The inaugural FOSS United event in Hyderabad happened at T-Hub yesterday. HydFOSS was more or less a success. We sold 187 tickets and we had around 175 people actually attend the conference. In this post, we are going to look back at all of the work that was required to make the conference happen, what went right, what went wrong, what could have been improved and what steps we will take in the future.
The idea to do HydFOSS was first discussed in May, 2023. @knadh had already interacted with the staff at T-Hub, Hyderabad and was impressed by the facilities. A decision was made that if and when we do the event, it will be held at T-Hub, in collaboration with T-Hub. The first meeting between the FOSS United team, FOSS United Volunteers and T-Hub team was held on the 18th of May, 2023 where we discussed the value that FOSS United provides to the community and how this event would benefit the open source and software communities in Hyderabad. The team at T-Hub confirmed to us on the 31st of May, 2023 that a venue at T-Hub was blocked for us for the 29th of July, 2023. The forum post for HydFOSS planning was created on the same day by @Poruri_Sai_Rahul to publicly document and communicate the work happening behind the scenes to make HydFOSS happen. We also created and shared a document with them to asynchronously communicate the needs of both sides and keep each other updated on the progress of various work items.
The FOSS United Hyderabad Telegram group was also created and made accessible to the public on/around 31st of May, 2023. Community members slowly started joining the Telegram group and offered their time to help with the conference.
@Poruri_Sai_Rahul first met the T-Hub team on the 6th of June, 2023 to get a tour of the facilities and to plan out the course of action for the next two months. The venue can easily hold 150-200 members and if necessary, they have squeezed up to 250 people. This was more than big enough for the needs of the conference. Right next to the venue, there was ample out door space for networking and buffet lunch. We also decided on a weekly catchup call between the FOSS United team and the T-Hub team.
We announced the conference and opened the Call For Proposals on the 21st of June 2023 with the deadline for CFP on 10 July 2023. In parallel, @Poruri_Sai_Rahul started reaching out to potential invited talks directly. We were able to confirm a few speakers before the CFP closing date, which garnered interest in the conference. Snehith Allamraju has been of great help consistently as he helped us put together the graphics for social media posts. @Poruri_Sai_Rahul managed posting on Social Media (LinkedIn and Twitter).
After the CFP period closed, we reached out to the HydFOSS group and to the existing FOSS United CFP reviewers groups on Telegram to review and vote on the submitted proposals. We used a double-blind review process where the reviewer ideally does not have any personally-identifiable information about the proposer. The reviewer only has the text of the proposal and the attached document, if any, to decide whether or not the proposal is good. The reviewers were also asked to provide subjective review comments, if possible, and these subjective comments could be conveyed back to the proposer, without leaking information about who the reviewer is.
In the end, we had 3 invited speakers and 6 talks selected from submitted proposals. We also decided to include a Lightning Talks section, which in the end provided an avenue for 2 proposers whose proposals were earlier rejected. We dropped the speaker announcements one-day-at-a-time on social media to garner regular interest in the conference and spur ticket sales. @Poruri_Sai_Rahul continued trying to reach out to speakers who could talk about FOSS in Academia/FOSS in Education as the existing talks more or less FOSS in general, FOSS in Industry and FOSS in Non-profits.
T-Hub was crucial in putting us in touch with Sri Jayesh Ranjan, Principal Secretary of the IT Dept of the Government of Telangana. He gave a talk on the digital initiatives of the Govt. of Telangana and before his speech, the FOSS United team met him to discuss how FOSS can be improve the existing digital initiatives and how FOSS can be incorporated into them.
After the schedule was announced, @knadh highlighted the lack of diversity on the conference schedule. @Poruri_Sai_Rahul tried a last ditch effort to reach out to women in/around Hyderabad who could speak on FOSS but given the last minute effort, the few women that responded were unable to do a talk at such short notice. Most of the women he reached out to were women from the (now defunct looking) PyLadies Hyderabad group and women who spoke at earlier PyLadies meetups in Hyd.
Before the last week, we coordinated with T-Hub to get someone from their side to do an opening note. The CEO was unavailable but we were able to confirm their CDO, Wg Cdr Anish Anthony (Retired) said yes to delivering an opening note on behalf of T-Hub. I met him, introduced FOSS United and HydFOSS to him, discussed why FOSS matters, especially to T-Hub and the startup ecosystem.
