Budget

FUDCon, cerveza, playa, baño!

The four words I need to know to get by in Valencia, Venezuela, for the 2012 FUDCon in LATAM while being an english speaker. (The fifth word may be “poker,” we shall see tonight.) I’ve had a lovely time here thus far, though the internets have been somewhat unkind to me :) I’d go on and on about how lovely it is here, and how good it is to see everyone, but you all know that stuff anyway (all true!) so I’ll skip right ahead to the meat of this post:

FUDCon here is distinctly different from from how it works in North America, and even EMEA to some extent; I haven’t had the pleasure of attending a FUDCon in the APAC region yet, but I suspect it is somewhat similar.  Lots of people showing up to learn about Fedora; there are maybe 30 or so people here from various parts of South America who are Fedora contributors, all of whom contribute in varying parts of the Fedora Project, in different capacities.  Lots of sharing of knowledge – from the use of different applications, robotics hacking, graphic design, becoming a contributor.

We did get the opportunity today to have two solid chunks of time to gather the regional ambassadors and spend some time making plans around a few things, though we did see a few folks shuffle in and out to give presentations.  It comes down to a few things, and they’re things that I’d like to be seeing ambassadors in all regions think more about.

One of the items is planning for the next year to 1.5 years. First off: the budget for each fiscal year (our money year runs from March 1 – February 28) gets set around the December/January time-frame, maybe into February a bit.  So knowing what the needs are when that time comes helps us to get the money we need to continue to do outreach, FUDCons, etc.   The things I’m talking about planning, at least in this particular situation, are specific events where we’d like a Fedora presence.  There are a few things we need to know:

  • Event name/type of conference
  • When, where, how many attendees, does it have a booth fee
  • How many people needed to staff at a minimum; how much it will cost to get people there if they need sponsorship

The “we” here is the Ambassadors from the LATAM region – finding this out for each country, making sure that there is coverage, and then prioritizing what to go to. If there are events where we want to have a bigger presence, figure out what the plan is around that.  Figuring out what the needs will be for swag at the event.

The second major issue for ambassadors here is really logistics of shipping; some countries can’t ship to others, customs is a nightmare, and items need to be printed in various languages.  We talked today about the possibilities of just possibly having a hired person specializing in shipping, or outsourcing to a logistics company who can package and drop ship things as needed, having FADs where we can put together packages and bring them home, as well as simply coordinating what countries are best for production and shipping, finding out who their friendly neighbors are, and making sure there are volunteers to wrangle ordering, payment, shipping, etc.

LATAM has spent very small amounts of money in the past; part of this is cultural tendency, part of it is simply difficulty of payment (some places don’t have paypal, we can’t directly pay in some places, etc), some of it is simply lack of coordination, or someone saying, by God, GO FORTH AND DO THINGS, the money is there. So to those of you in LATAM, please: Make plans. Think big. Let’s think about where we can go, where we can reach the most people, in this region of the world where people are incredibly interested in open source and the opportunities it can provide them.

The logistics piece is going to take a number of people to investigate; planning out the event “wish list” for the next year or so should take less time, and I suggested that September 28 (about a month from now) be the goal date for having a complete list of events that could possibly be attended over the next year to year-and-a-half.  Alejandro Perez has a wiki page already for coordinating this, and a number of people volunteered to help push in weekly meetings and to work with other ambassadors in their more immediate regions to try and coordinate this list.  Remember: it’s a “wish list” – once the LATAM ambassadors have that as a starting point, it’s easier to narrow down the priorities, so don’t be afraid to throw your favorite event on the list.  From there, it’s easier to start thinking about swag needs, and when and where things are needed, which helps from the view of ordering things like media, shirts, stickers, and the like.  Which will put us at a good point come December, right as the budget planning for next year starts.  This is also when the planned EMEA FAD in Rheinfelden will be – a fair amount of that FAD is centered around planning the next year+ of events, swag, etc. I’m hoping that we’ll be in way better shape as far as planning and knowing our target budget for next year than we ever have been by this point.

