Oh we are a bunch of high school kids at heart. Maybe high school never ends (and there’s a nightmare, god I hated high school). But, there’s been drama about the 2014 PASS Summit sessions and the Selection Committee’s work. I was on the committee. I worked as a part of the team responsible for rating sessions for the Azure track (said track is gone, more on that later). As self-serving a statement as this is, I think we did a good job. Further, I think the process worked. You can read the official explanation of the process here. Amy did great work and deserves your thanks. All the volunteers who reviewed over 900 submissions from more than 300 people, ON THEIR OWN TIME, FOR FREE, also deserve your thanks. The vitriol directed at the PASS organization over the outcome of this selection process is not directed only at the Board. It’s also directed at the volunteers. And, as a volunteer, that sucks.
The team I worked on rated, I forget, 50 sessions I think. We had to read through them and give them a score based on several criteria. We also had to write comments on each and every session. I was dinged by HQ for not writing a comment on a session that I gave 5′s to on the ratings (so I commented something like “Can’t wait to see this at Summit”). We were only given 10 slots to fill, so that means 40 sessions got kicked to the curb. That’s a lot of people who didn’t get selected. And not getting selected sucks (yes, I do know, I’ve been rejected by a number of events this year, big ones, even ones I’ve spoken at previously, not whining, just pointing out that I don’t have a secret method for getting accepted). Our track actually got eliminated and the sessions that we selected were distributed to other tracks. Also, a couple of sessions we rated highly didn’t do so well when the speaker scores were applied, so there was some shift there (one thing PASS could improve, give us some indication of the secret sauce there, we know there is one, but a little understanding of how it’s applied would help). But over all, the sessions we rated highly, got selected. Congratulations and well done to those speakers. Just look at the people presenting, many for the first time. That’s going to be an absolutely awesome event. And once more, thank the volunteers for doing all that work.
So, some of you are now thinking that, “Oh, Grant’s on the side of PASS” (well, actually, yes, I am, so should you be) “Grant has been told to be nice and play good and not be critical” (even though I’ve already made a criticism about the magic numbers and I was tweeting almost literally threatening messages this week) “Grant got selected so he’s being a <insert bad name here> about the whole thing” (I may or may not be a <insert bad name here> but I don’t agree that I’m being one about this) or, maybe you’re on the other side “OMG! He’s criticizing PASS in any regard, The HUMANITY! Have you at long last sir no decency” (no, not really).
Remember those comments, that I had to write for every abstract, including the great ones? I put a small critical review of the abstract in every one (OK, not the one that I gave 5s to). I said what was wrong with the abstract in my subjective opinion. And let’s be perfectly clear about that (channeling President Obama), they’re my opinions. If I thought you didn’t define the problem space your presentation was meant to address, I said that. You disagree? OK. If I thought your very clever and witty title seriously detracted from the clarity of what the session was about, and it wasn’t that witty, I said that too. You’re the wittiest person you know and everyone says so? OK. My opinion may not jive with yours. But, it’s the one thing I’ve seen everyone who has ever been rejected by the committee ask for, “Tell me what I can do to improve.” OK. I did. At least in my opinion. On every single abstract (except that one).
PASS didn’t release them.
The volunteers (unpaid, remember) did the work, and now it gets to see the light of day.
This brings up a number of points. First, when I got rejected by those other events, did I get a reason for my rejection? Nope. Other events just reject you, thanks for playing. I think PASS, which is all about community, should be different. We should tell people why, not just that there were higher rated sessions, but what they can do to improve. I’ve talked to people in the know, not all the comments provide that kind of information. I think we’ll get better next time. Second, peoples feelings are going to be hurt by these comments. Yes. Yes they are. Suck it up buttercup. You want to know what you can do to improve so you can get selected, but your abstract is absolute perfection (in your opinion), so how dare someone else suggest that it’s not worthy of inclusion, blah, blah, blah, We’re going to see lots of blog posts where people disagree with these comments and that could reflect back in some negative way on the organization. I suppose so, but if we’re going to be about community and we’re going to try to raise up new speakers, we’re going to have to be able to deal with some degree of friction. That may even come from experienced people irked that they didn’t get picked. Everyone has a bad day. Again, I think we can weather this. Finally, the different teams and individuals on the teams probably gave substantially different levels of comments with varying degrees of quality. Some of the comments are just going to be useless. Further, My opinion probably doesn’t jive with my teammates in every regard. Maybe a team didn’t put critical comments in at all (although they had to put in comments). Yes, these things are going to be uneven, maybe even contradictory. OK. Again, cope.
This blog post once started off as a rebuke of the selection process around those comments. It’s not now. I want to repeat, one more time, I think the committee did great work and selected an awesome set of presentations that will make for a wonderful Summit. Thank you for all your hard work. And thank you, Amy, for doing a great job organizing what is a daunting task. And thanks for releasing the comments.