gloating about it is even worse.

Men, we need to hold ourselves and especially each other to a higher standard. And just because it happens all the time doesn’t make it OK.

EclipseCon & FOSS4G NA CfP now open

Next March 9th to 12th, the FOSS4G & EclipseCon North America 2015 conferences are co-hosted at the Hyatt Regency in Burlingame California. Attendees can go to any talk or workshop of their choice for no added cost.

The Call for Papers for each is now open!
EclipseCon NA

Submitting a proposal is painless and involves filling out a simple web form.

We’re keen to see what kind of mad cross pollination of ideas comes from bringing so many smart & creative people together!

p.s. As a thank you, speakers receive a free pass to the conference.


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