The Inside Story of How We Selected 30 Talks from 280+ Proposals for Pycon India 2019

Detailed Pycon CFP review process from a reviewer

The Inside Story of How We Selected 30 Talks from 280+ Proposals for Pycon India 2019
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Introduction

I was one of the reviewers for Talk proposals at PyCon (Python Conference) India 2019, which happened in Chennai. This article is written to help someone with the submission of CFP in future PyCon India, especially how their proposals will get reviewed.

There were around 280 Talk proposals received. We had to limit the numbers to below 30. There was a hefty amount of work involved.

Each selected proposal has to go through three stages.

Stages of a Talk proposal:

  • CFP coordinators review phase

  • Field Experts review the phase

  • Final review phase by CFP coordinators and organizers

The narrowing down process:

Almost 150 proposals got rejected due to the following:

  • No or limited supporting materials.

  • There was not enough content to make it to the next stage.

  • No response from the proposer after repetitive reminders.

The CFP Organizers carried out these activities. We, the reviewers, did not get involved at this stage.

The rest of the Talks were categorized into the followings:

  1. Game Design and 3D Modelling — Python in developing games, 3-D modeling, and animation

  2. Embedded Python and IOT — MicroPython, Python on Hardware, Robotics, Arduino, and Raspberry Pi

  3. Culture and society — Diversity, health, productivity, workspace issues, privacy, community building, coding for causes

  4. Others — Everything else that may be of interest to the audience.

  5. Core Python — Language Features, Python Implementations, Extending Python and Standard Library, language internals

  6. Data Science, Machine Learning, and AI

  7. Desktop Applications — Qt, GTK+, Tkinter, Gnome, KDE, Accessibility

  8. Scientific Computing — Python usage in scientific computing and research. GIS, Mathematics, Simulations

  9. Developer tools and automation — Testing, CI/CD, Containers, Orchestration, Logging, and Monitoring

  10. Web development — Web, Apis, Microservices

  11. Networking and Security — Network Programming, Network Security and Encryption

  12. Each category had its own set of experts, selected by the CFP coordinators based on the applications received to review.

  • Category Data Science, Machine Learning, and AI received the highest number of proposals, more than the sum of the next four categories combined. Do not blame the organizers if you witnessed more AI/ML talks in the PyCon schedule.😉

Proposals received across each categories in PyCon 2019

Proposals received across each category in PyCon 2019

  • The review was on a FIFO basis; those who submitted earlier were given feedback earlier and a chance to make their content worthy to qualify for the next stage.

  • There were beginner-friendly talks and Intermediate and expert talks as classified by the proposer. Based on that, I had to think from an audience point of view.

Feedback to Talk Proposers

These are a few recommendations we have provided to the proposers based on their CFP:

  • Talks with a lot of information that needs to be squeezed in,

  • Talks that need one demo for acceptance,

  • Talks that need better slide design,

  • Talks that need a catchy title

  • Talks that would have been better if added specific topics, etc., were provided as feedback to the proposers.

  • Talks better suited as Lightening talk of 5 minutes and not 20 minutes

  • Talks that were niche and will attract only specific individuals

  • Talks which were pretty obvious and can be easily learned over the internet

  • Talks about promoting their product

Selection process:

  • Each talk needs to be reviewed by at least two reviewers; few received more than 10 votes. The average of the reviewers’ votes was used to sort out Talks.

  • The Talks were selected across the categories based on the number of attendees shown interest in each category. However, they were dropped if the Talks were not up to the mark.

  • Diversity was considered an added weight for Talks with differently-abled and female speakers.

  • Narrowing proposals from 130 to 50 was easier than 50 to 30. Much feedback, calls, discussions, and a voting process were involved in selecting the final 30 Talks. These were the most exciting two days of the entire review process.

  • The experienced organizers were able to weed out the overrated talks.

  • Finally, 33 Talks were selected.

My reviewing process:

  • I was the only reviewer and fortunate one selected to review proposals across six categories.

  • Thereby I reviewed around 100 proposals.

  • Initially, reviewing each proposal took around 40 to 75 minutes to me. As I got habituated to the review process, my reviewing speed increased.

  • I learned a bit from each proposal, both from the CFPs, who also got qualified, and had not. I searched the internet for the terms/concepts I did not know about to understand the Talk.

  • August 2019 was an exciting month. I have learned a lot of new concepts and gained industry knowledge.

Setbacks:

  • There were talks which I would have loved to attend at the conference. However, the competition from other proposals was so intense that these talks could not make it. Heartbroken.

  • There were last-minute drop-outs from proposers till the penultimate day of the conference. I respect the wait-list proposers who could pull this through in a single day.

As a reviewer, I have tried to be neutral and unbiased. If you have liked/disliked the Talks in PyCon 2019, now you know whom to blame ;)

Thank you, and all the best if you are submitting a proposal.

Further reading