10 / 11 / 2023 • Daniel Garnier-Moiroux
Year 2023 is slowly coming to a close, and conference season is over - at least for me. I have been extremely fortunate this year to speak at 7 different conferences. Speaking somehow has a “glamorous” image in the tech community. But it’s “just” another social endeavour, with unspoken rules and social norms, that you figure out the more as you do it.
Acceptance rate: 42%
I applied to speak at 19 conferences. I got accepted 8 times (42% acceptance rate), rejected 11 times (58%). Unfortunately, I could not attend one of those, so I only spoke at 7 conferences.
I submitted 6 different talks to various conferences, of which 4 were accepted (66%). All of those were tech-centric talks with a live demo. As a rule of thumb, if the technology is too specific, or not widely adopted, there’s little chance the talk will get accepted - unless you have a really “catchy” angle. So OAuth2 and Spring Security worked well, but Spring Authorization Server seemed to be too niche.
In terms of all talks submitted across all conferences, I put in 58 submissions and only 8 got accepted, success rate is actually pretty low (~14%).
Those conferences took place in 6 different countries. I travelled by train only, and made an exception for my employer’s conference, SpringOne @ VMware Explore, which happened to take place in Las Vegas.
How to get accepted
It’s normal to get rejected. It’s much more frequent than to get accepted! There’s a little bit of spray-and-pray in submitting to “Call-For-Papers” (cfp) - submit to many things, only get accepted to a few. You can’t just target one conference: only 5 to 25% of entries make it through, depending on the conference. I love this blog post by former Pivotal colleague Dormain Drewitz, where she says:
Why your talk wasn’t selected (spoiler alert: it probably wasn’t your abstract)
In the end, if your talk wasn’t selected, there are many other factors that were in play.
I gave a few “conference talk” presentations (40~50 minutes), a short format (25 minutes), one “deep dive” (2 hours) and a 4-hour pre-conference workshop. I also had the chance to deliver an ignite session, 5 minutes, 20 slides, auto-forwarding, that got scheduled at a conference I was speaking at outside of the general CFP process.
For stuff I do, I find the deep-dive format to be the most comfortable. You have ample time so you don’t have to compress content too much, there’s room for interaction with the audience, and you don’t have to get the timing perfectly right. The 45-minute format is fine, long enough that you can elaborate, but short enough that preparation time doesn’t swallow weeks and weeks of your precious time.
Workshops are, unsurprisingly, an absolute time-sink in preparation, but they probably bring the most value to attendees, and you get the most interactions in this format.
The ignite one was, counter intuitively, really tough to finish. I thought I’d recycle a talk and it’d take me 30 minutes to one hour, but it took me over 4 hours to distill the message to the very bare minimum. As Blaise Pascal famously wrote:
Je n’ai fait cette lettre-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.
The present letter is a very long one, simply because I had no leisure to make it shorter.
All of this was only made possible because of the amazing support I got from my employer, VMware - they covered the expenses, travel and accommodation, and let me do this as part of my job. I’m not in a DevRel role, just close to the open source side of the business.
Some conferences have budget for speakers who do not have the luxury of having things paid for by their employers. Although I understand the financial constraints conferences have, it’s a thing that I’d like to see more, it would probably boost the diversity of conference speakers.
Here’s the detail of my speaking engagements this year (find more on my talks page):
- VoxxedDays Zürich - Spring Security, the Good Parts™ - 45 minutes - English
- VoxxedDays Luxembourg - Spring Security, the Good Parts™ - 2 hours - French
- RivieraDev - OAuth2, OpenID: le SSO en live-coding, sans framework - 25 minutes - French
- SpringOne - Securing Web Apps on Kubernetes with Spring Authorization Server - 40 minutes - English - co-presented with Joe Grandja from Spring Security
- Swiss Cloud Native Day - The Carvel toolsuite: build, configure, deploy k8s apps, following the Unix philosophy - 45 minutes - English
- Devoxx Belgium - OAuth2, OpenID: live-coding SSO from first principles - 45 minutes - English
- JFall - Spring Security, the Good Parts™ - 4 hour workshop - English
- JFall - Project Carvel: Composable tools for Kubernetes deployments - 5 minute ignite - English