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Getting Your Presentation Submission Accepted for DevOps Enterprise Summit in 2017

DevOps Enterprise Summit 2017

Since 2013, we’ve reviewed nearly one thousand submissions for our Call for Presenters for DevOps Enterprise Summit. In this post, I wanted to share my top advice and tips to maximize your chance of submitting a presentation proposal that gets accepted.

Fellow programming committee member Damon Edwards and I gave an hour-long webinar on this topic, and we were joined by Margo Cronin, whose submission we accepted last year for 2016 London conference about DevOps at Zurich Insurance, who shared some fantastic insights, as well.

Watch the discussion:

Programming Goals and Consideration for 2017 (and Beyond)

There are two types of presentations at DevOps Enterprise: experience reports and subject matter expert talks. In general, the types of talks we seek in our CFP are experience reports, although I’ll write more about subject matter expert talks later.

Submitting A Winning Experience Report

As Margo Cronin, who presented a fantastic experience report last year about her work at Zurich Insurance, shared in the video, “I encourage everyone who has a DevOps story share to submit!” I absolutely echo her encouragement, and for anyone submitting, here is the lens that the programming committee views submissions, so you can better shape your own winning submission!

Margo CroninAs we describe in the CFP, the target audience for our conference is “technology leaders who are transforming how large, complex organizations deliver software to help their organizations win in the marketplace, in all stages of their journey.”

This means that there’s a strong and specific perspective that we’re looking for. The first thing we typically look at is the job title and role of the person submitting — in the past, the typical titles of presenters have included managers, directors, project and program managers, VPs, and CIOs.

Of course, we’ve also accepted submissions with other titles, such as architects, chief architects, technical fellows and distinguished engineers, showing that leaders appear in many places, and just because someone doesn’t have “manager” in their title doesn’t mean that they don’t lead. So, if this is the case for you, please describe in your submission how you’ve helped lead the transformation you want to present on.

(And remember, if you have a great story to share, consider teaming up with one of the leaders that you worked with — this isn’t required, but again, it helps convey to us that your submission tells a story about technology leadership.)

Furthermore, we are looking for experience reports from large, complex organizations — there are certain problems that these types of organizations face that are nearly universal, such as entrenched and conservative middle management, low trust and bureaucratic cultures, large amounts of outsourcing, powerful legal and compliance offices, and so forth.

So if your submission is describing a startup experience, you may be at a significant disadvantage — but if you’ve still faced these challenges, describe them, and we’ll definitely consider it.

We are also looking for experience reports from industries that haven’t presented before — the reason is that we want to show that DevOps transformations are for every industry, not just banking and retailing.  As of this writing, I’m especially looking for more healthcare stories, telecommunications, higher education, government agencies.

Submit your proposal for London by 11:59pm GMT, 3 February 2017 EXTENDED: 11:59pm GMT, 8 February 2017.
Submit your proposal here >>>

Elements Of Great Experience Reports

We’ve covered the importance of the titles and organizations that we’re looking — let’s move onto the elements of a great experience report. In general, experience reports consist of the following:

  • How you are addressing the business problem you were trying to solve.
  • What your top challenges were, and how you overcame them.
  • What your top mistakes were, and the advice you would give as a result.
  • How you measured your outcomes.

The most important element that we’ll be looking at for experience reports is the specific problem or challenge that you set out to overcome. In the CFP, we ask the following questions:

  • What specific problem will be your focus of your submitted presentation (e.g., outsourcing, security, regulatory requirements, organizational resistance, reskilling the workforce, technical modernization, etc.)”
  • Please briefly describe any notable progress or setbacks in your journey so far.

Your goal in answering these questions is to describe the significance of the problem that you set out to solve, and the results of your efforts to overcome them. Examples of challenges  include reskilling the workforce, getting entrenched and conservative middle management onboard, low trust and bureaucratic cultures, working with outsourcers, working with powerful legal and compliance offices, and so forth.

Let me reassure you that whether you were successful is not as important as whether you tried — this is all about sharing learnings! The point is that you tried and got a result that you can share with the community.

The London CFP submission deadline is11:59pm GMT, 3 February 2017 EXTENDED: 11:59pm GMT, 8 February 2017.
Submit your proposal here >>>

If You’re A Vendor or Consultant

Rest assured, as we joke in the CFP, we have absolutely nothing against vendors or consultants — it’s not an exaggeration to say that some of our best friends are vendors and consultants. But in almost all cases, consultants and vendors should submit with their clients. Over the years, we’ve had some intriguing submissions come in from consultants, and for the most promising ones, I’ve emailed the submitter, asking to re-submit with their client. Many were not able to do so, and we had to reject the submission.

Frankly speaking, over the years, not many of these types of submissions have been accepted — the most common reason is that they were unable to get someone from their client to submit with them. Of those that have been accepted, some have been good, while others got feedback that the consultant did too much of the talking.

A very good example of a joint presentation was about the transformation at Ingenico, presented by Vincent van Kooten, Domain Manager Front Office, Ingenico ePayments and Gebrian uit de Bulten, DevOps lead Gallia (Netherlands, France, Belgium, Luxembourg), Ingenico ePayments/Accenture.

Another guideline is stated in the CFP: “We seek open and transferable knowledge. Attendees must be able to use the bulk of the presentation’s lessons without buying or using a particular tool or service.”

In other words, no one likes a presentation that is just a sales pitch for a specific methodology or product.

