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How We Selected Talks for PGConf US 2015

In the spirit of open-source, we would like to share how we handled the talk selection process for PGConf US 2015. This post will discuss the entire process of how a talk ends up in one of our United States PostgreSQL Association conferences; our goal is to help you understand what our conference is looking for in talk proposals and help you decide what you submit for PGConf US 2016!

In the past conferences we organized in New York, we had to do a lot of direct outreach in order to attract speakers, to the point where we would have just enough talks to put on a program. This changed this year; while we did do some direct outreach, we were able to rely more on prior attendee / speaker experience, referrals from the PostgreSQL community, and our marketing efforts, which lead to 107 talk submissions!

At first, we were planning to do 3 conference tracks across 2 days, for a total of 32 speaking slots. After Jim & myself did a first pass on the talks, we decided that the overall quality of the submissions warranted us adding either another day to the speaking sessions, or another track. Because of our contract with the hotel and the fact that we know people already booked their travel, we opted to add a 4th track, and expand to 44 speaking slots.

We assembled a committee with the understanding that it works similar to an operating committee of a business: committee members were given the option to say "Yes" or "No" to talks and provide feedback as to their reasoning. However, Jim & I ultimately make the final decision on all of the talks. Overall, most of the talk selections were in-line with the committee consensus, but there were some exceptions which I will discuss later.

We chose the committee members based on their history with the PostgreSQL, experience in technology, and industry they are representing.

  • Mehboob Alam: Has helped with marketing and organizational efforts in previous conferences; experience in healthcare.
  • Jonah Harris: Longtime PostgreSQL community member, has worked with large-scale PostgreSQL deployments as well as Oracle. Jonah also had a lot of feedback on the talks from last year's conference, so we challenged him to help us with the selections this year ;)
  • Bryan Doyle: Helping to organize the Regulated Industry Summit; experience in enterprise and data deployments in regulated industries

For our part, Jim comes from the enterprise consulting world and has seen PostgreSQL deployed in many different configurations. I consider myself on the app development / startup side of the equation, thus I try to consider talks from that perspective.

Two quick interjections:

  1. The talk committee did an outstanding job; we gave them less than a week to review 107 proposals and they all followed through. Great job team!
  2. If you are interested in being a part of the talk committee for PGConf US 2016, please talk to Jim & myself at the conference :) Our intention is to grow the conference even further in 2016, which should mean more talks to review and the need for fresh perspectives. And yes, attending one of our prior conferences is a requirement to be on the talk committee.

When it came to reviewing the talks, we gave the committee very general guidelines, and this was on purpose: We wanted everyone to bring their unique perspectives and analysis to the reviews. However, there were some central preferences that came out of the review process, which were:

  • Does this proposal have real-world applications? Case-studies scored major points with everyone.
  • If the proposal revolved around a tool or utility, would the talk cover real-world deployments of the tool and what problems it helped to solve?
  • Did the talk offer a fresh perspective on a PostgreSQL topic?
  • If the topic was forward-looking, would it be appropriate for a user audience and provide enough information so users could take action now?
  • Did the proposal provide enough information about the talk? Generally proposals that were more detailed met with more favorable reviews. Also, the actually wording of the proposal counts; if you do not write your proposal properly, the odds are you will have trouble conveying your message while speaking.
  • There were some cases where Jim & myself reached out to talk submitters to clarify points in the proposals, request changes, or make suggestions. We were pleasantly surprised and glad that everyone we reached out to got back to us almost immediately!

    After the group reviews process, there were about 63 talks that met with favorable opinion, and about 55 that were universally favored. This of course makes ita challenge when you only have 44 slots to select, thus we had to make some tough decisions. When it came to make the final cutdown, we considered a few things:

    • Does the talk cover a topic that is not addressed by any other talk submissions?
    • Do we have the correct balance between beginner / intermediate / advanced talks?
    • Do we have the correct balance between different topics, with heavier weight placed on case-studies / PostgreSQL deployment strategy talks?
    • How cool is the content of the proposal? We don't want attendees to be bored ;) As an example, there was one proposal that talked about using a foreign-data wrapper to control a Lego robot - no pressure, but we are expecting a live demonstration of that!
    • Does the speaker have previous speaking experience, and at a PostgreSQL conference? This by no means was a deal-breaker; in many ways, we were looking for new speakers to bring into the community. We do want to make sure we are bringing in speakers who are comfortable with public speaking and can deliver clear messages to their audience
    • Does the talk fit the overall theme we are trying to convey at the conference? In general, the PGConf US series is looking for people who can talk about a particular feature or concept within the context of real-world usage, and that can include talking about technologies other than PostgreSQL.
    • Will the talk be able to better educate people how to use PostgreSQL within the greater world of technology?