During the last week, we put out a call for volunteers on the Telegram group for HydFOSS. A number of people had already volunteered to help out on the group and we asked them to choose the things that they would like to help with. We also had help from T-Hub e.g. emcee-ing was taken up by interns at T-Hub.
The day before the conference, we had a few last minute things to handle. We needed to print a few additional stickers and we also decided to print a standee for the conference.
@wisharya arrived first at the conference venue. @Poruri_Sai_Rahul forgot the standee and had to go back to get it. @rushabh , @mriya11 and the rest of the FOSS United slowly started to roll in to the conference venue. The venue was already setup - the projector worked without any issues, the registration desk was ready and we already had a volunteer sitting at the desk, the catering was already being setup and conference attendees slowly started showing up. T-Hub staff (Suvidha) were also available from 9 AM to help out where possible.
We had around 50-75 people register by 9:45 and we decided to start the show at 10 AM. @wisharya did the opening note on behalf of FOSS United. The CDO of T-Hub, Wg Cdr Anish Anthony (Retd) did the opening note and we got underway. Attendees continue trickling in and eventually, we had a full house of around 175 participants by lunch time.
Sri Jayesh Ranjan showed up at 12:15 PM and the FOSS United team (@Venkatesh_Hariharan , @rushabh , @knadh , @Poruri_Sai_Rahul ) had a brief 20 min discussion with him on the problems that they are trying to solve and commented on how FOSS could be incorporated into the digital initiatives of Telangana.
The audience number slowly trickled down as the day progressed and we ended the day around 5:30 PM. We had a short open discussion after the closing notes and a few people hung around after the conference ended to continue networking. We left the premises at 7 PM.
Overall, 1/3rd of the audience were students. 1/3rd of the audience were women.
- A number of audience participants reached out to us, asking how they could volunteer. We informed them that we will be sending all of the registered participants an email once the videos for the conference are uploaded to YouTube. The email will contain additional information about where discussions happen regd future HydFOSS meetups and how they could volunteer/help.
- A few participants already mentioned that they are interested in hosting a future monthly meetup at on their company premises. They mentioned that they will reach out to their CEO/head and get back to us once they have an answer.
- One of the T-Hub staff mentioned that they know the Partnerships head for Google India and we should pursue them to become an Industry Partner.
- Sri Jayesh Ranjan has promised to put us in touch with the CEO of TASK - the Telangana Academy for Skill and Knowledge regarding integrating FOSS into their skilling initiatives.
- A number of participants showed interested in speaking at a future meetup. We also have atleast 3 proposals which were rejected for HydFOSS that would make for great talks at a future monthly meetup. We also ran into a participant who is interested in working on Policy initiatives with FOSS United.
- A few college students in/around Hyderabad reached out regarding how they could help/volunteer and we guided them towards either helping the HydFOSS monthly meetups or starting FOSS Clubs in their own colleges.
- A number of women speakers that we reached out to at the last minute were interested in speaking at a future meetup
- We reached out to a few faculty members at the T-Hub Academic partners e.g. IIITH and we should followup to maybe host a monthly meetup at one of the academic institutes e.g. IIITH. A faculty member at IIITH was very keen to talk about FOSS in Education and another senior well connected faculty member at IIITH was very keen on putting us in touch with the software industry association in Hyderabad.
- A few participants came forward and asked for help in giving their first talk. We mentioned that we will also highlight this in the email that will be sent out to participants within the week.
- The conference was more or less a success and T-Hub wants to continue working together on running events in the future e.g. Hackathons.
- We tentatively announced that the first monthly meetup will happen in September so we should highlight this in the follow up email and start gathering momemtum for it.
- We decided not to pursue sponsorships which greatly reduced the amount of work that needed to happen before the conference.
- Another big shoutout to Snehith Allamraju who worked multiple late nights to put together the graphics for the speakers and the conference itself.
- We got 19 proposals and we were easily able to choose 6 what-felt-like-good talks from the proposals.
- We were pleasantly surprised to get 10 reviewers for the proposals within the review deadline
- The venue was just perfect. T-Hub didn’t charge us anything and the outdoor networking space is absolutely amazing. The facilities were also perfect e.g. we didn’t have glitches with presentation, the staff were professional and helpful and we were able to handle the conference day without any big hurdles.