Personally speaking, some of the most satisfying comments that people have told me about the conference is, “I love this conference because I’m never being sold to or being pitched something from the stage.” As someone who loves going to conferences, I can attest to how frustrating it can be to be pitched constantly from the stage — and this is something that we’ve strived to minimize throughout the history of the conference.

Submit your proposal here >>>

One last word of advice if you’re submitting as a vendor: make sure the problem being solved will also resonate with any large, complex organization. If the problem is something only a large software vendor has (e.g., running ten million servers), we’ve often rejected these, because it didn’t seem universally applicable to all attendees.

A great example of a talk we accepted that came through the CFP was Anne-Marie Fred, Senior Software Engineering Manager from IBM: “Adapting the Squad Model at IBM: DevOps and the IBM Marketplace.” All of her experiences will surely resonate with anyone who has had to figure out how to organize their developers, operations people and designers.

Another great example of a talk was from Jeffery Payne, CEO, Coveros, Inc. and Dan Gahafer, Program Manager [former], DISA forge.mil Program, DISA, describing how they worked together to create a cointinuous delivery pipeline supporting a top-secret application forthe DISA forge.mil organization, given at DevOps Enterprise Summit San Francisco 2016.

Subject Matter Expert Talks

The second category of talks are the subject matter expert talks, which focus on the top pain points verbalized by the community, such as “overcoming middle management resistance,” “getting information security and compliance on board,” and so forth.

As opposed to experience reports, these talks are where we want to be taught something that we need to know. These talks are likely to follow the more traditional lecture format—in other words, it’s more about didactic learning, as opposed to experiential learning.

Dr. Stephen SpearIn the vast majority of cases, we’ve sought out subject matter experts for specific problem areas that have been verbalized by the community. One example was Dr. Steven Spear from MIT (author of the famous book The High-Velocity Edge: How Market Leaders Leverage Operational Excellence to Beat the Competition and the HBR article “Decoding The DNA Of The Toyota Production System”). However, there have been several occasions where these talks have come in through the CFP process, but in these cases, it was because it was clearly demonstrated that they were indeed an expert.

It helps if you’ve already given talks on the subject, or written books on them, and that other people widely view you as one of the top experts in the domain.

Typically, we only allocate only one-quarter of the talks to be subject matter expert talks, and the acceptance rate for these talks are also extremely low.

So if you want to play the odds, I’d advise most people to submit their talks in the experience report formatin the past, the topics that they wanted to present on were so compelling that we asked them to abandon the experience report format, and be given as subject matter expert lectures.

Deadline: 11:59pm GMT, 3 February 2017 EXTENDED: 11:59pm GMT, 8 February 2017.
Submit your proposal here >>>

Demographics and Women In Technology

Speaking of demographics, I’m particularly pleased that we’ve had so many women speakers at DevOps Enterprise Summit. In 2014, we had 43% women speakers, and over the years, we’ve done our best to preserve such a high representation of both women speakers and attendees, which more closely matches the actual demographics of most technology organizations. Over the past 3 years, more than 25% of our attendees have been women.DOES16_LDN_nicole

I’ll again quote Margo Cronin: “My advice is to encourage women in technology to submit, because you have a story to tell. It’s not about tools and skills; it’s about leadership.”  

Having women presenters is important to us, and we know that there are many out there leading transformations in their organizations. We strongly encourage women to submit their stories to the CFP either as a solo presenter, or as a co-presenter. If you know of someone on your team or in your network who fits the criteria outlined above, please encourage her to submit a presentation.

Last Advice: Submissions That Are Almost Always Rejected

  • “Why DevOps Is Important,” “Why DevOps Is Needed In The Modern Digital Economy,” “Why Culture Is Important For DevOps”: these are “why” talks that try to convince people that DevOps is important. However, rest assured that DevOps Enterprise Summit is a conference where everyone is already convinced DevOps is important. We’re all at the conference to learn from people who are pioneering the practices that are helping them transform their organization.(Yes, Simon Sinek advises us to always talk about “Why Before How.” But trust me, if your submission focuses on “why” for a problem that we already know is urgent and important, your submissions is almost guaranteed to be rejected.)
  • “Capability XYZ Is Important, And That’s What Our Product Does”:  these are the thinly-veiled product pitches. Please see the section “If You’re A Vendor or Consultant” above.
  • “Doing Something Important with Our Product ABC”:  this is a bit more nuanced — this type of presentation talks about an important problem (e.g., automated testing, continuous integration), but is being submitted by a vendor.  In this case, I’d recommend the talk get re-submitted by one of your clients, and drop the name of the product being used from the title.

    (Again, please see the section “If You’re A Vendor or Consultant” above.)

 

Quick hits on DevOps Enterprise Summit:

And finally, here are a few quick facts about the conference to help you understand the conference audience.

  • More than 3,700 people have attended DevOps Enterprise Summit the past three years (each of the US events has sold out)
  • More than half of our  attendees are managers, leaders, directors, and executives.
  • Our  attendees represent over 500 organizations from around the world who are struggling with the same challenges as you.
  • We talk about the big, audacious problems that large organizations are working on.
  • We’ve hosted presentations from more than 200 speakers
  • We’ve evaluated more than 1,100 speaker submissions since 2014

We hope you will join us to share your transformation stories and the impact you are creating!

Submit your proposal before 11:59pm GMT, 3 February 2017 EXTENDED: 11:59pm GMT, 8 February 2017 here >>>

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