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FOSS Fair 2014: Lessons Learned. Originally derived from a pair of paper towels at Ba-Da Wings.

FOSS Fair 2014: Lessons Learned

First off, FOSS Fair was a lot of fun, and I really look foward to the next one. But, I think we can run it better next time. So, here are my thoughts.

Early Coordination

We were disadvantaged this FOSS Fair by our late start date and our lack of connections. Fortunately, next year we can get started earlier, and we have a few key ideas:

  • Announce the Fair and call for volunteers as early as possible.
  • Set specific responsibilities for the section leaders early in the process.
  • Begin discussions with sponsors, and have a clear contact at each sponsor, before the holiday rush.
  • Secure room reservations as early as possible, so that a solid date can be communicated. (We may want to try going directly to the Department or Building Liaison to see if they have special pull with R&R.)

I think you notice what word is appearing a lot here. ;-)


We need to find out where Jack promoted the Fair historically, because we just did not promote it to enough people and places. I suspect we missed out on a few mailing lists and other key departmental contacts (such as Ken Tate or his counterparts). We especially need to focus on promoting to students and University staff.

Also, more flyers!

Registration and Headcount

We had drastically more people sign up for FOSS Fair than actually attended. We also closed the registration far earlier than we needed to in order to obtain a final headcount for catering purposes, which may have contributed. What we may wish to do next time is to open registration early, but then give people the opportunity to cancel before the headcount with a reminder email.

When obtaining the headcount for catering purposes, we should probably compute a high estimate, and make inquiries to caterers for prices based on that high estimate. Then, get our sponsors to commit to an amount up to that estimate (with the understanding that it will probably be less), and obtain the relevant payment information ahead of time. We freeze the headcount for catering purposes on 4:00 the Monday before the Fair, or a similarly sort-of-early-but-less-than-a-week time. (Wednesday was plenty of time for the caterers this Fair, so it should continue to be such in the future.)

Web Sites

We just need to let the wiki go into a peaceful retirement. It gave us significant problems this year, and I'm not sure if anyone's in charge of the server anymore. Instead, it was suggested that the FOSS Fair Web site be handled through GitHub, or at least a more modern and maintained wiki installation. Registration should still use Google Forms or a similar, non-wiki-based RSVP system, because having the data in a tabular format made it much easier to process dietary restrictions, attendance counts, and name badges.

We may want to integrate scheduling into the Web site in some fashion: either by copying the paper schedule onto the Web site, or by maintaining the schedule on the Web to begin with. We also need some sort of task-tracking system to ensure that everyone knows what their responsibilities are for the Fair, without having to remember them. (Most likely, this would be GitHub Issues or a Trello board, possibly combined with a Google spreadsheet for physical items.)

Physical Goods and Services

Attached is a list of stuff to arrange, which includes physical goods. For each physical good necessary to have, we need to figure out:

  • Who brings it?
  • Who talks to the person who brings it (if they are a caterer or sponsor)?
  • Who pays for it (if applicable)?
  • What happens to it at the end of the day?

We also need to make a list of accomodations and other non-physical things (which may need to be arranged with the University in advance), such as better Internet access and printing.

CoC and Staff

The CoC was good, so we need to keep having one of those - and this time, it needs to be fully built out with an incident handling procedure. We were fortunate to continue not having any incidents, but with more people comes more obligation to prepare.

We can divide the volunteer force into staffand general volunteers. Staff are:

  • Preferably students or University staff.
  • Recruited in advance of the Fair.
  • Briefed on the Code of Conduct and incident handling procedures before the Fair.
  • Added to some sort of communication channel for sending Fair-wide alerts about scheduling changes, etc.
  • Given a distinctive article of clothing or accessory, to mark them as staff.

Staff can serve as:

  • Team Leaders (directing a team of volunteers)
  • Door Monitors (letting people in, signing them up, distributing nametags, etc.)
  • Hall Monitors (helping people find sessions, keeping track of the schedule grid, etc.)
  • Session Monitors (see below)

The general volunteers are recruited in a more ad-hoc manner -- in advance, but without the necessity of markers or special briefings. They are split into the following teams:

  • Setup Team (put together tables, signs, etc. and deploy breakfast)
  • Welcome Team (let people in, record their attendance, and hand out name badges)
  • Lunch Team (set up lunch and help clean up after lunch)
  • Cleanup Team (stick around after the Fair to get everything back in place)

We should also have signups for people to photograph and livetweet the Fair (non-binding, but just to encourage such activity).