    Even with this criteria, on the day we notified speakers, we were still left with 12 talks for 4 slots to fill. In a perfect world, we would have chosen all 12 of those talks, and we had to make some tough choices. There were some talks that the entire group universally voted "Yes" on that we ended up turning down, usually for one of these reasons:

    • The topic was covered in some way by someone else who also received universal approval
    • We ultimately decided it did not provide enough use-cases based on the proposal
    • We just ran out of space :(

    Looking towards PGConf US 2016, we are planning on adding a 3rd day of talks, which will mean we will have anywhere from 48 to 68 slots available based on the number of talk submissions and/or the number of concurrent tracks we want to run. We may consider adding a "PostgreSQL Hackers" track to have some more abstract, forward-looking concepts, though the criteria of having a real-world application will still apply to those talks.

    If you have any questions, comments, thoughts, or whatever, you can reach out to us at pgconf@postgresql.us

Accepting code donations from the Ukraine (Crimea) and other sanctioned countries

President Obama recently signed Executive Order: #13685 [1] , in short this Order states:

(a) The following are prohibited:
(i) new investment in the Crimea region of Ukraine by a United States person, wherever located;
(ii) the importation into the United States, directly or indirectly, of any goods, services, or technology from the Crimea region of Ukraine;
(iii) the exportation, reexportation, sale, or supply, directly or indirectly, from the United States, or by a United States person, wherever located, of any goods, services, or technology to the Crimea region of Ukraine;
(iv) any approval, financing, facilitation, or guarantee by a United States person, wherever located, of a transaction by a foreign person where the transaction by that foreign person would be prohibited by this section if performed by a United States person or within the United States.

I spoke with an attorney about this because it directly affects my other interests. The attorney was apprised of the following:

* PGDG (PostgreSQL Global Development Group) is not a corporate or legal entity
* There are tangibly connected non-profits (SPI, postgresql.us, postgresql.eu etc…)
* That we are an Open Source community
* A detailed description of how Open Source and specifically the PostgreSQL community operates

There were multiple scenarios presented (the non-profits under their current methods of doing business are fine) but there “could” be a problem in the following scenario:

  1. Crimean developer submits patch to .Org
  2. United States based committer reviews patch
  3. United States based committer commits patch
  4. “possible” violation of Order #13685

I brought the specific example to the attorney because it is the most likely and even though there are other anomalies, this order currently has:

* No guidance from OFAC [2]
* The liability would fall personally on the committer

United States PostgreSQL is not offering legal advice but we are suggesting that if you are a United States based committer, you might want to consult your attorney about the implications of this Order.

It is “my” opinion that it is not likely that the justice department will be knocking on your door for committing a patch for a Crimean contributor, but I am not an attorney and stranger things have happened.

1. http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/ukr...
2. http://www.treasury.gov/about/organizational-structure/offices/Pages/Off...

An evening with PostgreSQL and Sponsoring LFNW

JD wrote:

A couple of weeks ago I spoke at Bellingham Linux User Group with a talk entitled: An Evening with PostgreSQL. It was an enlightening talk for me because it was the first time, in a long time, that I have spoke to a non-postgresql community. Most of the people in attendance were Linux Users of course but also a few Mongo as well as MySQL users. I was asked questions such as, "Why would I use PostgreSQL over MySQL?". To be honest, I didn't even realize that was still a question but it opens up a huge advocacy opportunity.

PostgreSQL as a community is growing so fast that it seems we forget that there is a whole legacy community out there that is perfectly happy with inferior product. That community is probably our most significant pool of growth available. It is all about the education! I did receive good remarks on the talk and I hope to speak there again. I encourage the rest of our community to start reaching out to communities that we may be neglecting.

