Interview: Our Own Arnaud Héritier at the Devoxx France 2014 Committee for Papers Selection (Part 2/2)
A big thanks to Thierry Leriche-Dessirier who carried out this interview for Developpez.com and authorized us to translate it into English. You can find Thierry on Developpez.com or follow him on Twitter at @thierryleriche.
The original interview has been cut into 2 posts:
- The first post was about Arnaud and his work as a Devops.
- This one is about Deveoxx France and Arnaud’s involvement in the selection committee
III. Devoxx France 2014
What is Devoxx, from your point of view?
It’s THE conference for all developers, at least those who revolve around the Java ecosystem.
And by developers, I’m implying all those involved in the application production. I do not stop at those only coding the applications, but also those who will be involved in their lifecycles (QA, Ops …).
What are the specificities of the Paris edition?
The big feature of the Paris version is to provide at least 75% of lectures in French.
Once again we know that the francophone community is very dynamic and we are looking to gather it through this event, where experts and juniors can discuss together about the technologies of yesterday, today and tomorrow.
What are the themes for Devoxx France 2014?
- Java, Java EE, Java SE;
- Web, HTML 5;
- Cloud, Big Data, NoSQL;
- Agility, DevOps;
- Alternative languages;
- Entrepreneurship and Startups.
How many presentations will there be? How many speakers?
In 2014, we retain the same formula as last year. In 2013 we had about 140 speakers for 130 sessions (all types), knowing that sometimes speakers do two sessions and often several speakers do a session together (especially for universities and workshops lasting three hours).
Can we expect to meet rock stars?
Sure, but I won’t unveil names… Like last year, the conference is expected to host 1,400 people and among them leaders in their fields, be they French or not.
Last year, we had the chance to get internationally recognized people like Matt Raible, James Ward, Josh Long, Martin Odersky and many others.
However, the biggest surprise and the most interesting sessions often come from the not well known “Frenchies”. I remember sessions from Sam Bessalah, Remy Forax or Clarisse Herrenschmidt, which were huge success.
What is the role of newcomers?
Committee members do their best to give a chance to a maximum number of people. We know only too well that it is not the reputation of the speaker that will necessarily guarantee the quality of the session.
Based on our networks and our own experiences as participants, we make a great effort to check the references of the speakers.
We will never put in keynote or plenary session a speaker who gives us no or few references. On the other hand, we can offer him a chance if he wants to present a tool during a short 15-minute session.
What is the role of sponsors?
If the conference is held every year for three years in the current format and with the rates participants know, it’s thanks to the sponsors who renew their trust every year. Sponsors are there to support a conference that they believe in by contributing financially.
In exchange, the conference gives them visibility to achieve their own objectives: to increase their reputation, present / sell a product, recruit, etc. So we work with sponsors hand in hand to contribute to the conference without distorting it and we help them make the most profit from it.
What is the role of communities (JUG, schools, Developpez.com)?
Communities are the DNA of Devoxx conferences that have been created on the success of local Java user groups. It is therefore quite normal today that communities are joining us and that we help them in various ways:
- we have special rates for students;
- we invite the community to come together at BOF (limited availability) on Thursday nights during the meet and greet evening;
Presentations are filmed and broadcast on Parleys. We can therefore look at them from home, rewind, pause, etc… What is the real value of attending Devoxx, except for the cheese and wine?
PEOPLE are there in addition to the content!! Have you ever tried to ask a question to Parleys? Of course you can see the content of the sessions on Parleys but nothing replaces the contacts that you make and the exchange you can have with these 1,400 people!
This type of event is a real opportunity to meet people that tomorrow will help you solve a problem (if you only knew how many people I met on lectures that I could call for help on D-Day when everything goes wrong – and vice versa), or crossing the path of someone who one day will be a colleague.
There are also speakers with whom one can have a drink. In fact, many people put the speakers on pedestals. Yet they are simply people who like to share / discuss with others. This is what explains their presence.
IV. Presentations selection committee
What is the role of the committee?
The organization of Devoxx France is managed by two committees:
- The organizing committee is composed of Zouheir Cadi, Antonio Goncalves, Nicolas Martignole and José Paumard. They manage all the financial aspects of the event (registration, sponsors, billing …) and logistics arising from welcoming 1,400 people.
- The selection committee is made up every year of ten people and is responsible for the editorial content of the conference.
About six months before the conference, we bring together the two committees to define the editorial line of the next edition and determine the “tracks” that we want to highlight.
The selection committee will then for about two months receive suggestions for topics (we received more than 500 last year) and will challenge the speakers to finally hold or reject a fortnight after the closure of PSC.
The selection committee will also support the sponsors so they offer a session more in line with the event. We all have the objective to provide content that appeals and serves participants. Having empty sessions (at best) or negative reviews (at worst) on blogs and Twitter serves no one.
The selection committee also reserves the “luxury” of a list (very limited, it goes without saying) of desired speakers we invite because we really want them to come show you something.
Tell us about the process of selection of presentations from the initial proposal to the programming agenda.
Each applicant to be a speaker for Devoxx FR registers and submits a draft of their proposal on the http://cfp.devoxx.fr website. Once satisfied, they validate their proposal and the selection committee comes in. The committee may ask the applicant for more details, for more references or just to improve the proposal. Committee members may also interact with eachother to share their views on the proposal.
The members then vote for the different sessions, which allows us to classify and select them. When the selection is made, we keep some of the proposals as backups, in case we need to manage withdrawals and organize the agenda by balancing the content and taking into account the constraints of speakers.
What are the selection criteria you use?
Members give a score to each proposal keeping in mind a number of criteria such as:
- Is the subject of the proposal well in line with the editorial line (represented by the tracks) of the next edition of Devoxx?
