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12.08.2017: How to make Perl conferences beginner friendly

Still on the ICE back home from the European Perl Conference 2017 in Amsterdam I have some time to write down my thoughts on how to make Perl conferences (more) beginner friendly.

I had some discussions with newcomers who complained^w suggested that the conference is not very beginner-friendly. While I don't think that we are actively trying to shut out newcomers, we might be able to improve various things to make our conferences an even nicer experience for them.

Here are some ideas / notes:

Speakers

Speakers like to submit talks on topics they are currently working on (at least I do). Those topics tend to be semi-advanced topics. So we end up with a bunch of random stuff covering common to weird issues. Which is fine. But even weird topics can be presented in a way that newcomers can understand. Granted, not everybody is Damian Conway and make advanced math needed to factor primes interesting, but we can at least try.

This year, my Exceptional Model Middleware talk should have been suited for beginners, but of course it's hard to assess this when you're not a beginner anymore. I marked the target audience as "Any" in ACT, which I think is ok, because (I hope) the talk also contains useful stuff for non-beginners.

I'd be interesting to see a statistic on the target audience, so could somebody with access to the DB please do SELECT target_audience,count(*) FROM talk WHERE conference = 'tpc-2017-amsterdam' group by 1 and post the result somewhere?

But even if we all did set matching target audiences, there seems to be no way to list all talks filtered by target audience. We should add this to ACT. Or define a tag like 'Beginner-friendly' and have speakers add this tag to their talk (if it applies).

Orgas

Orgas should write out some beginner talks on various topics. Maybe some speakers do not know what they want to talk about, and would appreciate the suggestions. Or maybe we should even "draft" speakers for various beginner topics.

The schedule, and especially all extra training courses, has to be announced as early as possible. Most people make their travel arrangement long before the conference starts. If the orgas add extra training courses late, people will not be able to attend them without booking new flights/trains/hotel. I would have loved to attend Damian's Presentation Aikido, but my travel plans were already set when this course was announced. Effective Perl Programming and Introducing Perl 6 would have probably been very interesting for beginners, but again I assume that turnout could have been higher if they were announced earlier. (But then I don't know how many people attended these training courses).

We should also have a mandatory "This is how a conference works"-talk at the start of the conference. Not mandatory to attend, but mandatory to have in the schedule.

Community

I think we as a community should set up a standard set of slides for various topics which can then be used at the start of a conference to bring newcomers and beginners up to speed with the current Perl best practices. Given some good enough slides, I guess a lot of us could give a presentation on stuff like Moose, DBIx::Class, Plack/PSGI, how to install CPAN modules, how to set up an app / CPAN module etc. I could, and I would.

And I'm quite sure there are already a lot of suitable presentations out there. Maybe we could add them all to one repo, in some generic lowest common denominator presentation software like PowerPoint (shudder) or Libreoffice. Of course the respective authors would first need to license the presentations accordingly. Maybe there already is such a repo somewhere?

Edit: There is here at github.com/genehack/perl-beginner-talks as genehack pointed out in this tweet

Or maybe some of the professional trainers could donate some of their slides, and we feature their logo on every slide, and make it very clear to beginners that they can get more and better courses from those trainers (following the "the first fix is free" principle).

Some past conferences (esp. in the US) offered training courses targeted at beginners before the conference. But if they cost extra, or are not part of the proper conference, newbies might not attend them. So I think a beginner track on the first (half) day of the conference would work best.

Newcomers

But Newcomers also have to do some work. You have to put some energy into a conference to get something back. If you're just passively sitting in some talks, you're missing a lot. Conferences are about the people. So participate in the hallway track. Do a lightning talk. Ask questions.

Also, newcomers should prepare a bit before the conference. Check out the talks, set up a personal schedule, see if any authors of CPAN modules you use and/or love are attending.

And after the conference, we need your feedback, so we can make the next conference even better! Fill out the conference survey. You should have gotten a link from Barbie.

Making TPC great again!

If you have any more ideas, feedback etc, either post it here or somewhere else, so we can help Rick & Mark to make Glasgow not only an awesome conference for the regulars, but also for newcomers!

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