The other opportunity that was presented while at BLUG was LinuxFest Northwest. Apparently, BLUG and LFNW are operated by the same community and non-profit. I attended the organizational meeting for LFNW the next week and PgUS has secured a full PostgreSQL track at LFNW. This will be at least one full day (possibly two) PostgreSQL talks held in April after PgConf.US. It is the perfect time for those to get in one last conference before the summer hits and we are all too busy hitting the mountains or "insert recreational activity here". Lastly, the PgUS board has decided to Gold Sponsor this event. It is a reasonably large event (1500 people) and should provide some great exposure for our community.

Lastly, PgUS has also voted to submit a request for designs from 99designs.com. This is in an effort to get a modern website design in place to help further our cause!

The slides can be found here:


I Got Into the PostgreSQL Community By Speaking…And You Should Too!

Seriously, you should. You should submit a talk proposal to PGConf US 2015 – the worst thing that will happen is the talk committee will say “no” and offer a bunch of reasons to help you get your talk approved next year! Believe it or not, speaking at a PostgreSQL conference is a great way to help the community at large, and I hope this personal story I am going to share will shed some light as to why.

[Note: I like to keep things concise, but I wanted to share as much of the story as possible, so if you have a short attention span you may not read the full post, but you will miss out.]

I never took a database class in high school or college (though I took plenty of computer science and math), yet I always loved using databases for my miscellaneous web and research projects, particularly PostgreSQL. I knew it was an open source project, I knew there was a community that supported it, but being young(er) and naïve, I did not know the extent I could participate in such a community.

Once upon a time, I helped manage content at a calculator enthusiast website (did I just tip my hand at how nerdy I am?) called “ticalc.org,” which was founded and run by an even bigger nerd than me, Magnus Hagander. Magnus, now on the core PostgreSQL team, was quickly inundated with questions about my web development projects and guided me towards using PostgreSQL.

Fast-forward to where I am about a year out of college and using PostgreSQL professionally (or at least claiming it was professional) in all my projects. Magnus, along with others from the PostgreSQL.EU community, were running a PostgreSQL conference in Paris, and for reasons that I’m still unsure of, Magnus encouraged me to submit a talk. I had been using ORMs to interact with my PostgreSQL databases and thought “why not talk about my experience?” The talk, to my surprise, was accepted.

I arrived, very excitedly, in Paris to speak at my first professional conference, but still felt unsure of why I was there. At the outset, the only person I know is Magnus, but quickly I start to meet a lot of longtime PostgreSQL supporters. Through my first day of conversations, I realized a few of things:

  1. Wow, these people are smart
  2. Wow, these people are really smart
  3. Wow, not only are they smart, but they are good at explaining things. And they are really patient and are really trying to help me.
  4. …wait, am I the dumbest person here?
  5. …yes, I am. And I am speaking the next day.

My talk was far from perfect (e.g. I mispronounced “PostgreSQL”), but it went well enough. I received a lot of constructive feedback on my thoughts and ideas, learned a lot more about PostgreSQL, and, much to my surprise, people there wanted to listen to me to help improve my PostgreSQL experience!

And the warmth, support, and desire to get better as a community was not a one-experience. At the next EU conference in Stuttgart, I remember being asked by Dave Page, one of the organizers and a PostgreSQL core member and someone who I hardly knew at time, for feedback on the keynote and conference overall. I thought to myself "Wow, they really do care!" I gave a talk on the new PostgreSQL 9.0 release and only received one question from the end: it was from Heikki Linnakangas, who worked on some of the key components for streaming replication, who asked (slightly paraphrased) “You’re using streaming replication in production? Cool! How is it working? Is it having any issues? Anything I can help with?”

Could I have made these realizations and connections in the PostgreSQL community without speaking at a conference? Sure, but speaking allowed a few things that may not have happened otherwise:

  1. I had to take my thoughts, research them further, and present them in a structured manner
  2. As much as I was trying to present new ideas to the community, in turn I was looking for new ideas too, and giving a talk was a way to catalyze this communication
  3. Though I would talk for 50 minutes, I could setup a topic of conversation for later, where people would come up to me for questions, comments, corrections, thoughts, ideas, etc.

I know public speaking is tough for people, but like any skill, it becomes easier with more experience. I still make lots of mistakes in my talks, both technical and with delivery, but I learn from them, and the PostgreSQL community is very supportive of doing so. And quite frankly, we will be with you too.

