Fronteers, 11th Fronteers Conference, Amsterdam, 4-5 October 2018

Looking back at the last 6 months

Posted on 24 September 2018 by Niels Leenheer

Less than two weeks to go. Less than two weeks until all the hard work of the last 6 months will finally pay off. The Fronteers conference committee selected 16 excellent speakers for what will undoubtedly be another fantastic conference. Along the way, we did get some questions on how speakers were selected. While I can't go into the specifics why we chose each of them, I'll try to share some insight into how it all came together.

The committee for this year consists of 4 members: Niels, Tamara, Nienke and Thijs. We were all pretty new to this, except for Thijs, who was on the committee last year. He was a great help to us because otherwise we really had to start from scratch and reinvent everything.

Different conferences work in different ways. Some conferences are asking for speakers to propose talks, using a so-called 'Call for Speakers'. Larger conferences can get hundreds of submissions from speakers, and the conference just has to pick the talks they think are best. The Fronteers conference is not one of them. The committee invites explicitly speakers for the topics we would like to cover, and we do not take that job lightly. We cover frontend development in the broadest sense of the word, and this means we attract an audience from vastly different backgrounds, from designers to backend NodeJS developers. We were looking for talks that could be of interest to the majority of our attendees, that would teach them something new, and they would love to watch.

We first set up a Trello board, and each of us would suggest speakers, topics, and talks that we've seen before, and we liked. For every suggestion, we tried to find a video that we could watch. After that, we watched a lot of videos. And I really mean a lot. I think I've personally watched over 50 different video's even before the committee met in person. We then discussed what we liked about each video and what we didn't like. This helped to find out what direction we wanted to go with the conference this year.

About six months ago, on a Wednesday, we met for the first time in Amsterdam with a representative of the Fronteers board. That evening each of us nominated some speakers from the very long list we've discussed before. We took into account a lot of factors, but the content was especially important. This meeting resulted in an initial selection of 8 potential speakers.

The next day we started sending out emails and DM'ing people on Twitter. After a couple of hours, we had our first 2 confirmed speakers. By Friday we had 5 speakers confirmed. Unfortunately, some people we approached had to decline our invitation because of scheduling conflicts, but I am sure we’ll see them on the Fronteers stage in the future.

With our list of confirmed speakers growing, we knew which topics were covered and for which subject matter we still needed to find speakers. Over the next weeks, we've sent out more and more invitations and continuously watched videos and added new suggestions to our list of potential speakers which we then discussed.

I've said before that the Fronteers conference is invite-only. We do not ask for speakers to send in suggestions for talks. That does not mean we sometimes get emails from speakers who would like to talk at Fronteers. Usually we just politely send them an email to decline their offer. But this time we got an email from a speaker who was actually suggested to us a week or two before. Back then I was already impressed with her talks, but they weren't really suitable for Fronteers. I added her to our list of potential speakers anyways. A few days later we had another meeting, discussed the gaps we still had in the schedule, considered many speakers, and finally decided we'd liked her so much we asked her to write a proposal for a new talk, just for the Fronteers conference.

With less and less available spots, it also became more and more difficult to find the right speakers. I think for one topic we went back and forth between potential speakers for more than a month. Not that the other candidates weren't any good - they were all fantastic - but we wanted to find the right speaker for our conference, the right speaker to fit in our schedule.

About two weeks after sending out our first invites I got the crazy idea to ask Apple to speak at our conference. I had a pretty clear idea what the topic should be about. Apple added Intelligent Tracking Prevention to Safari last year, and I figured that they would improve and expand that for the new version of Safari which would be released sometime around September or October. So the talk should be about this and other privacy-related features that the upcoming version of Safari will have. So I approached a contact at Apple and invited them to talk about this specific topic. And a crazy thing happened, we weren't immediately shut down. In fact, the opposite happened, they were actually pretty enthusiastic. But we were warned that it might take a while to get everything in order. That turned out to be true, but eventually, I got the happy news that everybody was on board and they were pleased to accept our invitation.

By that time all our other speakers were confirmed, and all but one other speaker announced. We even arranged a backup speaker just in case one of the speakers could not make it after all. That turned out a prescience decision as we just got the news that Erika Langurand won’t be able to make it to Amsterdam. We wish her the best of luck!

Being on the committee turned out to be way more work than I expected, but I’ve enjoyed it immensely. I am incredibly proud of the work the committee has done over the last 6 months.

I hope I have answered some of your questions with this description of how we select speakers. The lineup is full of fantastic speakers, and I’m sure Fronteers Conference 2018 will turn out to be an extraordinary two days. All of us are very excited and can’t wait to see all of you at the DeLaMar Theater in two weeks!