Community post by Matthew Cascio, KCD DC Organizer
What do K8s and Clara Barton have in common? Kubernetes Community Days, Washington DC held its 2nd annual KCD on Sept 14th, our first in-person event due to the COVID-19 pandemic, hosted at the historic Hall of Service at American Red Cross, a CNCF End-User Member. The agenda consisted of a welcome by our hosts and CNCF event team, followed by an exciting lineup of seven speakers from the local Kubernetes community.
As an event organizer, I’d like to share a few lessons learned and keys to success from our story under the assumption it might help you assemble a KCD in your locality.
First, while there were certainly several surprising late-game challenges, let’s start by listing some early wins that helped get us off the ground.
Organizers. We were fortunate to have several enthusiastic individuals volunteering as organizers for the event. Some are active in the chapter meetups (a separate activity stream) and most were organizers for last year’s virtual event. Having a consistent core group of organizers helped us avoid the challenges of team formation dynamics because most of us have been working together for at least a year. Also, it helped a great deal in finding sponsors because we have maintained relationships with local organizations over a long period of time.
CNCF support. CNCF has a dedicated events team that was very helpful in pointing us to resources like an event planning guide, required items checklist, and required diversity training. We met regularly with their team, who was always highly accessible via the CNCF Slack workspace. They were also especially helpful when we hit significant roadblocks just two weeks prior to the event date (more on that below.)
Finding a venue. A critical factor in keeping your economics in line with the community aspect of organizing a KCD rests with finding a host that will contribute a meeting space without an expensive rental fee. We were lucky to have a wonderful ballroom-style space with a stage for presenters available in a prime location next to the White House. The venue was easily accessible by public transportation and the meeting space was large but welcoming. The venue itself was an attraction, as attested by the majority of attendees taking advantage of the free tour of the Red Cross archives. However, until your KCD is large enough to warrant a conference center rental your best option remains finding a no-cost venue through your sponsors, your organizers’ employers or other sources.
Now for the challenges and keys to success.
Fiscal sponsor and finances. We got a late start on recruiting sponsors and advertising ticket sales because we didn’t have a fiscal sponsor lined up early. Your fiscal sponsor is the organization who takes payments from sponsors and ticket sales, and who also makes payments for expenses like venue rental, catering, swag products, printing costs, vendors, etc. It sounds like a mundane challenge compared to the fun and exciting Kubernetes content everyone is there to enjoy, but it’s a significant blocker for making real progress executing the event.
Recruiting a fiscal sponsor is one of the first items listed on the planning checklist and it’s best to get yours committed as early as possible. Our late start meant we didn’t register our first attendee until two weeks prior to the event and while we had a robust turnout for being our first in-person event, I can’t help but wonder how many more attendees we could have mustered.
Event sponsors. Plain and simple without sponsors, your KCD event won’t happen. Even if you decide to sell tickets (as we did) it’s unlikely your ticket revenue will cover all your event expenses. The difference is covered by sponsors. Find your sponsors early through the local community. That will give you the best chances of making a meaningful connection with the decision-makers. It also lets attendees know they will have networking opportunities with local employers that might be interested in their services one day.
Speaker lineup. Last but not least, creating a compelling agenda is the reason people turn up for the event, and your speaker lineup is the indisputable crux of that motivation. CNCF provides a platform for collecting and evaluating speaker proposals in your Call for Proposals process. It’s important for your entire organizer team to be dedicated to reviewing and approving proposals. It’s also important for the entire organizing team to make a final review of the lineup to ensure that it represents a diverse range of topics, industries, technologies and speaker demographics. Admittedly, we made a mistake publishing our speaker lineup prematurely with an all-male lineup, which is not only insensitive to the inclusivity of the Kubernetes community, but also not allowed by CNCF, who promotes diversity within each KCD program. In the end, we met this requirement with three non-male speakers, but it’s important to make sure this is part of the CFP process from the beginning. You might have to go beyond the standard CFP activities and reach out directly to individuals asking for participation or referrals. We also recommend you try to do more than the minimum of having one non-male speaker just to satisfy the checklist. In the end, the more diverse the speaker lineup, the better results you will get in terms of topics and viewpoints presented.
In the end, our event turned out to be a resounding success. Anecdotally, there was a lot of positive feedback from individuals the day of the event. More concretely, we had 100% of respondents to our post-event survey say they would attend again and they also would recommend it to their colleagues. That same survey also highlighted the fact that several attendees were interested in speaking, sponsoring or organizing future KCD events.
We hope sharing our story will be helpful in your local KCD journey. Please feel free to contact me directly if you would like to talk further: email@example.com or @mattcascio on Twitter.