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

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the cleveland-rocks dept.

Hardware Hacking 35

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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Wisdom is one word: (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39793491)


I wonder (1)

gislifb (1979154) | more than 2 years ago | (#39793595)

what makes that guy tic...

Re:I wonder (2)

sinnergy (4787) | more than 2 years ago | (#39797949)

A slight neurological issue in the process of treatment.

- Froggy

Re:I wonder (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39814393)

If you had ever been to notacon, you would know it is BAWLS the energy drink

-a many notacon year attendee

Large grain of salt (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39793783)

Too bad his own mismanagement and misappropriation of funds from the company (notacon is a for-profit venture that doesn't make any money, and they use a lot of the money for personal use) means that the con has been going downhill (this year was pitiful) and has alienated a good deal of local people and original core members. Take anything this guy says with a rather large grain of salt, he and his con aren't successful by any meaning of the word.

Re:Large grain of salt (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39793899)

Take anything this guy says with a rather large grain of salt, he and his con aren't successful by any meaning of the word.

Eh? But you just said:

misappropriation of funds from the company (notacon is a for-profit venture that doesn't make any money, and they use a lot of the money for personal use)

Which sounds like a quite successful con?

Re:Large grain of salt (2)

sinnergy (4787) | more than 2 years ago | (#39797973)

I am proud to stand by my words and my event, regardless of it's success. This year's attendance was in fact slightly lower than last years.

As for misappropriation of funds, I would be very interested to hear how you came to that conclusion. For various reasons, I have lost tens of thousands of dollars running this event over the past 9 years. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

I am sorry you didn't get much value from it. Thankfully there are a lot of other events out there that may be more suited to your needs.

Re:Large grain of salt (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39798477)

Hey, good for you on managing to to keep it going for a decade. Big companies have failed at it.

I didn't know about Notacon before today, and I hope to be able to make it to one (from Chicagoland, here).

Re:Large grain of salt (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39799937)

Good thing you posted anonymously, 'cause I do believe that could be considered Defamation of Character.

No more videos please (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39793827)

Watch the video interview for more

No. Transcript or GTFO.

Re:No more videos please (1)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 2 years ago | (#39794143)

Watch the video interview for more

No. Transcript or GTFO.

Agree. I don't watch videos on the web, and especially not videos of people talking.

(I might watch a video if I were first convinced that visuals (and motion) was needed to convey the information-- but that would require first that there is a text site, saying something like "and here's an animation showing it in action.").

Re:No more videos please (1)

mspohr (589790) | more than 2 years ago | (#39796441)

This video is just a "talking head" which is a waste for video. It could have been replaced with a single photo and audio recording (plus a transcript would be nice).
If you're going to have a video, then show us something interesting!

Transcript? (3)

xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) | more than 2 years ago | (#39793853)

If you post a transcript, I'll scan it. Don't have time for video, SlashDot.

Re:Transcript? Transcript! (1)

QuasiSteve (2042606) | more than 2 years ago | (#39794619)

When you're done scanning it [] could you post the result? PNG preferred, but JPEG at high quality (disable chroma subsampling, please - it's so harsh on subpixel-rendered fonts) would be acceptable as well.

Re:Transcript? (1)

johnnyb (4816) | more than 2 years ago | (#39794785)

I'm the opposite. I can have video on while cooking breakfast, but I can't very well read and code at the same time.

Re:Transcript? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39798535)

Um, if you're cooking, chopping, dicing, kicking the cat, kicking the children, and singing along with the family Guinea Pig, how can you possibly be watching a video? Listening, maybe, if it can be heard above the Guinea Pig.
    And if you can't very well read and code at the same time, how do you see what's on the monitor?
    Maybe have the Guinea Pig sing it to you?

    Another (meaningless) vote to get rid of Slashdot videos like this.

Re:Transcript? (1)

Pascal Sartoretti (454385) | more than 2 years ago | (#39836575)

If you post a transcript, I'll scan it. Don't have time for video, SlashDot.


Slashvertisement again .... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39793901)

Damn no fuckin video!

Same from Toastmasters (2)

Avatar8 (748465) | more than 2 years ago | (#39794503)

You can also learn and practice conference leadership, organization, funding and logistics skills through Toastmasters. []

Re:Same from Toastmasters (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39804007)

i think at that latitude it might be 'snowmasters'?