Ambassadors worldwide have always done an excellent job of being responsible with the budget, carefully weighing the value of what we spend against the return on that money, ensuring that those attending events are contributing event reports and blog posts. But I have noticed that towards the end of the year – when we are getting lower on the amount in the bucket, we tend to slow down spending – mostly because of concern about “I don’t know what other people are planning” – and I know that in EMEA and NA, I have seen people say things like, “We’ve already spent plenty, and LATAM and APAC have hardly spent, but we don’t know what they have coming, either.”  So planning – not just in LATAM, but really, in all the regions – is one thing that can absolutely help each of these groups to know what is expected in terms of spending, and helps us to be more confident about decisions towards the end of the year; ideally, spending all the money is where we want to be at, so that we don’t wind up with a lower budget in the next year.

I do want folks in all the regions to start thinking bigger – and thinking outside their normal event types.  We’ve predominantly been attending traditional linux conferences, either of the community/homegrown type, or bigger-budget events.  But I think there is definitely value in getting Ambassadors – and even non-Ambassadors who are contributing in other areas of the project who want to share their domain knowledge (and honestly, I really do consider contributors, in any area of the project, who share with others to be Ambassadors, regardless of the formalities) – to events that are more specific to interests, roles, etc.  There are Ruby conferences, Python conferences, cloud conferences, etc. – and I’d like to see us think about how we can get some of our Ambassadors and/or people who specialize in an area where there is a conference (ie: get a python person to PyCon), to that conference.  Get them in a Fedora shirt. Encourage them to submit a proposal to present. If they want to be learning at the conference, and not necessarily sitting at a booth, make sure they can get at least a small package of media and stickers to be a walking booth, to some extent – so they can spread the brand and media and knowledge at least in presentations they attend, when they meet others.  Hopefully as we start seeing people do more planning for events in the future – we’ll see some diversity in these new areas, and maybe we’ll find that those places are just as good of locations to find new users or contributors, and possibly even better.

It seems to me – with my former program manager on – that thinking about the budget, and event and swag planning, is something that we could definitely be doing on a yearly (every other release) basis, to be coordinated with the time period when the budget gets set.  (That’s not a hint, Jaroslav, it’s just me thinking out loud and wondering if that would help Ambassadors. I promise.)

I look forward to seeing what the folks in LATAM come up with over the next month, and am hopeful that these kinds of efforts will enable them to do a wider variety of events in the future – and I definitely hope that other regions (I’m looking at you, APAC Ambassadors!) start thinking about doing similar planning; I encourage everyone to take a look at Alejandro’s wiki page as he shares that information, and see if something similar will work for you.

The Future of FUDCons

I believe we should radically change the concept of FUDCon.

(And if you think this post is looking pretty lengthy, the short version is this: ONE EVENT TO RULE THEM ALL.)

I’ve been to a number of conferences in the past few years since joining Fedora.  It’s a grab-bag of “types” – conferences like Southeast Linuxfest, SCALE, and LinuxFest Northwest, which tend to be free or almost-free, and tend to have more of a community feel; larger-scale, more commercially oriented conferences such as LinuxCon and OSCON; and conferences that are organized more around a singular group, project, or common interest — FUDCon is certainly an example, but also things like Community Leadership Summit (common interests/problems), and the OpenStack Design Summit & Conference.

In the latter example, particularly with project-focused conferences, the face-to-face time amongst project members is absolutely valuable.  It’s the place where contributors can get make decisions, do planning, and generally get things done, in a very high-bandwidth fashion. And I think “planning” is really one of the key attractors.  The OpenStack Summit, for example, is held right after release – and is the place to truly trot out ideas, gather around them, make a plan, and start breaking it down into how it will actually get done – over 3 or 4 days.  And it is not a place to “show what I did” – it is truly a “where am I going and how is the work going to get done and how does that intersect with other areas of the project” type of event.

I guess I know a thing or two about FUDCon planning; since organizing the FUDCon in Tempe, I’ve been helping out in some way or another with nearly every FUDCon. And thus, I’m going to present the following observations:

  • We tend to do a lot of “what I did” or “how this thing works” at FUDCons – and not a lot of planning.
  • Hackfests – which gather together specific contributor groups – tend to not always be well-organized, or focused around “let’s finish this thing we are working on.”
  • FUDCons are not scheduled at times which are obvious “planning points.” FUDCon Lawrence, for example, will be several months into the release cycle – not an incredibly amazing time for planning around F19.
  • We put some focus and effort into the U (users) at FUDCons – which, while valuable, does not require having dozens of contributors present, nor does it make the best usage of the face-to-face time that could be used for actual teamwork.
  • 4 FUDCons per year means that, as a worldwide community, we don’t get to get entire teams together.

