We're hard at work planning Codeland 2018, and we just selected speakers from the CFP. Out of the hundreds of submissions we received for talks (we're still working on workshop submissions), we could only choose 16 talks. It's frustrating to find out your talk wasn't selected and not knowing why or what you could've done differently. So I wrote this post with the goal of providing some information on our decision. And if you're considering applying to a future Codeland, hopefully this will help strengthen your CFP!
1. Not enough of a story
One thing we did differently this year was to replace topics with problem-solution setups. Last year, we had topics like art, gaming, health, and education that you could pick from. One of the things I want to do with the CFP process is to show people who don't think they have anything to talk about that they actually do! So instead of topics, I created problem-solution setups like "How I solved a technical problem" and "How I took a side project and made it something more." My goal was to have people who may not normally submit a talk look at the list and think, "Hey I've done that! Maybe I can submit something." I also hoped that these setups would encourage people to think of their talk as a story instead of a lecture.
To be honest, this strategy didn't work as well as I'd hoped. Last year, we had half the number of submissions, but there were more stories than this year. One of the most common patterns I saw was a tendency to approach the talk like a lecture, with a lot of emphasis on providing information and instruction, and not enough on telling a story. Conferences have different goals for their talks, and one of ours is to inspire and inform. A common issue was not having enough on the "inspire" side. Depending on the conference, that may be just fine! But for ours, the story is really important.
2. Lots of comparable talks on the same topic
Two of the most popular topics covered in this group of talks were open source and accessibilty. There were probably a dozen "How to get started in open source" talks. Besides being very instructional (see point 1 above), they tend to sound about the same. That means if you're submitting a talk on this topic, you've got a lot of competition. Your submission's gotta really stand out. One way to differentiate yours in the future is to make it personal. Tell us your interesting/surprising/frustrating open source experience. If you have a hard time with that, another strategy for a future submission might be to pick a topic that's less popular, and so won't have as much competition.
3. Too niche
There were a number of really great submissions that were simply too technically specific for our audience. What makes Codeland different from most tech conferences is that we're language and framework agnostic. Our attendees come from different technical backgrounds, interests, and skill levels. While our talks are technical, we opted for talks that were likely to resonate with our audience regardless of their specific stack. As a whole, we wanted to design a program that covered a range of interests and had a high likelihood of being relevant to our attendees.
4. Not enough information
Some talks sounded like they could be good, but we just weren't sure. Usually this means there wasn't a lot of detail, or the information provided didn't paint a clear picture of what the talk would actually look like. These submissions often did a great job establishing the premise of the talk, but didn't provide enough examples/facts/details for the programming committee to have a good sense of what the talk would actually contain.
5. Not technical enough
There were a number of talks on soft skills, tech culture, and other themes that are relevant to being a developer, but not exactly technical. These topics are definitely important, and we unpack of lot of those themes on our podcast and twitter chat, but for the conference, we opted for more technical talks that were more directly related to coding. The exceptions to this were talks on learning how to code and building a career.
As you can see, about half of these reasons are more about fit than an issue with an individual talk. Your submission may be perfect for a different conference! The fact that you submitted is already a win, and I hope you keep submitting <3