KubeCon + CloudNativeCon has expanded from its start with 500 attendees in 2015 to become one of the largest and most successful open source conferences ever. With that growth comes challenges, and CNCF is eager to evolve the conference over time to best serve the cloud native community. Our upcoming event in Seattle (December 10-13, 2018), our biggest yet, is sold out several weeks ahead of time with 8,000 attendees.
From the start and throughout this growth, we’ve appreciated the feedback and input the community has shared. We carefully review the post-event surveys and listen closely to suggestions and new ideas. This feedback loop is crucial and allows us to iterate and improve.
As we open the call for proposals (CFP) for Barcelona (May 20-23, 2019), we want to share several changes we’re planning to make in 2019, as well as some changes we considered but decided not to implement at this time. CNCF is part of the Linux Foundation (LF) and leverages the LF’s decade of experience running open source events, including more than 100 in 2018 with more than 30,000 attendees from more than 11,000 organizations and 113 countries. We’ve also received a lot of feedback from previous events, much of it laudatory and some with specific proposals for improvement.
Here are some changes we’re planning to implement in 2019:
- CFPs will have room for longer submissions to encourage presenters to share additional background and technical information in their proposals.
- We will be willing to provide additional feedback to submitters whose talks are not selected. This feedback will fall in a set of categories rather than be personalized.
- We’ve improved our tooling to limit submitters to two total submissions into the CFP for consideration. Specifically, we’re counting being a co-presenter as 0.5 of a submission, solo presentations as 1.0 of a submission, and limiting submissions to 2.0 in all. So, at most, you can submit as 1) a co-presenter or panelist on four submissions, 2) a solo presenter on two submissions, or 3) as a solo presenter on one and a co-presenter or panelist on two. Note: Maintainer Track sessions are exempt from this policy.
- In the maintainer track offered to CNCF-hosted projects, the Kubernetes SIGs and working groups, and CNCF working groups, we’re offering the opportunity to combine the intro and deep dive sessions into a longer 80-minute session. (Note that maintainer talks do not count against the single CFP talk per speaker quota.)
- We are introducing two new kinds of smaller events in 2019. Kubernetes Days will be single day, single track events targeted at regions with large numbers of developers who cannot necessarily travel easily to our premiere events in Europe, China, and North America. Cloud Native Community Days will be regional events run by community members and will provide additional opportunities for speakers, practitioners and end users to come together.
- We are encouraging any of our partner summits that would like to try a double-blind talk submission process to do so.
Here are some of the core elements of how we run the event that we are not planning to change:
- KubeCon + CloudNativeCon is a conference for developers and end users (broadly defined) to communicate about open source, cloud native technologies.
- Talks are rated by a program committee of community leaders and highly-rated speakers from past conferences, organized by conference co-chairs. The program committee is selected by the conference co-chairs, who also select the tracks and make the final talk selections.
- Whether a company is a sponsor of the event or a member of CNCF has no impact on whether talks from their developers are selected. The only exception is that each diamond sponsor (6 in total) gets a 5-minute sponsored keynote. The co-chairs are now working with all keynote speakers, including the sponsored ones, to avoid vendor pitches so that the talks resonate with a community audience.
- All talks are about using and/or developing open source software. Although many speakers are employed by software vendors, the conference content is focused on working with open source, not vendor offerings.
- Talks can discuss one of CNCF’s 19 graduated/incubating projects or 11 sandbox projects or any other open source technology that adds value to the cloud native ecosystem.
- We remain committed to increasing the voice of those who have been traditionally underrepresented in tech.
