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Why I Resigned as Djangocon US 2014 Program Chair

27 August 2014

This is long, and involves drama. If you are not interested in the drama, I encourage you to skip it, and have a wonderful time at Djangocon US 2014.

I recently resigned as the program chair for Djangocon US 2014.

Up until now, I had been intending to simply wish Djangocon the best of success, thank Jeff Triplett for standing up to take over, and leave the matter at that.

Now, Steve Holden (who runs Open Bastion, the company which puts on Djangocon US, but not DJangocon EU or other Django-related events) has decided to, in private email to third parties, cast aspersions on my behavior and probity, so I feel it is important to set the record straight.

First, let me be completely blunt: In my opinion, which I feel the facts support, the reason this year’s Djangocon has become a clusterfuck is because, for reasons I do not understand, Steve Holden was unable to do the things a conference organizer is expected to do in a timely fashion.

Steve and I had a telephone conversation on March 13 of this year, in which he asked how long it would take me to finish the CFP. I told him that actually drafting a CFP would take minutes (I was driving down I-5 at the time, and I could have pulled over at a Starbucks and prepared it), but I was unwilling to put it up until there was a website ready to take submissions. This was based on last year’s problems (in which the web site went up late), and simple human nature: Announcing “CFP coming soon” over and over again simply makes everyone forget that it is even happening.

On that conversation, we agreed the site would go up promptly.

It did not launch until late May (or was it early June? I was not actually notified of the launch). Until then, the site still showed the 2013 information. The same was true of the Twitter account.

My company sponsored the speaker’s dinner last year. We did not receive sponsorship information for this year until June 4th.

Steve is fond of comparing Djangocon to PyCon US. I’ll note that PyCon US is in early April, and the call for papers closes in September, almost seven months before the conference begins. We were solicited for launch sponsorship for PyCon US 2014 almost before the boxes were packed for PyCon US 2013.

I was not happy about this, but I had a commitment to the community to produce a schedule, so I followed through on that commitment. I did so even as the situation became more and more tense, and as I started receiving emails from speakers (who did not have inside knowledge) ranging from surprise to accusing me of being the source of the issue. Because I didn’t want to raise a political stink, I deflected those as best I could, just apologizing and moving on.

Everyone knows the results: There wasn’t enough time to for people to do a top-flight job submitting papers, they couldn’t get their travel together, the review time was compressed. We had to reopen the CFP to get more responses (as we had to last year, when the website was also delayed). The delay between the CFP close and the speaker notification was an unwise attempt on my part to get community participation in the review process; honestly, I should have just put on my dictator hat and picked papers in a day or two, but I was already receiving complaints that the process wasn’t transparent enough.

At the time, I was willing to write it off as one of those things that happens, and I tolerated Steve sniping at me (including one instance where he flat-out accused me of not having done something that I had sent him a week before… in an email to which he had responded. He apologized after I demanded one).

Finally, we had a schedule that I still feel is a good one, and I thought the matter was closed.

Then, one speaker (who I will not name) took exception to having pay to get in. Now, I accept fully that I should have mentioned the fact that speakers have to pay in the acceptance email; that was my oversight, and I apologize for that. However, for this speaker, that was just the last straw; they had seen the problems above, and had decided that Djangocon wasn’t something they could participate in. By itself, this was unfortunate, but not a disaster. I simply thanked the speaker for letting us know, and would have moved on.

Steve, without consulting me, sent his own separate response to the speaker. His response to the speaker was rude, condescending, and supercilious. (He did offer the speaker a comp membership, but that was overshadowed by the tone of the reply.) I was shocked by it. At that point, I had had enough; that speaker had been recruited through my social network, and to have them treated in such a fashion was unbearable. Steve had form in this regard, as noted above.

So, I decided I could no longer support Steve as one would expect a program chair to do, and resigned. I would not have done so had the program not been delivered, but at that point, I felt that I had fulfilled my obligations to the conference. Steve apparently feels that I waited to resign in order to do maximum damage; quite the opposite, maximum damage would have been August 1st, before the program was set. I certainly had reason to do so then.

I have always disagreed with the decision to have speakers pay for membership in Djangocon, as it is currently structured. It is frequently noted that this is the tradition for PyCon US and EU, and Djangocon EU; I’ve spoken at all of those, and been happy to pay for membership. However, Djangocon US, as currently constituted, is a commercial convention put on by Open Bastion (that is to say, Steve Holden) using trademarks licensed by the DSF; it’s not a community conference the way Djangocon EU or PyCon US/EU are. Thus, I don’t think the PyCon-Djangocon analogy is apt. Steve protests that it is intended to be a community conference operated by the community, but protestations are not contracts.

I’ll mention that PGCon, which is about the same size as Djangocon US, provides free memberships for speakers and significantly lower membership rates, so there is an existence proof that such a conference is possible.

I do not encourage or discourage anyone from attending Djangocon US 2014. If you do attend, please enjoy it! I want to again thank Jeff Triplett for stepping up in this difficult situation.

I cannot, however, honestly support any further convention that Steve Holden is involved with. The wounds that Djangocon US 2013 and 2014 suffered are entirely self-inflicted by him, and I would encourage the DSF to find an alternative for 2015.

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