Interview: Behind the Scenes at SCALE 8x's Call For Papers

by Ostatic Staff - Oct. 16, 2009

Although the 8th annual Southern California Linux Expo (SCALE) isn't until February, 2010, a Call for Papers has already been announced. If you've got something you want to discuss with the FOSS community, head over to the registration page and submit your idea for a talk. There are five speaker tracks to choose from including two specialized tracks -- one for beginners and one for developers.

I caught up with SCALE Publicity Chair Orv Beach, to get the inside scoop on what makes a successful presentation, what the review committee is looking for (hint: it's not Big Names in FOSS), and more.-- By Lisa Hoover

Lisa Hoover: Are the specialty tracks new this year?

Orv Beach: SCALE hasn't held specialty tracks every year. But whenever we have, we've seen excellent attendance in those sessions. In the past, some of the beginner sessions have been the best attended; it was obvious that they were meeting a need. So we held them again, but at irregular intervals. After the excellent attendance at the developer and beginner tracks at SCALE 7x, we decided to hold them once again because of the obvious demand for those topics. We may decide to hold at least the beginner track every year -- that remains to be seen.

LH: What kinds of things will the paper review committee be looking for? What sets an accepted paper apart from those not chosen?

OB: There aren't hard and fast rules, but there are some things we look for. If a proposal even faintly smells of being commercial, it is rejected. That's not our focus and we provide enough other opportunities for commercial sponsors to meet our attendees. We screen the proposals strictly, but once in a while one does sneak through (the proposal misrepresents what the speaker is actually going to talk about). When it does we hear about very clearly from the audience afterwards. I'm not saying that SCALE has a speaker blacklist, but we do have long memories; speakers who violate that guideline generally won't have their submittals considered thereafter.

As far as reviewing proposals, we don't have a designated committee. That process has changed through the years; for SCALE 1, we had to dig to find speakers for 10 sessions. For SCALe 7x we had about 140 submittals for the 25 speaker slots of the main Expo (!) That's an embarassment of riches, but also a ton of work to wade through. Shyam Kapadia, the speaker chair, pre-screens all the proposals (he's gotten very good at it). He then lets the other SCALE chairs look at them and we filter them based on their timeliness and appropriateness.

LH: How many slots to you have to fill?

OB: We haven't decided the exact layout of the sessions yet, but it'll be similar to last year: 5 tracks with 5 sessions, plus 5 more sessions in the Try It lab, which by the way was very successful at SCALE 7x. That's for the main conference, Saturday and Sunday. We haven't yet decided which, if any, 'mini-conferences' might be held on the Friday prior to SCALE.

LH: What successful presentations come to mind from past events? Why do you think they were popular?

OB: As far as a succesful presentation, it's pretty much those things that make any presentation successful: a timely subject, well-presented by someone who's reasonably articulate. A couple of years ago virtualization was the big thing. We scheduled several presentations on the topic and they were all jam-packed.

LH: What advice would you give to someone who's thinking of submitting a paper but worries they don't have enough to offer or aren't a "big name" in the community?

OB: While it's nice having "big names" on the program, we've always tried to focus on timely, high-content presentations. So, a speaker doesn't necessarily have to be well-known in the community, nor do they have to be highly technical. One of our key efforts is trying to educate the steadily-growing new user community. So a well-presented session on a beginning topic is every bit as valuable (and maybe more so) to us as a dissertation on kernel innards.

So if someone enjoys presenting, is enthusiastic, but has only been in open source for a couple of years, we'd still encourage them to consider submitting a proposal for the beginner's track. If, on the other hand, they're a developer hankering to impart some knowledge about their specialty, by all means they should consider submitting a proposal. Everything in between is fair game, too!

LH: Thanks, Orv!