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Video: Paul "Froggy" Schneider's Hard-Won Wisdom For Conference Organizers 35

Posted by timothy
from the cleveland-rocks dept.
Cleveland-based programmer Paul Schneider, better known both online and in person as Froggy, first organized Notacon after trips to HOPE and other hacker cons gave him the idea; there weren't any gatherings like it in Cleveland at the time, and attending HOPE cost more in money and time than many locals would have been willing to justify for a weekend. Froggy sensed there was a big enough community in Cleveland of hackers, musicians, artists and others to support one, though. So he wrangled space, put out the word, and lined up enough presentations to make it happen. Now, Notacon's been going on for nine years straight (and year 10 is already in the works). In that time, Froggy's developed some thoughts about how to pull off organizing a gathering that involves hundreds of people at a time — and not just any people, but ones with soldering guns, nerf guns, fencing sabers, a lot of electrical equipment, and sometimes (egads!) even children. Froggy is quick to credit the dozens of people — about 20 core staff, and others with smaller but important roles — who also take part in planning and running the conference. Finding hard-working, like-minded souls may be the most universal part of his advice on running a similar event; watch the video interview for more.

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Video: Paul "Froggy" Schneider's Hard-Won Wisdom For Conference Organizers

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  • Transcript (Score:5, Informative)

    by QuasiSteve (2042606) on Wednesday April 25, 2012 @10:32AM (#39794509)

    Title: Paul 'Froggy' Schneider Talks About the Excitement of Putting a Hacker Conference Together
    Description: Froggy has organized the annual notacon hacker event for nine years and, even though the 2012 notacon just ended, is already hard at work planning notacon 10. If you ever plan to put together an IT get-together or conference, you should watch this video first.

    00:00) <TITLE>
    A still view of the interviewee, Paul 'Froggy' Schneider' appears in greyscale and fades into color video as the SlashdotTV logo bar reads "Paul 'Froggy' Schneider talks about the thrills and chills of putting together the Notacon conference". Below the logo bar is the Notacon web address: www.notacon.org

    00:05) Timothy>
    So, Froggy, congratulations on a fun conference.

    00:07) Froggy>
    Thank you very much!

    00:07.5) Timothy>
    How did you get into running a hackercon?

    00:10) Froggy>
    Well, I got into attending hackercons in 2000 when I attended my first Hackers On Planet Earth (HOPE) conference, sponsored by 2600 New York City.
    Then I started going to other local conferences like Rubi-Con, which took place in and around the Detroit area.
    When that ended, I felt there was a hole that needed to be filled.
    There was a market that needed to be served, there were people that needed this event.
    So - foolishly, since I didn't know any better - I thought "Well, how hard can it be?"
    You know, I'd been to some really bad events before, and I'm like "I can do this just as well as anybody else. So let's make it happen, let's find the right people and see what we can do to do it differently."

    00:52) Timothy>
    What has turned out to be your least favorite part of that process?

    00:55) Froggy>
    The least favorite has always been trying to figure out how to pay for it.
    Money is not something I like to worry about a whole lot.
    I'd rather focus on the technology and the community aspects, and doing cool stuff.
    So figuring out how to pay for it has always been really hard.
    Because I want everybody who wants to attend to have the ability to attend.

    01:18) Timothy>
    Well, on that front, what's the most satisfying aspect?

    01:22) Froggy>
    Seeing people discover.
    I'd like to say at Notacon there's 2 or 3 talks, or things that you're into that you know about, and there's 6 to 12 things that you didn't even know existed that you want to learn about now.
    Seeing that process of discovery, or seeing that person who learned to solder for the firs time, or who wrote their first bit of demo code - seeing them experience that discovery process is fascinating, and it's really, really rewarding.

    01:52) Timothy>
    You put a lot of time into this conference, can you quantify that at all?

    01:56) Froggy>
    I've been on the plate for the past 1.5 years, so I've been doing this basically full-time.
    Over the past 1.5 months I've probably put in 200 hours of work.
    I get up in the morning, work on it, and go to sleep.
    But throughout the year I would say, I myself, probably put in 200-300 hours of work, and my wife puts in just as much time.

    02:19) Timothy>
    You credit a lot of people obviously, in your brochure or program, with how much help they did.
    How do you divvy that work up - how do you delegate it?

    02:30) Froggy>
    My management philosophy in general has always been to let people do what they do best, and get out of the way.
    So I try to run kind of an enlightened despotism where there is a strict hierarchy, but we decentralize it as much as possible, and empower people in their particular areas whether it's network or demo parties or locksport[?].
    I give them the power and the trust to do what they do best, and they know that they can come back to me and say "Hey, here's what I need, here are the problems I'm having", and then I can work on that from there.
    So I try to sh

Mathemeticians stand on each other's shoulders while computer scientists stand on each other's toes. -- Richard Hamming

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