We select community leaders to serve as conference co-chairs and represent the cloud native community. The co-chairs for Barcelona are Janet Kuo of Google and Bryan Liles of Heptio. They are in the process of selecting a program committee of around 80 experts, which includes project maintainers, active community members, and highly-rated presenters from past events. Program committee members register for the topic areas they’re comfortable covering, and CNCF staff randomly assign a subset of relevant talks to each member. We then collate all of the reviews and the conference co-chairs spend a very challenging week assembling a coherent set of topic tracks and keynotes from the highest-rated talks. Here are the scoring guidelines we provide to the program committee. There is not a one-to-one mapping of topic areas to session tracks. We look to the conference co-chairs to craft a program that reflects current trends and interests in the cloud native community.
The above process is used to select the ~180 CFP sessions, which are offered in ~10 rooms. The keynote talks are selected by the conference co-chairs from highly-rated CFP submissions, or in rare cases, by invitation of the co-chairs to specific speakers.
In addition, KubeCon + CloudNativeCon also includes ~90 maintainer sessions spread across ~5 rooms. This is content produced by the maintainers of CNCF-hosted projects to inform users about the projects, add new adopters, and transition some of them from users to contributors. Sessions in the maintainer track are open to each of CNCF’s (29) hosted projects, the Kubernetes SIGs and working groups, and CNCF working groups. Each of these can do one 35-minute Intro and one 35-minute Deep Dive session. New for 2019, we’re offering to schedule these back-to-back to enable one 80-minute session.
Another fast-growing part of KubeCon + CloudNativeCon is the partner summits held the day before the event. This is an opportunity for projects and companies in the cloud native community to engage with KubeCon + CloudNativeCon attendees. For Seattle, there are 27 separate events! They range from community-organized events like the Kubernetes Contributor Summit and EnvoyCon to member-organized summits to open source projects from adjacent communities like networking initiatives FD.io and Tungsten Fabric. The content and pricing of these events are determined by the organization that runs each one.
The review process
Submissions for the CFP sessions are selected in a single-blind process. That is, the reviewer can see information on who is proposing the talk but the submitter does not see who reviewed their submission. Some academic conferences have switched to double-blind submissions, where the submitter removes all identifying information from their submission and the reviewers judge it based solely on the quality of the content. The downside is that it would require significantly more detailed submissions.
Submissions for Barcelona consist of a title and up to a 900 character description, which is used in the schedule if the talk is selected. There is an additional Benefits to the Ecosystem section of up to 1,500 characters to make the case for the submission (this is up significantly from the 300 characters allowed in 2018). To support double-blind selection, we would need to require submissions of 9,000 characters (~3 pages) or more, which is typical of academic-style conferences to encourage effective review. We believe this would discourage many of the practitioners and end users of cloud native technologies from submitting, and more talks would come from academics and those with the time and proclivity to make longer submissions.
This has pros and cons, but it would be a very significant change and unprecedented among open source conferences run by the LF. We considered testing a double-blind process with one topic area (such as service mesh) but decided that it would be too big of a change for an unknown improvement. Instead, we are encouraging any of our partner summits that would like to try a double-blind talk submission process to do so. The LF Events staff is happy to work with them to organize such a process for Barcelona or future events, and if the results go well, we might expand to one or more tracks at a future KubeCon + CloudNativeCon.
For Seattle, the acceptance rate was only 13%, which we understand creates a lot of disappointment and frustration when a very good talk is not accepted. For 2019, we will be providing additional feedback to submitters whose talks are not selected. This feedback will fall in a set of categories such as “not in top half of scores submitted” and “highly-rated but a similar talk was accepted instead.”
How to get your talk accepted
Whether a company is a member or end user supporter of CNCF or is sponsoring the event has no impact on whether talks from their developers will be selected. The only exception is that the 6 diamond sponsors each get a 5-minute sponsored keynote. However, being a community leader does have an impact, as program committee members will often rate talks from the creators or leaders of an open source project more highly.
Avoid the common pitfall of submitting a sales or marketing pitch for your product or service, no matter how compelling it is. Focus on your work with an open source project, whether it is one of the CNCF’s 29 hosted projects or a new project that adds value to the cloud native ecosystem.