- What value does the content bring to participants? Is what you present to them something useful and concrete that they can put into practice the following Monday? Is your session eyes opening about technologies that may become “must have” in a few months or years?
- The speaker quality of the applicant. We are getting in touch with people who have already seen the applicant on stage and we watch videos on the internet to get an idea. This may affect to a greater or lesser extent the score depending on the type of presentation (we allow ourselves to take more risks on 15-minute presentations than on a three hours university, for example).
- Has the presentation already been seen in France, at JUGs or events similar to Devoxx? It is advisable to have tested the presentation a few times (JUG, etc…), But it has been played 36 times plus or course.
- And finally a weight compared to other similar presentations.
Once the CFP is closed we meet several times to select the lucky ones. Our choice is then based on the marks obtained by the proposals but also other criteria such as:
- balancing the distribution of sessions, based on tracks, and the content (avoid redundancy, etc);
- emphasize the diversity of speakers;
- integrate sponsors slots.
What is the balance of your professional and family life during this long process? There must be broken dishes…
This activity takes us some time and for me the nights are a little shorter than usual. Last year we calculated that by taking a minute by proposal (which is not possible if you take the time to read, learn, discuss, vote, etc..) then we already need 9 hours per person to process them all.
Personally I find it impossible to cram it into the professional time, so these are my long winter evenings by the fireplace chimney (which I have not…) that I invest in the selection of sessions. My wife being a blogger (see her blogs: www.bonbonbisous.com www.newkidsonthegeek.com), she also spends part of her evenings and therefore there is a balance…
What do you remember of the 2013 version and what do you expect in 2014?
That the 2013 version was not bad and we would do it again 🙂 There are few adjustments compared to 2012, as the afternoon of the decision-makers were very well received. We will return to the same type of organization and we just need to make sure to avoid some of the pitfalls of last year – such as too full rooms on Thursday afternoon…
Several readers have expressed their disappointment at not having been selected on previous editions (ie 2012–13) and, most importantly, to not have an explanation. Do you plan to address them, if it is physically possible? Will you give an explanation, even a short one, for subjects not selected, allowing the unlucky ones to make a better proposal for Devoxx 2015?
We would like to, of course, but it is not simple. This year, thanks to a new tool developed by Nicolas Martignole, it should be easier to communicate with applicants to guide them in a better way. But it also requires a lot of time on our part so we try to be more efficient. We try to save whatever is worth it.
In previous years our scores ranged from 0 to 5 and, given the volume of proposals, I think we directly eliminated any proposal below 4.
Between 4 and 4.8 there were a lot of difficult choices and, for losers, no real reason except our feeling and organizational or editorial constraints (two good sessions on the same topic, too many good sessions in one track …).
How can our readers provide a talk?
By going by late January on http://cfp.devoxx.fr.
I advise you to do this as soon as possible, because it allows you to interact with the selection committee and “sell” them your session.
At the end of the period, often, the submission numbers increase a lot and unfortunately on our side we do not have more free time so you have less chance if we challenge your proposal.
Can you give some simple tips to follow when submitting a talk? For example, is it better to offer a sexy title or clear title?
It is important that your proposal is clear and puts forward what the participant will learn. Keep the fun or sexy for the day of the presentation if you want. Put unicorns on your slides and come dressed as a pink elephant if it helps you push your message better.
You need first to convince the committee to choose you and if you are chosen, then the title and abstract of your session need to give participants the desire to come and see you. Remember that even if we select you, this does not guarantee that you have a room full of attendees.
Is there any disqualifying points?
No, I can even vote for sessions talking about Gradle or Hudson! (Just kidding for Hudson.)
More seriously, there are two or three things that annoy, for example:
- Putting 23 proposals on 23 subjects, because we try to not have the same speaker several times.
- Put the same proposal three times in three different formats. The format is part of the choice; we will invite you to change it if we do not find your choice suitable.
Otherwise, we strive to have no bias and the fact that we are a small team of 15 people with different profiles allows us easily to balance reviews.
What topics are you particularly looking for for Devoxx presentations?
This year we can expect JEE7 and JavaSE 8 as substantive subjects. I also hope that we’ll make you dream with the track Devoxx[Future]. And finally, I’d like it if we continue to revolutionize our IT with the Devops / Agile track, which I lead. Think of the user first and give him the Service TOGETHER.
Finally, a few words to encourage readers to attend Devoxx France 2014 and / or submit a presentation proposal?
Like the other would say, 100% of the winners tried their luck. So honestly just come and talk about what you’re passionate about. And of course, register even if you do not submit anything, because the atmosphere and cultural exchange that occurs on such events go far beyond what you can find at the coffee machine at work.
In your opinion, should people attend this great event every year? It has a cost, in euros (entry price, unbilled days), but also in fatigue, because these are a really intense three days.
This should be MANDATORY. Before you see it as a cost, it should be seen as an investment, the same as it can be for training or even for your hardware that you use every day.
It is imperative to balance the gain obtained by going to this type of event. As long as you love your job and you want to thrive in this area, I think it is vital to meet your communities regularly to put into perspective what is happening elsewhere.
As good as your current job may be, it can only be beneficial for both you and your employer to discover other things, and in just three days, you have a high concentration of meetings, discussions and ideas.
Can you give us a little scoop?
Ah ah ah this is a surprise… This year our four organizers we will be pleased to welcome you to the keynote in the manner of a famous group of the 60s. Hint: here, Come together…
The Developpez.com team would like to join me to thank Arnaud Héritier for his participation in this interview.
On eXo’s side, we again thank Thierry Leriche-Dessirierand Developpez.com who carried out this interview and authorized us to translate it into English.
We hope to see you at Devoxx France 2014 and in the mean time, you can discuss with us on our community website.