The latter point is particularly interesting (and has given me a lot of heartburn).  While we tend to have more planning and hackfests at the North American and to some extent, the EMEA FUDCons, the extent of teamwork and planning done in APAC and LATAM tend to be gathered around regional ambassador leadership, and folks working on translations in that region.  Most of the project teams tend to be distributed globally; people want face to face time with their teams, and we simply can’t haul in everyone from everywhere in our current model.

I’m a true believer in planning and execution.  A lot of this probably comes from my work at Intel in strategic marketing — Intel is absolutely relentless in its planning cycle, but the focus on planning and setting goals is what drives innovation forward.  It encourages people to think big, and imaginatively; it helps to lay out a roadmap of milestones and tasks to a goalpost in the future.

And I think the model of bringing together a global community at an appropriate point in a release cycle to gather around planning and execution, rather than showing off what we did in the past and maybe working on things we already have in the works, is one that will drive Fedora forward.

What I would like to see is the following:

  • One event per year.  Starting in North America, and possibly alternating with other regions. Starting in FY14 (that’s March 2013 – Feb. 2014, for those who don’t follow ambassador finances.)
  • Get people from other regions to that event. Not “one or two from other regions”; I’m talking about getting engaged contributors with concrete plans and/or demonstrated history of contributions face to face with their teammates. So that that team can get things done, contributors can be part of the planning, take ownership of tasks, and not feel like they’re leaving out a significant portion of their community.
  • Have it at an appropriate point in a release cycle, where we, as teams or subprojects or groups or whatever you want to call it, can take advantage of the length of time before us to think about what we can accomplish over the next 2 releases, plan out activities and tasks, etc.
  • Perhaps move barcamp to the end, and have pre-scheduled, well-organized, planning/team meetings at the beginning.  Yes, I know this is probably giving some of you fits. Here’s why:
    • Barcamp sessions tend to be more around “I want to share this cool thing” – which is sometimes an idea, but more often around “learn how to use this thing I already implemented.”
    • It would be an awesome time to actually share what teams are planning and have accomplished during their time together.
    • Y’all are beat by day three, which I think is part of why hackfests wane a bit on the last day. Oh, did I mention that I think we should move to a longer event? I’ll do that now.
  • More days together.   Possibly straddling a weekend to reduce the drain on everyone’s “days off work” time, maybe not.  But we’re already travelling – and the costs of airfare tend to be higher than the costs of hotel, particularly when hauling in people from all over the world – let’s make the best of the effort spent getting to the event and make it longer.
  • Consider sharing this event with other project communities – for multiple reasons:
    • Leveraging the buying power of more attendees
    • If we’re already planning something – why not let others benefit from some of the planning we’re doing, and offer their community a way to get together in a similar, planning/doing-focused fashion?
    • It’s a great way to cross-pollinate between upstream/downstream communities – though we’d probably want to make sure we’re not going to lose focus from participants.  (Much like when we have had a FUDCon run parallel to a large-scale more general community conference (that is not focused on planning, but more on how-to’s and usage – where people really want to learn about stuff, but also want to focus on the project in which they contribute.)
    • Attract more sponsorships because of a more diverse audience. Money is nice. It pays for food and things.
  • Make this event be focused on the “do-ers” – and not the users. I mentioned previously in this post that it does not make the best use of our face-to-face bandwidth, and I’m sticking to that — and moreover, I think that trying to plan a parallel “user track” just winds up taking people away from getting things done.   This is not a “we don’t care about the users” statement in any way, so don’t jump down my throat. But I think that mixing up the event tends to leave casual users/potential users/non-contributor users unsure about what to attend, and I haven’t seen any evidence on any large scale that users magically become contributors at a FUDCon.  And there is NO REASON IN THE UNIVERSE why we can’t come up with a type of event that costs significantly less to host, requires fewer numbers of contributors to attend, and is geared solely towards users/potential users/potential contributors, and can be made repeatable in many places. The fact that a FUDCon in Pune can draw in a crowd of 500+ shows that there is absolutely interest.