At PGConf US 2015, you have the opportunity to join the PostgreSQL community at one of, if not the, largest PostgreSQL events in the world – your own 50-minute forum to present an idea, teach us how you do something, inspire the community to approach a problem in a different way.
We succeed as a community if we can share our knowledge and grow, and to do that, we need new people to share new ideas.

All that remains to be said is: where is your talk submission?

PgUS moves to Google Apps

In an effort to utilize infrastructure that is far more capable than what we can as volunteers provide, PgUS has moved to Google Apps. As a 501c3 we are offered a host of benefits that will help us grow the organization as well as increase collaboration and communication among the board and corporation members. We expect to be performing technical and advocacy hangouts often, as well as configuring a PgUS YouTube channel to put forth video resources for those wanting to know and learn more about PostgreSQL.

Look for more news in the future. It is exciting times!

PgUS: Welcomes Dallas/Forth Worth PostgreSQL User Group

As United States PostgreSQL continues its support for PostgreSQL User Groups it is my pleasure to announce that the Dallas/Forth Worth PostgreSQL User Group has decided to become part of the PgUS family. The resolution passed with 100% consent and it is great to see them on board. You may visit the resolution here:


It is exciting times, currently the first (NYC) and third (Philly) largest user groups are also affiliated with PgUS. Let's see if Dallas/Forth Worth can take them on! Watch in the near future for other great news from PgUS. We have a lot going on and are excited to share!

PgUS Fall Update 2014

It has been a little quiet on the U.S. front of late. Alas, summer of 2014 has come and gone and it is time to strap on the gators and get a little muddy. Although we have been relatively quiet we have been doing some work. In 2013 the board appointed two new board members, Jonathan S. Katz and Jim Mlodgeski. We also affiliated with multiple PostgreSQL User Groups:

  • PhillyPUG
  • SeaPUG

    Through the affiliation the PUG receives non-profit status, their own bank account and the ability to accept non-profit donations specifically for their PUG. In 2014, NYCPUG did just that to become the largest donation source for United States PostgreSQL by holding PostgreSQL NYCConf, which is the largest PostgreSQL Conference in the United States. PDXPUG also had a PgDay this past month.

    We have held elections for the board through the term of 2015 - 2017. Those seats take effect in March of 2015, the winners of those seats are:

      3-year term:

    • Michael Alan Brewer
    • Jonathan S. Katz
    • Jim Mlodgenski
    • Mark Wong
      2-year term:

    • Joshua D. Drake
    • Kris Pennella
    • Robert Treat

    The staggered terms are to insure that at no point are we replacing the entire board. As a part of the election and slight reorganizing to insure proper alignment with our By-Laws, Greg Sabino Mullane and Bruce Momjian have stepped down. We wish them all the best in their future community efforts and thank them for all their years of service.

    The board is currently discussing several goals to meet by the end of the year, look for more announcements here!

  • How PG.US Made PGConf NYC 2014 Possible

    When the New York City PostgreSQL User Group (NYCPUG) launched the campaign to create PGDay NYC (now PGConf NYC) back in 2012, our goal was to create a multi-day community PostgreSQL conference in New York City. However, we knew that we had to start small with a one-day two track conference, and even with that, we had many obstacles to overcome: timing, logistics, and of course, securing funding to pay for the event. We were very fortunate that we had fantastic sponsors for our inaugural event, but we faced a simple yet daunting problem: where would we actually collect the money for the conference?

    Because NYCPUG was not an official nonprofit organization in 2012, we were unable to open a bank account to collect funds for PGDay NYC 2012. We relied on the money collection in two ways: informing our sponsors to send checks directly to the venue, or collect the money through one of our organizations and have it count against our corporate and personal taxes.

    Neither of these methods were ideal. Though paying the venue directly might work in ideal circumstances, we ended up in a prolonged billing dispute with the venue after the event where they owed us more money than they claimed. Additionally, to lower the tax liabilities on our end, we tried to spend all of the money that was raised, which did not allow us to save any money for PGDay NYC 2013.

    However, we received a major lifeline in 2013. The United Statues PostgreSQL Association (PG.US) approached us with a unique solution: we could register NYCPUG as a subsidiary of PG.US, which would give NYCPUG nonprofit 501(c)(3) status and its own bank account.

