Lessons learned from Meeting C++ 2015
by Jens Weller
Some reflections on last years Meeting C++ conference, and what changes are coming for this years Meeting C++ Conference, which will be announced next week. This year will be the 5th conference, with the experience of running the event 4 times, it will be again, the best Meeting C++ conference I have organized so far. But lets first look back, and learn from last years and previous events.
Meeting C++ 2015
Lets start with a quick recap of how the conference went. We had 2 great keynotes, and in between a program full of talks on C++, most of them are already up on youtube. After the welcome message the conference started with a bang, Chandler Carruth gave a great insight on optimization:
Then 7 Talks followed organized in 4 Tracks in parallel, so in total 26 Talks + 2 lightning talk sessions. On friday evening the conference finally had again an evening event after 2 years without. First the speakers dinner, and then the party for everyone. The speakers dinner was a full success, but a few speakers couldn't make it, busy preparing their talks. Also I will never forget asking 450 people in the welcome message to look up their drink vouchers, seeing how the audience gets slightly nervous about not finding any. I did not want people to go through the hassle of dealing with vouchers for getting a drink, and with another conference day ahead, people knew their limit. Shortly after 2 o'clock the party came to an end, with the last discussions on move semantics. It was a great success.
The second day started quiet for me, the hotel gives me access to the lounge, and having a quiet hour around sunrise for breakfast is great. As the rest of the day, it will be lots of things to do. Running a conference is tiring. But the day went again without big interruptions. The Hotel does a nearly perfect job in managing food and drinks during the breaks, and any problems are solved quickly. After 4 talk slots, it was time to present the past year from Meeting C++ perspective, I decided to also show some numbers on C++ related blogs from my RSS Database, and of course a short stop by user groups. Then, the final closing time for Meeting C++ had come, the closing keynote on "Creating intuitive APIs" was a good recap on Qts design philosophy given by Lars Knoll:
With this, the conference closed. For the attendees. Not for me, there is still a lot of things to do, like meeting a few people before they leave. Then there is the feedback, and the videos to edit an publish. Plus that the backlog of the conference is also about 1-2 weeks of work.
The feedback system this year showed that its not perfect, as PHP also has race conditions. I could fix this, but for this year I already know that I have to do things here differently. But its only a smaller change. But most of the feedback got into my system and was then shared with the speakers. It was also again interesting for me to read through it. People also used the general entry to give me their personal feedback, I can't really tell who is doing this, as the feedback system is anonymous.
As organizing Meeting C++ is my main job, I do think a lot about the conference, and how to improve. The feedback system is a great opportunity to see where I might be wrong, what went well and where still things can be improved.
Positive feedback, there is always lots of things which people like. Talks, food, drinks, the party was well received. Also, one room was of no use for the conference, I did not want to put a track into it, as it is the smallest, and changing rooms is not an option, we did that last year. So, I decided to put a lounge into this room, which was very well received. Also introducing a Code of Conduct for the conference was well received. As far as I know, there has never been a single incident at the conference.
Negative feedback, this is where it gets interesting. Meeting C++ is already very well organized, my team does this now for a few years together with me, the hotel also is close to magic. There was one single feedback, that the breaks were to long, but I had to make them longer from last years feedback, as we are now more people on the conference, and I expect the conference to grow. I want people to be able to do more then a room change during a break. Due to the number of attendees, also the main room had to be 50% chairs only, unlike last year. This made it difficult to get to the question microphones. Also some people asked for a different date. Let me assure you, that last year was the last Meeting C++ in December, as it sucks the most for me. It lets me burn out through the christmas time totally. I hope to be able to keep the conference in November for the coming years, which wasn't possible for 2014/15. I understand this feedback, but some things are from the organizers point of view necessary. And then there was some feedback on the program, which I also share.
I didn't like the outcome of the program totally either. It still was a good program, but as the talks are chosen by the audience through a voting, there was little room for corrections. I will improve the process for submission and the voting further, to improve this situation. Also, the submissions where mostly in a narrow field mostly covering hype topics like functional, coroutines, etc.
So, what are the lessons learned and changed for this years conference? I already mentioned we're finally back in November, which is great for parents and lovers of the Nicolaus.
The biggest change is regarding how to handle the early conference things like announcement and call for papers. I made a decision, that in the first quarter I don't really want to have a lot to do with the conference. Meeting C++ as a platform keeps me busy enough, and this gives me time to do a few other things, like working on the CMS which will power soon(tm) Meeting C++.
So expect the announcement of future Meeting C++ conferences at the end of march. The call for papers then lasts about 6-8 weeks, followed by the voting. I will collect for each talk also level(beginner,intermediate,advanced), plus an outline, so people can vote on more then just title and description. I still believe that most of the audience should not see who submitted the talk, I want your opinion on the talk, not the speaker. But I will introduce a committee, which is part of the voting, committee members will be able to see the name of the speaker. Part of this committee is my team at the conference, plus the speakers from previous conferences. I'll be able to compare the voting results and have better feedback and guidance for the program.
But again: I can only select what has been submitted. Thats why I'd like to limit the max talks for each speaker to 2, and I do want you to submit more talks then 2, especially if you submit to popular categories such as functional, threading/parallelism, coroutines or C++17. I will keep one separate track for sponsors, as these talks are an interesting addition to the conference, and either don't pass the voting or are later submitted.
Then, the main stage. It is a tradition to put the 7 most popular talks into the A Track for the main stage. I will change this a little bit. I still think, that is a good way to handle things. But, its not anymore a small audience and a small room, this years main room is even larger the the last years. I have to protect new speakers from submitting a talk and the suddenly being "forced" to speak in front of 200-400 people. So, with this year, I will be a bit more strictly with the main track, often the top voted talks are also from very good speakers, so this is not a problem at all. But I don't want to burn a talk, neither for the audience nor for the speaker, just because they are not used to stand on such a big stage.
And ofc I try to keep the good things in Meeting C++. This years conference will be again at the Andels Hotel, but more about this years conference next week!