Also, we need to make sure that we get the TriLUG Inclusivity Phone as early as possible. (Hopefully Cristóbal doesn't go on vacation right after a snowstorm again next year.)

Opening Ceremonies

We should have communicated more clearly that breakfast was going to be provided at the Fair, and that the pitch session began at 9:00: many people were delayed getting to the pitches because there wasn't clear communication on where and when they were, and they didn't want to abandon their breakfast. Communicating this basic schedule on the flyer and in the emails is definitely a good idea for the future.

Justis suggested an "open" format for the opening ceremonies, where breakfast begins at 8:30, and people mingle and come up with talk ideas during breakfast. There is a brief presentation at 9:00 to discuss the talk-proposal process. Then, everyone brings their talks into the lecture hall at 9:30 (with the line forming at 9:20), to proceed directly to pitches and voting.

Schedule Making

We need to come up with some sort of algorithm for making the schedule in advance. This may be an actual computer program, or just a set of heuristics that human schedulers can apply. Either way, the schedulers need to work in isolation, to avoid being influenced by the comments of the crowd.

If printing costs allow (and we don't switch to e-scheduling), we may wish to develop a template for talk proposal sheets, so people know what information to put on their sheet, and how much room to leave for stuff.

One key heuristic is that 30-minute talks should all be in the same timeslots, so that they can be mixed and matched more effectively.


We had plenty of navigational signs (approximately 57). Many signs were even placed outside, to guide people to the correct building. There were also signs guiding people around the conference area, and giving instructions about things like the CoC, the Internet, the lack of food/drinks in classrooms, etc. We need to bring more blank "FOSS Fair" signs for writing unanticipated messages on.

People generally liked the room mascots (for example, 1231 had a picture of Tux associated with it), but suggested that we put names on the rooms as well. Also, one of the mascots should be a turtle of some sort.

Talk Operations

One appealing suggestion was 5/55 scheduling: speakers are expected to arrive on the hour, with the talk officially beginning at :05 past. The talk ends at :55 past. For 30-minute sessions, the changeover would happen at :30 past.

Regardless of whether we go with 5/55 or 0/50, each talk should have at least one trained Session Monitor present. The responsibilities of the Session Monitor are:

  • Help the speaker set up their equipment, including microphones, computers, etc.
  • Keep the speaker on schedule for starting, wrapping up, and ending their talk.
  • Check for communications from the FOSS Fair organizers, and announce them to the room's occupants as necessary.
  • Live tweet the talk, if they are so inclined.

This does mean that each session must have a Session Monitor, so you can't just stick papers on the wall at will: you need to ensure that you have a monitor for the session before it begins. (Staff scheduling will be done on some sort of written medium, in the open, to facilitate this.)

(The Hall and Door Monitors can additionally be seen as the Session Monitors for the "hallway track.")


Food went pretty well, but we over-ordered. Some additional consultation may be necessary to determine an appropriate estimate of how many people will show up. (Providing the option to back out may be a significant improvement in this space.) We also should check with the caterers in the morning to verify the status of our order, just in case there are problems.

The lack of permission to eat food and drinks in the rooms did cause some logistical problems, but we can't officially do anything about that.

(I will emphasize again that we need to clarify: both breakfast and lunch are provided. Also, lots of people complained that the coffee cooled too fast, because Bruegger's delivers coffee in boxes instead of air pots. We may need to look into alternative coffee options to keep the coffee viable through lunchtime.)

Office Supplies:

  • US Letter paper
  • US Letter paper with logos
  • Scissors (multiple pairs)
  • Tape (multiple rolls)
  • Sharpies
  • Spare dry-erase supplies

Beverages and Snacks

  • Soda
  • Coffee
  • Orange juice
  • Bagels
  • Muffins
  • Ice


  • Cups (for soda, OJ, and coffee)
  • Silverware
  • Plates
  • Napkins
  • Paper towels
  • Cooler for serving ice
  • Plenty of trash containers


  • Name badges w/ holders
  • Name badge clips
  • Optional lanyards
  • Staff T-shirts or other identifiers

Room Facilities

  • Names for rooms
  • Whiteboards
  • Induction loop for hearing aids, if feasible
  • Microphones

Services for Participants

  • ncsu network access
  • Printing
  • Flash drives, in case files need to be moved around

For Staff

  • TriLUG Inclusivity Phone
  • Shared, phone-accessible communication channel
  • Completely built-out CoC and incident handling procedures
  • CoC briefing session (or two)
  • Computer for welcome table
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