Behind the scenes of organizing CSSconf EU
CSSconf EU 2015 was truly fantastic, but this one day of great ideas, creative insights and general merriment was conceived many months earlier and realized thanks to the love and efforts of a mighty volunteer team. What does it take and what does it mean to organize a CSSconf? Our organizers Kristina, Kevin and Michael explain.
Why CSSconf EU? How did you get involved?
Kristina: In 2013, when I lived in San Francisco, Nicole Sullivan had just announced the first CSSconf in the US. Similar to the JSconf series, she wanted to bring the event to Europe as well. Nicole knew I was already involved with JSConf in Berlin, and that I had been toying with the idea to turn up.front.ug into a conference for people working between web design and development – one of the key motivations of CSSconf as well. She asked me whether I wanted to bring CSSconf to Berlin – a few discussions about OOCSS and/or cocktails might have been involved – and well, how could I have said no :)
Kevin: I was an attendee at the first CSSconf EU, thanks to an &yet sponsored ticket and wanted to be part of it ever since. I admired how much time, effort and commitment Kristina and Michael put into this event to make it truly outstanding. I love the idea of giving something back to our community, gather creative people to exchange thoughts and ideas, and of course CSS – a perfect match. In 2014 I became part of the team, and in 2015 I was asked by Michael and Kristina if I’d like to become an organizer. I didn’t hesitate ;)
Michael: I’ve had the privilege to attend JSConf EU a few times and I’ve learned a lot at community events like it. Based on these experiences back in 2013 I was wondering how I could give back to the community. Then CSSconf US was announced. It was a year in which a lot of new CSS features were introduced and the idea of bringing this conference to Europe excited me. So I approached Holger, curator of JSConf EU, with this idea and he then contacted Nicole who in turn connected me with Kristina. The rest is (CSSconf) history ;)
What’s the best part of organizing an event like CSSconf EU? What advice would you give organizers?
Kevin: The most fun part for me as a first time conf organizer is to see everything come together, slowly but surely. It’s incredible to see how much experience Kristina and Michael bring to the team and also to see myself getting more comfortable with all the different situations. The one advice I would give is: Plan early and if you think you have plenty of time left, let me tell you, you don't!
Michael: Getting positive feedback and knowing your work has made a difference in people’s lives. My advice for future organizers: First find a location, then find an available date, then build the website. Go single track. Hire an event manager. Prepare for “The Conference Crash”.
You all have full time jobs, too. What does a day in the life of a CSSconf EU organizer look like?
Kristina: In the weeks leading up to the conference, I get up extra early to reply to the daily flood of emails from speakers, venue organizers, video teams, printers, sponsors. That, plus lots of calls with my co-organizers and our awesome volunteer team, takes up my mornings. I try to leave the desk for lunch somewhere outside, which also is often spent with other organizers. My “normal” job starts in the afternoon and keeps me busy until late at night, as I am mostly working for clients in the US. So, not much room in the schedule, but there's time to relax after the conference :)
Kevin: They had warned me that it would get pretty stressful and they were right. I’m kinda lucky that my employer is a big fan of organizing stuff for our community, so I get a bit of time during my work hours to get stuff done. Besides that, it still keeps me busy for most of my free time. Working on the website, fixing stuff, coordinate speakers, etc. became more and more demanding as the conference approached.
Michael: Life? Working full time and organizing a conference in your spare time means hardly any down time in the weeks leading up to the event. Every year we try to get more done earlier in the year but it seems to be a thing with community conferences that this particular aspect doesn’t work out quite as expected. ;)
Why do you think are community-driven events such as CSSconf EU !important?
Kristina: Many of the resources that help me to learn and work as a web designer are provided by free community initiatives – blog posts, talks, open source projects, you name it. I am constantly amazed by the high-quality resources that are being created every day, the discussions that happen all the time. All of this work is done by real people, and community events honor their efforts and give them a place to meet. I find it incredibly impactful to see the faces behind great projects, to have discussions in real life, to meet the people you have maybe communicated with online for years.
Kevin: CSSconf EU was the one which got me closer to people in our industry, many of whom I now call good friends. It’s incredibly helpful to have people around sharing the same interests. Confs like CSSconf provide the perfect platform to make such connections and get inspired by incredibly high-quality talks on stage at the same time.
Michael: I love this tweet by Paul Campbell, as it sums up the importance of community-driven events perfectly: they are “[...] a place you go to to see people who make things you thought were impossible into things that are not only possible but easy”.
Diversity is a hot topic in the industry at the moment, it has been so for a while. What role should events such as CSSconf EU play in the discourse and effort?
Kristina: At an event like CSSconf EU, we strive to excite people about upcoming technologies, and inspire them to become better developers and designers. All of this is irrelevant, though, if we ignore that our community has a fundamental problem: Its lack of people with diverse backgrounds and experiences. As an event, we can not directly impact the demographics in the tech industry, but we can build stages and amplify voices. And we can make sure to hand the microphone to people that can be role models to a wide range of people, and who bring new and diverse perspectives to the community.
Kevin: Most of us carry a lot of privilege we have to acknowledge and use for good. We have the power to change things in our industry, get people inspired, give them a stage and an audience to share their thoughts and connect with each other. I couldn’t imagine something better to spend me time on.
Michael: Once we realize how privileged we are, we can’t but invest ourselves in enabling others who have been less fortunate. Community conferences are the place where we should try to set a good example, empower underrepresented groups and transport the importance of these values into the wider community.
Earlier this year, you publicly disclosed the talk selection process at CSSconf EU. What’s the most difficult part of selecting proposals?
Kristina: Having to reject many great proposals.
Kevin: To go through the huge amount of great proposals and reject a majority of them, because we only have a certain amount of speaking slots.
Michael: Every year we’re excited to receive many great talk proposals. Most of them are nothing short of amazing and we’d love to see all of them on stage. Sadly, time is limited and so we have to decide against some of them. Given the amount of work people put into their proposals that’s the toughest part of the process.
Finally, what was your highlight of CSSconf EU 2015?
Kristina: To see everyone arrive in Berlin for the conference! Many old friends were in town for the event, as well as a lot of people I had been writing with for weeks prior, but had yet to meet in person. It’s rare to have so many great people all in one place, it's what made it so amazing!
Kevin: Having a day packed with CSS and people sharing the same passion for it. A lot of them are friends I hadn’t seen in a while, so it was great ;)
Michael: We were really excited to see CSSconf EU become a truly international event. This year we welcomed attendees from over 30 different countries. It was the most diverse CSSconf EU yet!