Volunteering for CITCON 2016

What is CITCON?

The Continuous Integration and Testing Conference, abbreviated as CITCON, is an OpenSpace non-profit conference which for ten years has been organized in various cities around the globe. Currently, each year there are four editions taking place on four continents: Europe, America, Asia and Australia & New Zealand. The previous editions in Europe took place in London, Brussels, Amsterdam, Paris, London again, Budapest, Turin, Zagreb, Helsinki and this year in Cluj-Napoca.

The organizers of the conference are Jeffrey Fredrick and Paul Julius who are very passionate about their work and happy to share their long professional experience. The participants at the conference are people who work in a continuous integration / continuous delivery context (CI / CD) and not only. This includes any kind of associated roles, from testers, programmers, devops to managers etc. One thing though that is good to have in mind is that the attendees need to be familiar enough with CI / CD, such as to be able to share their experiences and challenges, because, as I mentioned before, CITCON is an OpenSpace conference. This means no boring sessions on topics out of your interest area. No, at this conference the participants are the ones who make the conference.

Volunteering at CITCON

Adina and the schedule

Myself, I’ve been attending this conference for 5 years now, and haven’t missed an European edition since Budapest. I loved so much what the OpenSpace format comes with, the variety of people’s skills and work contexts, the interactions between attendees, the freedom to do whatever fits best our learning objectives, that I wanted to bring it closer to the software community in my town. That’s how I got to be a volunteer in organizing CITCON in Cluj-Napoca this year.

My tasks were to find a venue, to promote the event and potentially to look for sponsors, as CITCON is a non-profit organization and attendees have the option to ‘buy’ free of charge tickets.

One of my biggest surprises while being a volunteer, and it was a very pleasant one, was that people came towards me and volunteered to help, instead of me going towards them and ask for help. It felt great! That’s how Monica Ratiu hopped in the team, then Ioana Chiorean, Paul Damian, Alex Rotaru, and even Peter Zsoldos from 460 kilometers away.

The challenge of finding a venue

Impact Hub

One of the biggest challenges was to find a suitable venue and if possible free of charge. The setup of the conference consists of 5 rooms, among which a large room with a capacity of about 120 people and 4 other rooms with a smaller variable capacity. After doing some research I found out that there are not many places in Cluj that fit in this description. On top of that, I was holding on tightly on two things: having the large room in a circle setup, and not having it hosted at a company’s office. Why? Because I observed that a circle setup is an important enabler for strong interactions, as we’re able to see people’s faces when they’re talking. The company thing was just a worry of mine of not turning the conference into a recruiting event. So, I got in touch with universities, high-schools, co-working spaces, hotels, a ‘technology park’, event spaces, even museums and a tea-house, but none of them seemed to have the features we needed, and if they did have they were unfortunately unavailable during the required time frame.

After a while of searching and not finding a venue to book, I loosened my requirements and approached companies. To my surprise though, the three companies I talked with were not able to host the conference either because they had the five rooms on different floors, or other reasons like security or the persons in charge being in vacation.

Looking retrospectively, there were two things that helped me in this situation:

  1. Having around non-demoralized volunteers who took action and even one day of their work time to continuously look for other venues. This filled me up with energy and much sooner than I expected I was back on track to help them.
  2. Close to this ‘crisis’ situation, it helped having talked face to face with Jeff, one of the organizers, instead of just using the regular email. When I saw that he was still calm and supportive given the current situation, he inherently induced that state with me too and stayed for quite a long while.

Finally, we found a venue but I had to overcome a mental barrier to reach to it. I haven’t realized but very late that I got stuck on looking only for places that were free of charge or within a previous budget. This venue was twice the amount I had in mind. But it was worthed, many people had very good feedback related to it.

The hidden value of providing unaltered information

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Source: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/TInfxe7c7yA/maxresdefault.jpg

After all, even if double compared to the previous years the event costs were not that big given the overall costs of the conference. It turns out that even if the location price was higher, the food was much more cheaper than usual and that compensated. After doing some calculations the price of both the location and the food was less expensive than what it usually costs the food only. So this was quite a good deal.

