Some Thoughts on Jfokus

A couple of days ago I was talking to a friend of mine, Elisabeth. She mentioned that the norwegian conference JavaZone had very few women in the lineup. We talked about it a bit and I decided to go and check the Swedish conference Jfokus to see how things were looking there. So I went to their website and had a look.

According to themselves Jfokus are Sweden’s largest developer conference. The next edition of Jfokus will take place in Stockholm next year and they actually have a Call for Papers out right now. That’s cool!

I took a quick peak at the speakers they have had this year and if I understood things correctly there were 75 speakers and 5 out of those who seemed to be women. I judged this mainly by looking at the pronoun she, that was used in the speaker-bio. This means that below 7% of the speakers were women. In terms of gender diversity that is not a happy number.

Now I’ve been organising a conference myself this year and also been thinking a bit about speaking more so I decided to take a look at the CFP for next year. Is diversity something they are thinking about? And if so how are they encouraging it?

The CFP-page consisted of a short description of the conference, when the CFP will close and the expected length of a presentation. It also included a commercial policy. All good info but I would have wanted a bit more. In order to continue I had to give them my email-address. It said they would send an email with further instructions. So I submitted my email and then I checked my inbox. Nothing. I checked it again a bit later. Still nothing. Were they checking emails manually? Some hours later I did get the email. It turned out that “further instructions” was a link to an online form were I was supposed to fill in personal details like company, phone number, blog, twitter, experience, bio etc. There was no mention of topic or title for a talk. I tried to fill out some and hit the save button but the form complained that I had to fill in all required fields. I was not sure which fields were required since there were no visual cues. Were all of them required? Some of them? I also noted that the form itself was really hard to fill in from a phone due to weird zooming issues.

At this time I decided to go and check if there was any mention anywhere as to what they might look for in a speaker proposal. I went back to their website but didn’t find anything regarding the purpose of the conference. I even watched their promo video on YouTube but unfortunately it was only showing people attending the conference with a music overlay. Not really any relevant info for people thinking about sending in a proposal.

I took a look at all the previous years to see what kind of speakers and topics there have been. Clearly it’s been quite focused on Java over the years. Even though they don’t state it on their current site Jfokus has always been the conference for Java developers here in Sweden. So no surprise there. But I also noticed that here and there were talks about other things like Scrum, HTML5, Go, Docker and even some talks that seemed less technical. I noticed that some speakers been talking several times over the years. But should I really have to go through the archives to try to guess what they are looking for in the CFP?

I went to their Twitter-page and read the one sentence-bio there. It said: “Developer conference in Stockholm with focus on JVM languages, Rock-star speakers and great inspiration.” Ok. But Rock-star speakers? Do you have to consider yourself to be a rockstar to apply? I was again confused.

In the end I decided that instead of submitting a “proposal” (or sending them some personal info) I would write this article and give Jfokus some tips on how to do this better and in a more inclusive way. At this time my focus will be on making a better CFP and there are quite a lot of things that can be fixed here. Quite easily too I believe.

  1. Be clear about the purpose of the conference. It’s not terrible to have a couple of sentences on why you are doing this and why people should attend.
  2. In the CFP be specific on what kind of speakers you are looking for. Putting together a proposal might take some time and it’s better for all if people are not wasting their time when they don’t have a chance of being accepted.
  3. What kind of topics are you looking for? Again be respectful of peoples time. I’m thinking the commercial policy might be an attempt at this but you could do better. Java-related topics vs non-Java? Is a non-technical talk acceptable? Is it ok to have a talk directed to beginners or should all talks be expert level?
  4. Make sure the forms for submitting works across devices. Also make sure it’s accessible for ATs. An inclusive form should consist of semantic markup with clear labels and inputs.
  5. Explain why you need certain information and what you will use it for. I’m not sure if that email I submitted will only be used to send me an email with a link to another form or if you will also use it to send out info or even spam about other things? As for the personal info it’s the same thing. Why do you need it and how will you use it?
  6. Let people submit a talk (or several). Now I never made it through the form for personal info but I find it really weird that my personal info seemed to be more important than the topic I would like to talk about.
  7. Let people know about the process of choosing speakers. This will again tell people if they might stand a chance and also that the process seems fairly fair. How many people are deciding? Do all proposals stand the same chance regardless of when they are submitted?
  8. If you want to be inclusive don’t call speakers Rock-stars (or ninjas, gurus, super-heroes or the like). A lot of people do not identify themselves with these kind of words and it’s also cool if you as a “regular” person are free to speak as well. If on the other hand you are looking for only Rock Stars (or only “famous” and well-known people) you need to state that clearly. But then again if that is really the case I’m not sure having a CFP is the right way to go.
  9. Tell people what they can expect from you. Are you paying for their trip to Stockholm? Hotel? Food? Do you get payed for speaking? These are all good things to know before proposing.
  10. When are people going to be notified about the selection? Will everyone who submitted get notified regardless of being selected or not? This is something that will help both you and the speakers. A lot of people live busy lives and a late or unclear notification might end up in both of you missing out.

So what all of these things comes down to is trying to be inclusive by respecting people and their time.

In a blog post Karoline Klever writes about diversity at NDC Oslo 2016. I found the following sentence:

In Sweden, most conferences are able to reach 20%, they have a black belt in attracting women and we’d all like to learn a thing or two from them.

It would be so cool if Sweden actually was really good at this, right? Sadly I’m pretty sure we are not. But we can do better and I think Jfokus can do better.