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With a few teammates of my company, we are thinking about organizing a conference about distributed systems, big data/databases, and machine learning. I already got some money saved for the organization and also for renting a cool place where to do it. The conference would be in Buenos Aires, Argentina at the end of April or beginning of May 2018. The conference would take one or two days.

We have already talked with a few companies and we might be able to pay between 3 and 5 plane tickets to invite a few speakers that live in the US/Europe. We have already talked with a few possible speakers and they told us they would be interested in talking at the conference. The rest of the speakers would be speakers working in the local industry.

Do you have any recommendation on who to invite? From your point of view which are the more interesting and accessible people to follow in big data, machine learning, distributed systems and programming languages design.

I have organized a few conferences but not related to the software industry. Do you have any recommendation or tip related to the organization of a conference?

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    Here’s a couple of quick tips:

    • Even though you got some saved money: Make the tickets cost-covering. Take your fixed cost (speaker travel, video recording, venue, lunch) and divide them in per-head and one-off costs. Charge so much that you cover the cost, plus maybe 5% for disaster cases.
    • Try to make a small profit. Why? It makes you sleep easy and allows you to use the saved money for the next one.
    • Think about accessibility (wheelchair-accessibility, etc.) now. It’s easy to do upfront and hard to do later. Also, people in need of support need to know early on. Document what you have, give an email address for those that have questions. Communicate that. Example: http://zurich.rustfest.eu/accessibility (just strike off the list what you don’t have / can’t provide, see this as a list of options).
    • Work with social media and understand that you have a global audience. For example, if you have an announcement, tweet it 3 times to different times. Most people don’t read Facebook/Twitter all day, which means they will probably miss 1 or 2 announcements.
    • Don’t invite too many speakers. Invited speakers are cozy and you probably know what you get. But, the CFP often contains nice things from fresh people.
    • Also speakers: gamble and be willing to have a dud. Some of the best talks on my conferences were from unknown newcomers. A certain Steve Klabnik gave their first keynote on one of our conferences because we gambled.
    • For these reasons, have an semi-anonymous review. We’ve had cases where regular and known speakers put very lackluster proposals in, but we’re sure that we would have been tempted to take them anyways. Semi-Anonymous is the form where the first round of proposal rating just rates the proposal, not the speaker. The lower 50% are cut off. The second round is just as usual, with speaker identities revealed.
    • It’s fine to pick someone you like. It’s your conference. Just be aware that a CFP is a way to ensure you look in corners outside your usual circles.
    • For that reason, advertise your CFP. A LOT. Try to spread it outside of your circles.
    • Alcohol is the most useless budget point on the ticket price. Kick it, just charge less. “Drinks included” is usually “drinks pre-paid and if you don’t drink, you’re cross-financing others”. Obviously, non-alcoholic things, especially water should always be around. People that drink have no problem with just buying at the bar. Go to a place where that is feasible.
    • There’s a substantial group of people that is not into loud partying. Make sure your party places have quiet corners.
    • Quiet rooms (a room where absolutely no talking is allowed) are easy to make and people love it. After 4 hours of chatting and talks, people enjoy being silent for a while. Also, they make an easy social contract, which for example allows speakers to just go in there after a talk.

    This is just what quickly came to my mind…

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      All I can say is THANKS

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      I’m one of the organizers of !!Con in New York City, an annual programming conference about to be in its fifth year. if you’re interested, I’d be happy to answer any questions you have either here in the comments, or DM me and we can set up a time to chat. :)

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        Thanks! I will reach you as soon as I finish working. I am a big fan of the !!Con, I hope you can upload the 2017 videos :)!

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          Thanks for the reminder, we’ve had a PR open for that for a long time that you just prompted me to merge :|


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        From my personal experience organizing EFLBA this year and watching Monika organize many Erlang factories over the years:

        • Preparing the bags and swag is not a simple task. You have to schedule some time for it in advance, talk to your sponsors about how to gather the stuff (particularly in Argentina, remember customs are tricky, to put it lightly).
        • You will need volunteers for the day of the conference. You might have a nice team, but you and your team will also be exhausted from the stress of the last days prior to the event and willing to watch some talks or even speak or present them. Volunteers are an invaluable help to deal with the minor tasks through the conference.
        • Gather feedback! All the feedback you can. From speakers, from the audience, from your co-organizers, even from the tech crew. It’s super important, being this your first conference, to learn from it. And on this topic, you have to get the feedback as fresh as you can. If you wait for a week after the event to send a survey… nobody will reply.
        • If the event is in Buenos Aires, don’t forget that everybody working on the event (even the volunteers!) must have insurance. And insurance here is not a cheap nor an easy thing to procure. Plan for it in advance.
        • Hire a professional tech team. Recording the conference/talks properly goes a long long way to promote the next year’s version of it. Check the videos of EFLBA, they have links to the tech team if you want to hire the same one.
        • Don’t forget speakers’ dinner (especially if you have international speakers). To care for your speakers is super important. In most cities, there are many things you can tour around for free, and that would be a plus for anybody visiting the city for the first time.
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          Maybe you can find some interesting tips here: “Perl Jam aims to collect together the knowledge and experience of organising some great Perl events, and order them in such a way that anyone wishing to do the same, can follow the footsteps of those who have gone before, and prepare themselves for what will hopefully become a great event.”