Paper jams: not just for printers

June 18, 2015

Author Matthew Revell

DevRelCon founder and CEO of Hoopy, the content agency for the developer economy.

Paperjams: not just for printers

Paperjams: not just for printers

In an ideal world, every conference talk would be submitted through passion: passion for the subject, passion for the conference, passion to reach that audience.

When you have a distributed developer relations team, with overlapping travel schedules and inconvenient time zones, that passion can need a little help.

Similarly, once your Developer Advocacy team grows beyond one person, it’s a good idea to check you’re not submitting similar talks to the same events.

How paper jams started at Couchbase

At Couchbase our Developer Advocacy team covers coast to coast in the US and has people in several European countries.

Taking naming inspiration from the Ubuntu community’s Global Bug Jams, I created a weekly meeting and called it our Paper Jam. Each week we’d get on a Skype call, look for open CFPs and collaborate there and then to write an abstract that suited each.

Developing a process

At first, that worked. As both our team and library of proposals grew, it was clear we needed something more efficient.

Pretty quickly, we settled on this:

  • Review and record the outcome of our last meeting: usually acceptances and rejections.
  • All open the same listing of upcoming conferences/CFPs.
  • The call leader takes the next event in the list and we discuss:
    • whether the topic is suitable
    • which member of the team is best suited to that event
    • if it clashes with an existing commitment
    • whether we have an existing talk or proposal that would work for that event and, if not, the rough topic/title of our new proposal.
  • Each person leaves the call to submit their allocated proposals.

That’s the easy bit.

Finding open calls for papers

Finding open calls for papers has been a bit hit and miss. For our paper jams, we’ve been using three main resources:

Call to Speakers is now our main list, mostly because it lists tech conferences in order of CFP closing date. However, there are still gaps in its coverage.

Lanyrd almost has the opposite problem: it covers many events that aren’t tech conferences, which compounds the other issue that makes it less useful to us: filtering simultaneously on location, date-range and theme is hard.

We fill the gaps with our own knowledge and Google searches.

Keeping track

We’ve been using a shared Google spreadsheet to track our progress. The main things we record are pretty obvious really:

  • conference name
  • location
  • talk proposal (can be more than one)
  • submitter of the proposal
  • status.

Maybe there’s a better tool but a spreadsheet is good enough for now.

What next

The process is running well for us. It has taken something that we all wanted to do and turned it into a lightweight process that pretty much runs itself.

Our main area for improvement is to formalise our library of talks. Right now, we have an unloved internal wiki page and rely mostly on just knowing what talks we have already written.

If you try paper jams, I’d love to know what improvements you come across.

Photo by Tony Whitmore

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