Travis Foundation

Not so hidden figures - Organizing ScriptConf

Stefan Baumgartner is developer in Linz and organizer of Technologieplauscherl and ScriptConf.


In January 2017 the first edition of ScriptConf - A conference about JavaScript took place in Linz, Austria. Boldy tagged with “the conference this city needs”  to paraphrase quotes from the Dark Knight, we wanted to create a conference that my friend Sebastian and I always wanted to attend: A unique concept, an amazing line-up, wonderful food and drinks throughout the day. All that for a reasonable price. A conference where everybody feels welcome and everyone has fun together.

Crafting a program

Planning started roughly a year before the event. When Sebastian and I were brainstorming for the first time on how we imagine a proper conference, one of the most important things for us was to have a smashing program and line-up. With just one day and one stage, we wanted to show a wide variety of topics, while still having a guiding thread and some narrative that connects every talk. So we sat down and found about six topics from the JavaScript ecosystem that we were confronted with on a day-to-day basis: browsers, frameworks, application development, backends, the web and, well, art!

When we were talking about possible speakers, we quickly realised that we were scribbling down quite a lot of women’s names. Naturally, we thought: Let’s make this a thing. Let’s show conferences in Austria that a diverse line-up is something that’s not only possible, but mandatory.

To be true: Raquel, Hannah and Franziska were the first speakers we had in mind and who also influenced some of the topics we chose. You can imagine how glad we were when all three agreed to join!

Raquel Hannah Franzi

Photo credits: Thomas Pink for ScriptConf

One thing that I found unique from the very beginning was the great exchange we had with all our speakers. From other conferences I have been partly involved with, selecting talks was a little like shopping: You pick from a selection of proposal whatever you think suits the program best. With ScriptConf the idea of crafting was much more present: Some of the speakers were asking what they could do for us, and created a unique talk just for the conference. Others were happily adapting parts and pieces from their usual talks to fit in better with the timeframe or the rest of the conference. Chatting about talk details and working together with 7 great people on a conference program was a wonderful experience.

Raising diversity

The first speakers announcement consisted of only women: Raquel, Hannah and Franziska. I could tell you that this was a well thought-through marketing gag or similar, but in the end it was basically the line-up that we had confirmed so far.

Nevertheless, the mood was set. It was a statement, and one that had a wonderful effect. Suddenly we experienced a lot more sign-ups from female attendees. Especially individual sign-ups. Also, every company that bought a bunch of tickets (more than 5) had at least one female co-worker signed up. At the event, 20% of Script’17 attendees were female.

The wonderful crowd And we have Alpacas!

Photo credits: Twitter (2)

It also brought us to talk with Laura. I knew Laura and her work from previous conferences and always loved what she was doing. Her involvement with the Travis Foundation and DiversityTickets.org was a perfect opportunity to work together on a professional level.

The best thing was that working together with the Travis Foundation opened up possibilities we never thought of. ScriptConf runs on a very tight budget. Every cent that we earn we put into the conference. Therefore we were just able to make budget for 2 diversity tickets. However, with the added visibility that diversity tickets actually were a thing, people started to support this idea. Most notably, our friends at Rising Stack donated two of their tickets for diversity. People who weren’t able to attend donated their tickets or asked if they could re-assign them to a person from an underrepresented group. All of a sudden, raising diversity was a community effort.

This is something that we want to explore more with Script’18. Maybe with combined powers it’s possible to bring more people from underrepresented groups to Linz.

Going to Linz

The reason we were doing Script ‘17 in Linz was mainly because Sebastian and I are from Linz. Us living in Linz helped us a great deal in finding the right location, the right catering service, the right speaker hotel. We basically were able to try everything at least once, and the café next to the venue became sort of our headquarter for the last few months before the conference: Sipping cappuccini while writing mails. Also, Linz has a vibrant and welcoming tech community. There are lots of great schools and companies there, and our meetup groups like the Technologieplauscherl are known far beyond the borders of Linz. JavaScript, however, was still more of a community thing than a staple in schools and companies. Our tagline “the JavaScript conference this city needs” proves to be true once again: This time it was about making companies aware of the necessity of this technology.

I’d say roughly about 35% of all attendees came from Linz or the surrounding cities. The remaining attendees came mostly from Austria and countries such as Germany, Hungary, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Poland, France and England! People from every major city that is within reach of a few hours joined us to have a great event in Linz. And that just blew us away! I always say that a conference takes a lot of effort from everyone involved, especially from attendees. Paying so much trust forward to us conference first-timers and coming from so far away is both honoring and humbling at the same time. We wanted to make sure their trip is worthwhile. And maybe see a lovely little city that is just fun to hang out in!

Thank you

I want to thank a few people who were key in fulfilling our goal of a more diverse audience. First of all, Laura and the Travis foundation. Laura was a wonderful guide for this delicate topic and provided the most valuable feedback. She’s also incredibly patient. Waiting more than half a year for this article.

Our friends Katrin and Elli were the first people we could ask for immediate feedback. Not only for diversity topics, but also for practically anything that makes up a good conference. David Tanzer is also well known for the huge effort he puts into tech diversity in Linz. The tram rides from Schumpeterstraße to the inner city were valuable time to discuss and share experiences.

Finally, the continuous effort put in by everybody in the JavaScript community. Just by watching people like Jan Lenhardt one can learn so much.

Script’18

Everybody who is involved in a conference invests a lot of time, money and effort: Attendees, organisers, speakers, partners, the crew. And since everyone is giving so much, it’s your duty as organiser to make sure that everyone’s investment was worth it. Stick to your promises. Don’t screw with people’s expectations. Ensure everyone feels at home. I’m still not sure how close we came to the conference we envisioned. But I know that we got one big thing we were aiming for: A wonderful night with wonderful people around us.

Judging from the feedback we got from attendees, speakers and everyone involved, we did really, really well. Some of the mentions on Twitter and social media were incredibly flattering and heartwarming.

Tweets of Love

The wonderful feedback is also the reason we are doing ScriptConf again in 2018. We wouldn’t risk the atmosphere for growth. We don’t want to make it much bigger, greater or louder. We want to make it even more inclusive, even more comfortable and even more welcoming. Sticking to our idea of a feel-good conference and improving details.

Right now we are in contact with possible speakers to shape the lineup for January 19th, 2018. In September, we want to announce the first speakers, and you can get Early Bird tickets already. In the meanwhile, we keep releasing podcasts with interesting speakers that flow well with the ScriptConf spirit. It never gets boring, but that’s exactly what we want!

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