GopherCon 2021 CFP OMG!

Apr 7, 2021 📰 6 minute read

Hi Gophers, it’s your friendly co-chair of the GopherCon program committee!

For the past two years, I’ve written about the GopherCon call for proposals (CFP) when it opened. Much like 2020, this year’s conference will be a bit unique because of the lingering effects of the Coronavirus pandemic, but the CFP process is the same as always.

We’re looking for great proposals that will become even better talks; and this applies despite your physical presence in San Diego! Whether virtually or in-person, we intend to deliver an engaging, educational, and exceptional conference. As a reminder, we are looking especially for first-time speakers. This means that all else held equal, we’ll choose a proposal from a first-time speaker over that from a veteran. This isn’t meant to discourage experienced speakers; we just want to assure potential submitters that we continuously look for new and fresh ideas from community members we haven’t heard from before.

What We Do

Before I go into details on what you need to include in your proposal, I want to explain how we review your proposal. We think it’s important to be transparent about this, and if you’re already aware of the criteria, a reminder never hurts. Here’s how it works:

  • You submit your proposal(s) to PaperCall.
  • We have a group of reviewers ranging from repeat GopherCon attendees to experienced speakers who conduct initial double-blind reviews. We do each review based on the criteria below. Every proposal submitted before the CFP closes is reviewed the same way during this step.
  • After the CFP closes, we shortlist proposals with higher than average scores and choose proposals for the final program from this shortlist.
    • At this point, we de-anonymize proposals so we can choose the best lineup of talks for our audience and can contact you if your proposal is accepted.
  • If your proposal is accepted, our mentoring team will work with you from the time you are notified until the day the conference begins to ensure your success on stage.
    • Our mentoring team will communicate frequently, review your slides, preview dress rehearsals of your talk, give you tips, and be a support onsite. Of course all of this is provided based on your comfort level. We won’t micromanage your preparation, except to ensure your talk is ready to go a few weeks prior to the conference.

How (and What) You Should Submit

So, given how we work, what should you keep in mind while submitting?

Relevance

GopherCon is a Go conference and people pay to attend (Though, you can watch the programming via a livestream for free if you choose not to travel this year!) because they want to learn more about Go. That means your proposal needs to be about Go and contain relevant information. Make sure you tell us, in your proposal, how your talk relates to Go if that’s not obvious. If you’re unsure how to do that, you can be explicit, i.e. “This talk relates to Go because ….".

Also, keep in mind that Main Theater talks need to be relevant to everyone at the conference. If you’re planning to deep-dive into a topic, propose a 45-minute tutorial.

Clarity

This one might sound obvious, but it’s easy to forget that the review committee and chairs only know what you want to talk about by reading your proposal. Remember that during most of the review process, reviewers don’t even know who you are.

Make sure that everything you’re thinking is clearly explained in your proposal. If you have to write more about what you plan to talk about to achieve clarity, do it. Proposals are commonly rejected because they’re unclear, but I’ve never seen a proposal rejected specifically because it was too long.

Correctness

We only accept proposals if the speaker clearly has knowledge of the topic they are proposing. We don’t need you to be an expert, by any means, but we want you to at least be speaking from a place of experience. Remember that experience can have many meanings, including:

  • What it was like for you to learn something
  • How you overcame a challenge at work by using $TECHNOLOGY
  • What it was like fixing a bug in $MODULE

The only way we know whether you can deliver a talk from your experience or expertise is from your proposal. While we’re evaluating your proposal, we don’t know who you are or anything about you, so validating your knowledge on the subject you are proposing is key.

Achievability

The duration of Main Theater talks is 25 minutes and tutorial sessions are 45 minutes. In either case, those timeframes are a lot shorter than they sound. You need to show us that you’ve thought about how long your talk will take and you know how you’ll fit your content into the timeframe you’ve chosen. The best way to do this is to include an outline of your talk with timing estimates. An outline shows us that you’ve thought about timing and it also greatly improves the clarity of your proposal.

We’ve rejected talks we liked, but weren’t sure if the author knew how they would fit their talk into the time allotted.

Impact

This is the piece that’s missing in the vast majority of rejected proposals. We look for talks that will teach the audience something new, so we need you to tell us what you plan to teach. Don’t assume that it’s obvious, it likely isn’t.

If you’re not sure how to do that in your proposal, write this: “The audience will walk away with $THING_YOU_PLAN_TO_TEACH.”

More Reading

There’s a lot of literature out there on how to submit a great proposal. We’ve added links at the bottom of the CFP page, but this year, one of my co-chairs, Kris Brandow, is writing a detailed blog series on this topic. Please check out post 1, post 2, and post 3, with a final installment publishing on Monday, April 19th.

Conclusion

We receive anywhere from 180-225 proposals during our short 3-week CFP process and multiple people double-blind review each and every one. With that said, the following are some important tips to keep in mind:

  • Don’t assume that a topic is implicit, especially if it’s detailed or intricate. It may be to a coworker, but it’s likely not to a reviewer who is volunteering time to read your proposal and doesn’t know the source.
  • We like details! When in doubt, elaborate on an important point in your proposal. Be explicit!
  • Proposals that don’t state their impact on the audience have a low chance of success.
  • You don’t need to be an expert on your topic, but you do need to demonstrate knowledge of it. Make sure to clearly tell us what your experience is.

And with that, I wish you good luck during the CFP process and I hope to see you on stage soon!

Edits for clarification were made to this post on April 16, 2021