    This immediately provided a lot of benefits for organizing PGDay NYC 2013. First and foremost, we saved money from the venue expenses because we did not have to pay tax due to nonprofit status – this meant we had capital that could be invested in enhancing the experience of the conference. The savings enabled us to have the conference at a better, more professional venue, which for PGDay NYC 2013 was in Liberty Hall the ACE Hotel in New York. We could also consolidate the funds for PGDay NYC 2013 in one place – this made it much easier to pay bills and handle the accounting on our end, which in turn made it easier for sponsors and vendors to work with us.

    Perhaps most importantly, we were able to carry over our proceeds from PGDay NYC 2013 to use for the 2014 conference. This allowed us to expand our conference from 1 to 2 days (hence we became "PGConf NYC") and to accommodate more speakers and attendees in a larger venue, which for PGConf NYC 2014 is the New York Marriott Downtown.

    Without the administrative support of PG.US, we may not have been able to create this amazing event in NYC on the same level and scale. While not all PostgreSQL community events will be the same size as PGConf NYC, I hope that by sharing our learning experiences that the rest of the advocacy community can utilize our model and help to effectively teach good PostgreSQL practices.

    Can PG.US help your local user group? Reach out to PG.US or send me an email at contact@nycpug.org and let us know how we can help!

    NYCPUG + PG.US = Happy PostgreSQL Users

    When we restarted the New York City PostgreSQL User Group (NYCPUG) in April 2010, about 15 of us gathered in a conference room that we had rented near Penn Station and talked about what we wanted to get out of the user group. At the time, we had about 40 people on the mailing list and absolutely no momentum behind our user group.

    Fast-forward to January 2014, NYCPUG is now the largest PostgreSQL User Group in the United States with almost 850 people (and growing) on the mailing list and a monthly attendance that averages around 50.

    There are many factors that made this growth possible, including the rising popularity of PostgreSQL usage and being in a metropolitan area with over 23 million people; this does provide us with a large addressable audience. However, because we compete for the peoples’ attention with in a city littered with large tech meetup groups, we sometimes need to provide some incentives to make sure we have both attendees and speakers present.

    Because our monthly meetups usually start at 6:30pm, we try to offer food (pizza) and beverages (soda, beer) so our attendees do not worry about being hungry. Sometimes, our meetup hosts have graciously provide food, and other times where we, as the organizers, pick up the tab.

    By partnering with the United States PostgreSQL Association (PG.US), NYCPUG was able to easily acquire nonprofit (501(c)(3)) status and also have some money allocated in the overall PG.US budget towards our monthly expenses. Additionally, PG.US can help us sponsor speakers to fly to New York to present at one of our meetups!

    With PG.US as a launching pad, we have been able to successfully raise money for NYCPUG during the year through the annual PGConf NYC user-focused PostgreSQL conference. Even if we did not have the conference, we have enough active members who would be willing to provide a tax-deductible donation to NYCPUG to ensure we could offer the high-level of educational programming (and I don’t mean code!) that has come to be expected of NYCPUG.

    Does your local PostgreSQL User Group (PUG) need a funding boost? Would you like to enjoy similar benefits to NYCPUG? Reach out to PG.US or send me an email at contact@nycpug.org so we can help your PUG get the resources it needs to grow and thrive!

    PgUS: Winter Update 2011

    Michael Brewer wrote:

    Greetings, all! Several things to report to the community:

    - I am pleased to announce that Mark Wong was appointed to the board earlier this summer and has accepted the role of Treasurer of the United States PostgreSQL Association (PgUS). Congratulations, Mark!

    - PgUS has increased its focus in providing more support for local user groups and conferences; just in the past few months, we have provided financial support to BarcampCHS in Charleston, SC and co-sponsored PG Day 2011 in Denver, CO. This is an exciting way for us to help the Postgres community at the local level; please contact the PgUS board if you have an event for which you could use our assistance.

    - To assist this focus (and to make membership more like SPI), PgUS has changed its membership policies to make them simpler and more community orientated. We have reduced the membership fees to $25 per year (professional) or $10 per year (student), and these fees may be waived by application to the PgUS membership committee by showing PostgreSQL community participation (coding, user groups, doc review, moderation, staffing booths, etc.).

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