You’ll probably notice that I just used the word “event” a lot, where I might have used the word FUDCon previously.  (FUDCon, for those of you who have come this far without wondering what that acronym is, stands for Fedora Users and Developers Conference.)

I envision this to truly be an event of the do-ers – people who do things, get things done.  And I’ve mentioned before the funny thing about how the word “do” is right in the middle of the word Fedora.  A new type of event – with a renewed focus and purpose – particularly if it becomes more diverse than just us – needs a new name.

DoCon. :)

And to answer your burning question, because I can reeeeeeeeeeead your miiiiiiiiiiiiiinds: Why, yes! I am aware that this will cost a crapton more money. Bringing in contributors from other regions costs more than if we brought those contributors to a FUDCon in their region – and thus a DoCon, or whatever we might call it,  would cost more than the entire 4-FUDCons yearly budget combined.

Is the cost justifiable? I think it definitely is. Will we accomplish more at one worldwide DoCon than we could at 4 FUDCons? I believe we can. Do we have to start thinking about that now? YES.

We are getting to the mid-way point of F18; FUDCon in Lawrence will be mid-through 19.  I would expect that we would quite possibly initiate this at the beginning of F20. TWENTY, folks.  That is a lot of releases – where we have done truly groundbreaking, innovative work.

We have amazing, talented, engaged contributors in the Fedora Project.  And I believe that focusing on the future of Fedora at an event where we have gathered contributors from around the world – planning where we can go and what we can accomplish over the next 2-4 releases, scoping out tasks, executing to plan, and really, dreaming bigger – will lead us through our early 20′s to become greater than ever.

Feeling awesome because of addition!

This post, dear friends, is about one thing:

ROBYN FEELING PRETTY AWESOME, because I actually figured out how to do something.

Behold!!! Can you spot the awesome?

Yup. That’s right: The newly added, handy-sandy Trac SumFieldsPlugin has been converted into actual usage within a trac instance, and actually configured and made into queries by MOI!

Now, I know some of you are sitting there still wondering why on earth this is actually useful to anyone (while others of you are probably making grand fistpump movements and thinking of all the awesomeness this could bring).  So I’ll give you the nutshell version:

Right now, the way budget tracking works for things like Regional Support (money Ambassadors spend for events, swag, media, etc.) and for Premier Fedora Events (FUDCons and FADs) is this: People decide to spend money, we (someone with a Red Hat credit card) pay up front, or we reimburse people, sometimes before an event, sometimes after an event (or purchase, etc.)  The money spent (and thus, money leftover for the quarter or year) are tracked manually in a wiki page by the budget owner.

Unfortunately, we haven’t come up with better ways to plan out expected spending for a whole year, or to track actual expenses (for, say, an event where hotel or other expenses are incurred) directly in Trac; the receipts wind up going to the budget owner, and then they have to figure out how to aggregate everything.  It’s not efficient, and I think that with the proper mechanisms in place, that the Ambassadors and FUDCon owners and payment-makers could be more self-sufficient in terms of the tracking.

This is why the above picture is so cool: The SumFieldsPlugin allows you to do queries, and specific a field (and then column) to do Sums on.  For the above example, it is summing up spending for Q1 and Q2 of FY13, in North America (component), and only for regional spending (not fudcons). For the below example, it is showing all spending, by quarter, by region, for both Regional Support AND FUDCons.

To summarize: I am pretty jazzed about working this into an improved workflow, which a number of ambassadors are already talking about doing, which can help all of us to be less dependent on a wiki page, and even be more proactive when thinking about where spending is going for the year (for example, we could have estimated costs vs. actual costs).

Also: Thanks to a few people, of course – Spot and Nirik for doing some packaging work on a few plugins, cwickert for reviewing, to all for helping out with getting it pulled into our trac instance and for not thinking I’m c-c-c-crazzzy (outside of, you know, normal circumstances).  And to Max for grinning wildly as he reads this, right before he sends me a note telling me how totally awesome this is, I’ll just thank you ahead of time. :D

Finally: I know it’s disappointing, but BigGiantConference is not an actual Real Event :)