- T-Hub was of great help. They put us in touch with Sri Jayesh Ranjan. They put us in touch with the catering company and the photography/videography vendors (both of which worked out very well from what we have heard). Their marketing team pushed out social media posts via their accounts. T-Hub also sent regular emails to their community via the CEOs email address promoting the conference.
- T-Hub also helped us find a few volunteers. T-Hub staff (Suvidha) manned the registration desk for a few hours when the rest of the FOSS United was occupied inside the venue and T-Hub found emcees who could introduce the speakers.
- We wanted to get 200 participants and we sold 187 tickets in the end. We had a full house and the audience interaction was overall very positive.
- We announced ahead of time that we would restrict the number of plastic bottles available via the caterer and we requested the participants to bring reusable water bottles. This helped in making the conference sustainable.
- Vyom Yadav, one of the speakers, helped out a great deal by handling speaker presentations during the morning session.
- As always, Riya and Vishal helped shepherd the entire thing to be a successful conference.
- We created a notes document for our weekly sync-up with T-Hub but we never actually updated it after it was created. All of the back and forth now lives in a ton of emails and in the minds of @Poruri_Sai_Rahul and Suvidha @ T-Hub.
- Except for 2, none of the speakers had their slides ready until the last couple of days
- We ran short of funds. 650 per plate * 200 plates for the catering and 35,000 for photography - 187 ticket sales meant that FOSS United went over budget (default is 50,000 rupees per conference). Our earlier decision to not pursue sponsorship meant FOSS United had to pay for this difference. Things could have been worse if we also had to pay for the venue.
- We were running late and when our meeting with Sri Jayesh Ranjan ended, there was already a talk underway. We decided to halt the talk and ask the speaker to redo the talk after lunch but Sri Jayesh Ranjan pushed for the talk to finish and started his invited talk after the talk ended. This was Bad/Ugly
- The main FOSS United social media channels publish a lot of information. On multiple occassions, the social media announcements for HydFOSS were followed up or preceded by other announcements regarding other city meetups or monthly meetups. I (@Poruri_Sai_Rahul ) am concerned that this might be saturating the audience so we need to evaluate the social media strategy going forward. For example, we have already setup social media channels specific to HydFOSS and we need to figure out how to coordinate/split the announcements between the HydFOSS and the FOSSUnited channels.
- We didn’t do much to reach out to other tech communities in Hyderabad. People from the Python/PyCon community got interested and spread the word organically but we should have done a better job proactively reaching out to other communities. This might have helped us hit our goal of 200 ticket sales earlier and removed the need to continue social media announcements geared towards ticket sales during the last week.
- Of the 9 talks, only 1 speaker was a women so we failed at representing the diversity of our community. Things became worse when we announced 3 male lightning talk speakers. On the day of the conference, we added a new male speaker but we also added a lightning talk by the co-founders of The Commit Company, one of whom is a woman. I (@Poruri_Sai_Rahul ) should have started reaching out to women in tech proactively after the CFP deadline when only 2 proposals were submitted by women.
- @Poruri_Sai_Rahul decided at the last minute to include an additional speaker into the morning session on “Open Data”. The talk lasted longer than expected and ended up causing a time crunch for the talks that followed.
- @Poruri_Sai_Rahul didn’t notice 5 proposals when he first shared the google form for review comments. This was only observed after a talk proposer didn’t notice comments on his proposal after the results of the review process were shared in the Telegram group. The Conference Talks page on the indiafoss app shows the latest 20 talk proposals by default and @Poruri_Sai_Rahul didn’t notice the “Load More” button at the bottom. The 5 proposals were later shared with the reviewers but they didn’t get the same number of reviews as the first set of proposals that were shared.
- We discovered during the last week the large number of “Payment Failured” entries in the indiafoss app. Upon further investigation, it was discovered that 50+ unique users had “Payment Failured” entries and 25+ of such users chose to not buy a ticket or were unable to buy a ticket at all.
- We received an email from an interested attendee that their friends weren’t able to buy tickets. They later responded with a screenshot that mentioned that tickets were over. Upon further investigation, we discovered that the limit to conference attendees was 150 whereas we had been planning to handle 200 participants. We updated this number to continue allowing participant registrations.
I stole “The Good/The Bad/The Ugly” from ArsTechnica reviews