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Being part of JS Kongress Program Committee

Interview with Vanessa Böhner

Vanessa Böhner, Senior Product Engineer at SinnerSchrader Munich is part of the program committee for JS Kongress 2020. JS Kongress is an international conference about JavaScript in Munich, Germany that we (SinnerSchrader) are sponsoring for years.
I talked to Vanessa about how she became part of the committee and her experience.

For the first time you were part of the JS Kongress program committee, how did that happen?

Relatively surprising, I didn't had it on the radar. I knew that there are great people who do it, but I never thought about how a program committee is formed and I expected that it would always be the same people, that there would be no in and out.
In the end it was very informal via Twitter from Bela, one of the JS Kongress organizers. He asked me if I would be interested. I wondered "Why me?" - I am active in the Munich JavaScript community and would therefore have a feeling for what the people in the community want to see at the conference.

What exactly was your job as part of the program committee?

Our job as program committee was to vote on proposals which where submitted from people for JS Kongress 2020. We got access to a tool where we could read all abstracts. Our task was to read and compare them against each other. We could choose if we wanted to compare all 250 abstracts or if we wanted to compare the abstracts in different categories - e.g. "Frontend", "Backend", "Architecture", "Team". I chose the categories because it was much easier for me, but of course there were also people who preferred to hold everything against each other.

In the tool we always got 3 talks at once and then rate which of them is the most appealing - "1st", "2nd", "3rd" choice - or if one of them stands out then we could vote it as "top". We also had the possibility to choose "ignore", if for example it was a submission from someone we know.

We could leave comments on every abstract as well, we could use them internally or to give feedback. In addition we could add comments if the abstract, from our point of view does (not) fit the topic of this year's congress and suggestions for the presenter. The comments were also be used to sent them as a feedback to the submitter, even if the proposal hasn't been chosen for the conference program.

What is the process of selection, for example I have submitted a talk, what is the journey of my proposal?

I don't know the first steps either, for example I'm not aware if there is a pre-filtering or something similar, the organizers took care of.
As of a certain date, the abstracts were released to us anonymously using the tool described above. That means we did not know who submitted the proposal, we could not see the name, gender or other things about the submitter.

…sometimes I was starring at the screen for 15 min to make a decision.

The process of voting took about 3–4 weeks, which is what it takes. I did a quick estimate, if you want to get a feeling for a paper and compare it to others it took 3–5 minutes. Especially at the end it becomes more and more difficult if you hold the top voted talks against each other and don't want to evaluate an abstract differently because of grammar mistakes, sometimes I was starring at the screen for 15 min to make a decision. 

The program committee was not involved in the final decision, so I can't say exactly what happens after the voting of the committee is done and the top 17 talks are selected.

How did the anonymous voting feel? Was title and description enough?

For me it was extremely advantageous. I can't say what would have happened if I had seen certain names there, whether I would have rated it positive or negative, but some subjective opinion would have been there. In the best or worst case it could have happened that I might have voted differently, e.g. to give more first time speakers a chance.
Focusing only on the title and description made it easier, so I could make a better decision if I was interested in this topic. Would the community currently be interested? Does it fit the topic conference topic?
I found out the results after they were released to the public. I was positively surprised how diverse the line-up is and who the speakers are. Afterwards I read the abstracts again, because theoretically I must have voted them all very high, and it were all talks that I voted up myself.

Now that all talks are announced, how are you feel about the program? 

I am really happy. Many of the topics I was really interested in are in the program. I was so excited about them and really wanted to give them a chance. I was also pleased that it is a colorful mixture of topics and not several talks around one topic.

I am really happy about the program … it is a colorful mixture of topics and not several talks around one topic.

There were papers that stood out because they have a special topic, such as a specific technique that can be used for scaling. At first I was a bit afraid that they might be ignored. A lot of them are not buzzword proposals. But they have something very special about them. Seeing those in the program, made me very happy.

Last but not least the diverse speaker line-up makes me very happy.

Last question, how did you feel when you found out that your colleague Martin is one of the speakers?

I found out quite late. I only noticed it when the speakers were announced on the JS Kongress website.
My first reaction for around 3 minutes was disbelief. Then I wrote to certain people that I really didn't know about it. In fact I even didn't know that Martin had submitted a paper. So, I was really surprised but of course I was really happy.

Thank your for the Interview, Vanessa!

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