Now the story behind. We were still looking for a venue. We reached to this final one, Impact Hub, I asked for an offer and received an email with the venue costs and catering services. Personally, I totally dismissed the catering information as I was too focused to sort out the venue first. Luckily, when I set out to communicate the venue information further on to the organizers, I had difficulties in writing them an email in a neutral tone. And that bugged me. So, after writing and rewriting I finally decided: what if I just translated the email from Romanian to English? And that’s the story how the catering information succeeded to reach to the organizers: by sending them the whole text unaltered (besides the language translation). Of course that the response I received was totally unexpected: the organizers were happy with the deal. And if it wasn’t for the catering information I ain’t sure if it would have been that easy to decide having the conference hosted at Impact Hub.

It’s interesting how one small detail that I thought of not being important turned out actually to be very important. I wonder how often I communicated my interpretations leaving aside ‘minor’ details that perhaps would have changed the whole perspective upon the course of actions.

The conference from a volunteer’s perspective

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During the first day of the conference there is a speech that the organizers kick off the conference with. When they finalize it they use to say that their role as organizers ends there. From that point on we – the participants are our own conference organizers. We – the participants are responsible for making a great conference for ourselves. Extrapolating this situation, people often told me during the conference that I must be really busy helping with the organization. I surely was more alert than usual, but I think that my role as a volunteer ended even before the organizer’s speech. Of course that I was available if people had questions, but the conference by its OpenSpace nature is self-organizing, needing no volunteers nor organizers to make things happen.

Still, I can’t say I was all the time totally relaxed. The first part of the day I felt a bit in a hurry constantly having something on the top of my head that I wanted to check. Things got better though in the second part of the day. Starting with lunch I had a very pleasant conversation with a new friend, then attended Squirrel’s session about TDD for people, followed by my session on Pigs VS Chickens, and afterwards a very productive one-to-one walk in the sun while talking about specification by example.

My learning focus during this CITCON was communication and action science topics. I know they are not directly in the CI / CD sphere, but strongly connected with working with people (in CI / CD and not only).

Also Douglas Squirrel managed to print out a very beautiful pamphlet containing a conversation that he and I had last year about helping a colleague to change. The squirrel and owl are the main characters. Check it our here: http://douglassquirrel.s3.amazonaws.com/actionscience/douglas-squirrel-booklet-A5-6-C.pdf.

It will all workout itself out, A-Ha!

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The motto of this self-organizing conference is “It will all workout itself out”. When I first heard this, one day before the conference started, I thought it was a wise technique to calm down the mind in harsh situations. Then I heard it again during the day of the conference. My second time reaction was a bit dismissive, “Yes, I already know that from yesterday”.  And then I heard it again. And again, especially from the organizers in different situations during the event. Only later that day I had a weird feeling that I finally understood what they meant, and I was able to apply those words of wisdom. That was my A-Ha moment.

Some of the other people’s A-Ha moments that I liked are:

  • The 2 minutes rule: when you look at it for 2 mins and don’t know what to do, ask for help
  • Before rejecting someone’s ideas, you should try to understand how they got there
  • Frustration is only in our head
  • You can’t stop birds flying in the sky, but you can stop them creating a nest on your head
  • When building communities interactions are more important than the number of people.

Conclusion. Oh no, the blog post is close to an end!

I heard a lot of good feedback related to the venue, the food, the diversity of people, the number of people, the gender equilibrium, or the big number of testers attending the conference.

There are some things that I could have done better though. There are always things that we can do better, and one of them is to have used the CITCON mailing list more often. The benefits of cc-ing citcon@yahoogroups.com in the regular planning emails may result in more sponsorship applications, or more delegates coming from different countries, backgrounds and roles. So if you plan to volunteer for the next CITCON please remember to do that.

Good luck and looking forward to hear more thoughts and feedback about CITCON Europe 2016 in Cluj-Napoca.


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