KubeCon + CloudNativeCon is fundamentally a community conference focusing on the development and deployment of cloud native open source projects. So, pick your presenter and target audience accordingly. Our participants range from top experts to total beginners, so we explicitly ask what level of technical difficulty your talk is targeted for (beginner, intermediate, advanced, or any) and aim to provide a range.
We often get many submissions covering almost the same concept, so even if there are several great submissions, the co-chairs will probably only pick one. Consider choosing a more unique topic that is relevant, but less likely to be submitted by multiple people.
Our community is particularly interested in end users adopting cloud native technology. End users are companies that use cloud native technologies internally but do not sell any cloud native services externally. End users generally do not have a commercial product on the Cloud Native Landscape, though they may have created an open source project to share their internal technology. For more information, please see the kinds of companies in CNCF’s End User Community. If you don’t work for an end user company, consider co-presenting with an end user who has adopted your technology.
Given that talk recordings are available on YouTube, and there is very limited space on the agenda, avoid submissions that were already presented at a previous KubeCon + CloudNativeCon or any other event. If your submission is similar to a previous talk, please include information on how this version will be different. Make sure your presentation is timely, relevant, and new.
We’ve improved our tooling to only accept a single CFP talk from each speaker, and are limiting submitters to two submissions. Specifically, we’re counting being a co-presenter as 0.5 of a talk, and limiting submissions to 2.0 talks in all. So, at most, you can submit as a co-presenter on 4 talks, a solo presenter on 2 talks, or as a solo presenter on 1 and a co-presenter on 2.
Look through the talks that were selected for Copenhagen and Seattle and notice that most have clear, compelling titles and descriptions. The CFP form has a section for including resources that will help reviewers assess your submission. If you have given a talk before that was recorded, please include a link to it. Blog posts, code repos, and other contributions can also help establish your credentials, especially if this will be your first public talk (and we encourage first-time speakers to apply).
Finally, we are explicitly interested in increasing the voice of those who have been traditionally underrepresented in tech. All submissions are reviewed on merit, but we remain dedicated to having a diverse and inclusive conference and we will continue to actively take this into account when finalizing the list of speakers and the overall schedule. For example, we don’t accept panel proposals where all speakers are men. We also provide diversity scholarships to offset travel costs.
Other cloud native conferences
In 2019, we plan to continue to hold three KubeCon + CloudNativeCon events, in Barcelona (May 20-23, 2019), Shanghai (June 24-26, 2019), and San Diego (November 18-21, 2019). In addition, we support 160 Meetup groups in 38 countries, which have hosted more than 1,600 events and have more than 80,000 members.
We also help CNCF-hosted projects hold their own specialized events, whether in conjunction with KubeCon + CloudNativeCon (including EnvoyCon and the Observability Practitioner’s Summit) or standalone (including PromCon).
New for 2019, we are going to launch two new kinds of smaller events. Kubernetes Days will be single-day, single-track events targeted at regions with large numbers of developers who cannot necessarily travel easily to our premiere events in Europe, China, and North America. The first one will be held in Bengaluru, India on March 23, 2019.
In addition, we are planning to support a set of community-organized events called Cloud Native Community Days. These will be regional events run by community members in those areas and provide additional opportunities for speakers, practitioners and end users to come together. We’ll have more details about these programs early in 2019.
Barcelona and Shanghai submissions
The CFP for Barcelona is open now and the deadline is January 18, 2019. The deadline for submitting talks to KubeCon + CloudNativeCon Shanghai (June 24-26, 2019) will be February 1, 2019. The submission and selection processes are separate. If you submit the same talk to both and it is accepted for one, it will be rejected from the other, so we encourage you to submit different content to each conference.
If you have questions on our processes for selecting talks or ideas on how to improve them, or other thoughts on CNCF events, please reach out to me at Dee Kumar <firstname.lastname@example.org> or book a time for us to speak at https://calendly.com/deekumar.