10 July 2012

Michael Schearer answers your questions (my #defcon rant)

Let me begin this post with the (what should be unnecessary) caveat that I love all things DEFCON. The conference and the people have been nothing but good to me over the past six years. I will be there this year, and likely years into the future.

That being said, I have a particular nitpick, which I hope will be construed as constructive criticism, concerning a couple of speaking slots that are "so-and-so answers your questions." The speakers are Bruce Schneier and Kevin Poulsen. My second caveat is that this criticism is not directed to them; I don't have a problem with either guy. And this should not be construed as directed toward any given individual associated with DEFCON, because that's really not my intent. My issue is the format (as it relates to the return for the speaker).

DEFCON has presumably gotten more popular over the years as more people attend and more people submit proposals to speak. I'm not privy to these numbers, or to the overall quality of the submissions. But given the feedback I've gotten, it would seem that there are more good talks than there are speaking slots. Legitimately good talks get turned down. It happens. I have been fortunate to have most of my talks accepted. But I've been on the rejection side, too (for DEFCON and other cons). It sucks, especially when you put a lot of work into crafting what you think is a good proposal, and especially when you get good feedback from the conference and other people.

Let's talk about when "so-and-so answers your questions." Let's say we have 45-50 minutes and 3 minutes for any given question and answer. That leaves about 15-16 people (out of hundreds or thousands) who get to ask a question; or whomever can get to the microphone faster than me. Maybe I'm in the minority here, but I just don't get a lot out of these talks. But that's really a minor criticism.

My bigger concern is that people who have put time and effort into developing legitimately good proposals are unfortunately turned down for spots that require no work. When "so-and-so answers your questions," those speakers realistically don't have to prepare anything. Show up and answer questions. I could do that (if I were popular, which I am not, but I digress).

I'd like to think that in some small way, a CFP rewards people who put time and effort into the process. That isn't to say the longest or most detailed proposal should automagically be accepted; but time and effort should mean something. When I get accepted to speak at a conference, it's a treat and reward for what is often months of prior research. It means a lot. I sense that others probably feel the same way.

I realize that this criticism might seem self-serving because I didn't get selected this year (honestly, I am and was totally bummed about it; but it happens and I am not going to let it make my experience any less awesome). I'd like to think I would have this same criticism whether or not I got accepted. But this isn't about me. Better yet, I'd love to see Bruce or Kevin (or anyone in these circumstances) give a prepared talk; it shows me they actually care about putting time and effort into rewarding the attendees with thoughtful discussion instead of showing up for a handful of Q and As, something that anyone could do.

What do you think? I am whining too much and full of shit, or is there a point somewhere here?
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