Transcript (4, Informative)

QuasiSteve (2042606) | more than 2 years ago | (#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:

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 shield my people from all the stuff they don't need to worry about, and try to shield the people.. you know, like the hotel, and everything else and interface with them so that we can create a good experience and a good environment.

03:16) Timothy>
You talked in your closing a lot about how the attendees here are getting older, a lot of them having kids or starting families.
How does that affect the future of this con in particular?

03:28) Froggy>
I think it actually will be a great thing for hackercons and especially Notacon.
The science fiction conference has been going on now for over half a century, so they have 50 years of experience and 50 years of growing up to do.
The hackercon scene is getting to that point now, where a lot of us are older, a lot of us have kids, most of us started in our late teens, early 20s, hacking on stuff or learning about the scene.
And now a lot of us have kids, a lot of us have new jobs, and new perspectives.
We're trying to make sure Notacon reflects that for people, whether it's by having more events for kids and treating them as little hackers, and not just as children, but trying to make sure that they have all the experiences that maybe we didn't have an opportunity to have because people didn't understand what computers and technology was all about.
So, primarily, it's a reflection of the community - which is one of our trademarks; community, creativity, technology.
We'll listen to the community, and we try to provide events that serve those people and that allow them to have fun and allow them to grow and have new experiences.

04:42) Timothy>
Next year you're actually gonna have a dedicated kids' area?

04:45) Froggy>
It turned out last year that a couple of us had children, myself included - a father of a 15 year old daughter.
This year people saw that there were a few kids present.. brought their own kids, and realized that this is the kind of environment, even though it's a 'hacker conference', that was still really supportive and productive and a place where they could get a taste of what was possible.
Instead of being told as a kid "Well you can't do that, you're not supposed to do that", here at Notacon it's "How can we learn new stuff, and break stuff, and do stuff responsibly, and grow out of it and learn new things."

05:27) Timothy>
You are about to do - you're already in the planning of Notacon 10.

05:31) Froggy>
Oh yeah!

05:32) Timothy>
10 years.
So in that time, what kind of advice have you picked up for somebody who says "I want to start a con in my area" - whether that's an area of expertise or a geographic area - what sort of things come to mind, what advice would you give?

05:44) Froggy>
Find the smartest, most brilliant, most dedicated people you can possibly find.
The most passionate about what they do - whatever it is - and make sure that they have the power to engage in their craft, and to engage in their specialty, and thrive.
This event is not even remotely about me - it's about all the people that attend and participate, it's about all my staff and volunteers that help out.
I like to think of myself as just the grease in the gears, to make sure that it all happens smoothly, and that everybody can have a wonderful experience.
So my advice to those people thinking of starting their own event is: do it.
Don't think about it anymore, figure out how to do it, you don't need a whole lot of money, you don't need a whole lot of experience, you really need just a lot of passion, a lot of dedication - and if you have any organizational skills, it'll help you out a little bit.

06:39) Timothy>
Can you tell us, what is one of your highlights of this year?

06:43) Froggy>
For me the biggest highlight was - well, there are a couple of them.
The first one was of course our PixelJam demo party, which broke even more so from the mold of what demo parties mean by including Glitch and Artware.
But the fact that we had so many great entries from 7 different countries across the world was just.. it was a delight for me.
I grew up - you know, as a kid - watching Second Reality on my 486, and trying to figure out how they did 3D graphics on a machine that only had 33MHz.
So the way I was actually able to have my own demo party.. it's one of those experiences that, as a kid, you only dream of.
The fact that I was able to support it by having my own.. is so incredibly rewarding.

07:30) Froggy>
The second thing about this event - that really emerged at the last minute in a lot of ways - was the Artemis spaceship bridge simulator that we had up and running.
Initially it was just supposed to be a workshop and then it was done.
After talking with the creator and the organizer, I'm like "Do you wanna try doing this all weekend and see what happens?", and it was a fabulous success.
We had people running games and creating stories with each other, starting Thursday night.
It's unique in that hackers and computer geeks have a habit of being in their basements, doing nothing, sitting in the dark, working on their own projects - and this is completely opposite of everything we're told.
This is 6 people working together on a project, telling a story, communicating, and being creative.
So that was one of the other highlights of this event that I'm incredibly proud of.

08:28) Timothy>
One more thing.
Can you give us a hint of what to expect for Notacon 10?

