towards universal access at a conference

in

Two days of #ScalaMatsuri ended as a huge success. But for the next year, I'm leaving ourselves a few homeworks to work on. As the title suggests, the next goal that we should aim for is universal access. In Scala language, universal access principle indicates the fact that both methods and fields can be accessed interchangeably from outside.

For a conference, I mean universal access to mean being more inclusive to various groups of people:

  • women/men/straight/LGBT programmers
  • Japanese/English speakers
  • beginners and experts
  • postdocs
  • people from other Asian countries

women in tech, and other gender issues

Last year, there were zero talks by women. This year, there were at least one session about macros, and one sponsored lightening talk from FuRyu. This is a positive sign, but I would like to encourage more participation from women to general Scala community, attending meetups, and attending conferences like ScalaMatsuri. One thing men can do is not being weird when they show up at a meetup, and treat them as a normal hacker.

Following suit of Scala Days, NE Scala, and PNW Scala, this year ScalaMatsuri has adopted a code of conduct that originated from Geek Feminism Wiki/Ada Initiative. This code of conduct aims to promise harassment-free experience for everyone, and in particular requires all communication should be appropriate for a technical audience. We will need to figure out a way to implement the policy better including an official way to report harassment, but I am glad that we were able to publicly adopt a general guideline that should make the conference more inclusive.

language barriers

In comparison to other western countries where Scala is used, Japan is lagging in English skill especially when it comes to listening and speaking. One of the goals of ScalaMatsuri organizers is to make the conference edgier, and attract more English-speaking Scala community members to the conference. To this end, we've paid travel expenses of invited speakers, provided text-based translations, and tried to be generally welcoming to English speakers. This year a few of the Japanese speakers have ventured into presenting in English.

This effort could be in conflict with many of the conference goers who is interested in Scala, but do not understand English. The real-time text translation provided by the volunteer translation team could be helpful, but it's often not sufficient. A solution we should explorer is hiring professional interpreters. This has apparently worked well for YAPC::Asia. In addition, we should create two distinct tracks one presented in English, and another presented in Japanese.

beginners and experts

Matsuri means festival in Japanese, and the theme was "enjoy Scala." For the experienced Scala users, the conference I'm sure was enjoyable, but many of the talks including my own left the beginners behind. One of the ways to work around this might be solved by distinguishing English tracks and Japanese tracks, and letting the audience vote for the talks like NE Scala does. Assuming the correlation of the audience who is ok with English sessions and experts; and Japanese-only audience and beginners, both tracks hopefully could fall into the right level the people want to see by the nature of voting.

postdocs and people from other Asian countries

As I wrote in my day 1 report, Takehide Soh's talk was the only academically-flavored one, but it was original and fun. It's nice to see rockstar speakers from the United States and Europe, but it might also be interesting to fund travel expenses for postdocs like Soh-san from Japan and also from other Asian countries nearby like India, China, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, etc. By having a dedicated English track, they don't have to worry too much about understanding Japanese. One way to implement this could be to have CFP open for relatively long period of time, and advertise with travel support up to $1500 or something. During the voting, we can keep subtracting from the travel budget and invite as many people as we can from the people with most votes.

unconference as catch-all mechanism

If either English or Japanese track become competitive, we now have unconference as the catch-all mechanism. Since many people got to see how an unconference is done at first hand, hopefully we will have more discussions as well as prepared talks ready to be delivered. For next year, we should abolish the whiteboard, and require all unconference ideas to be submitted via Google docs along with the name of the facilitator on the morning of the unconference. The aim is to make sure we can pick up talks even if it's not popular.

summary

Organizing a technical conference is a balancing act of doing something innovative, and making sure that the audience would have good time. With a bit of creativity, hopefully we can move ScalaMatsuri more towards universal access.