08:35) Froggy>
That remains to be seen.
Obviously we're gonna try to have a lot of the same great things we had this year - hopefully we can bring back the spaceship simulator - but a lot of it will grow from the community over the next year.
We're gonna talk to our folks, talk to the people who attended, maybe they didn't have an opportunity to attend, and see what we can expand on.
All of our presentations, all of our proposals, they're all by members of the community.
We don't handpick or cherry-pick content.

09:04) <TITLE>
The SlashdotTV logo bar reading "Paul 'Froggy' Schneider talks about the thrills and chills of putting together the Notacon conference" with the Notacon web address - - below, fades into view.

09:04) Froggy>
We try to make sure that it reflects who's attending, and that the event is literally by the people, for the people.

09:12) <TITLE>
The video freezes and fades back out to a grey scale still image.

Re:Transcript (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39795309)

Thanks! Glad I didn't waste 9 minutes and X megabytes of my download quota on that.

Re:Transcript (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39796421)

I knew Froggy 10 years ago so I wanted to see what he had to say but I can't watch the video where I'm at now so I read your transcript.

The weirdest thing is: in my head, I was reading it in his voice

Very creepy.

Re:Transcript (1)

Peeteriz (821290) | more than 2 years ago | (#39799829)

Thank you, you've just saved me 8:30 minutes.

Videos have an extremely sucky information-to-time ratio.

Rubicon (1)

teknopurge (199509) | more than 2 years ago | (#39794761)

I miss RubiCon....

Re:Rubicon (2)

Anomalyst (742352) | more than 2 years ago | (#39795189)

Try 1 more click of elevation and two more clicks of left windage to put the rounds on target.

Re:Rubicon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39797653)

You and me both.

Re:Rubicon (1)

sinnergy (4787) | more than 2 years ago | (#39797995)

I loved Rubi-Con the 3 years I attended. While Notacon is in some way an homage to it, I am well aware that Rubi-Con was a completely unique con.

Similar Written Guide: YAPC (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39795221)

A similar written guide was produces for Yet Another Perl Conference organisers. It's here []

About what you'd expect (1, Interesting)

Guspaz (556486) | more than 2 years ago | (#39795307)

As senior management of a con about thirty times larger than notacon, I can say that there's nothing particularly bad about the advice he's giving, although there's nothing particularly insightful there either.

Re:About what you'd expect (2)

sinnergy (4787) | more than 2 years ago | (#39798203)

I agree. I would have loved additional time to think about and clarify what I wanted to communicate. Unfortunately the only good time to talk on camera was during clean-up, when my brain was already fried and sleep deprived!

Sometimes I think I should document my experiences in writing, until I realize others have done so in the past and did so better than I could ever hope to do myself.

This was very good (1)

JoeCommodore (567479) | more than 2 years ago | (#39795571)

This was interesting, its about nerds and gives a perspective that not all of us understand.... What would have taken it over the top would have been adding actual clips from the con, like that starship bridge thing, and maybe some demonstrations in action, not that Froggy's not an interesting guy but I read his shirt and the cleanup crew in the background weren't all that interesting to watch for the whole time.

More nerd stuff please.

Re:This was very good (2)

sinnergy (4787) | more than 2 years ago | (#39798027)

That's a really great point. We do release all of our recorded presentations on line after the event, but woefully lack any real documentation of what goes on outside of the talks. If someone is willing to act as event historian or documentarian, I would certainly welcome their input and go out of my way to accommodate them.

Re:This was very good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39804053)

neet idea :')

Look to Otakon (1)

AgentSmith (69695) | more than 2 years ago | (#39799365)

Anime conventions have been doing gatherings for a while successfully.

  I only point to Otakon, since it's the anime con whose practices I'm most familiar . This con started with a few guys putting some seed money together and frankly losing money, because of insurance and liability costs that sometimes need to be acquired for larger venues. Then they went non-profit and things were greatly improved. Also the philosophy was very similar to most other conventions as how to run it.

- Elect your corporate officers and convention president every year. It keeps things from going too stale and political

- Have a group goal and keep to it. Otakon's at least was and should still be a 'By fans for fans' convention while showcasing East Asian culture to the public.

- Improve every year. Regardless of how good or bad you did the mantra should be 'We can do better.'

Those are just the highlights, but years when I thought Otakon would go down it has kept going and growing.

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