Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A PyStar Supernova in the Sky

The first Bay Area PyStar event has come and gone. I'm finally getting a moment to regroup and ponder all the trial and error of being the organizer of this event as well as having time to look at some of the statistics we gathered. Just from an organizing perspective here are a few items I'd like to share about the process.

Things to do differently next time:
* When creating the Eventbrite event, add questions like "What level do you want to learn at?" "Meat or Vegetarian?" "Operating System?" to the registration so there's no need to send out blanket emails to attendees to try and get that information after the sign up.
* Only do one day workshop instead of Friday night installation and Saturday workshop. I think that for many people the setup could have been done in the first hour and the rest of the day been spent learning instead of having a night session that only is needed by a handful of people.
* Have the teachers/assistants already assigned to a particular level of instruction - prepare topics, tutorial materials, and class size ahead of time so that on the day of the workshop there might only be a handful of late arrivals to place and the other attendees will already be set up in the right learning level as requested in the sign up. 

Things that really worked this time:
* Eventbrite! They have amazing tools, stats, emailing options, charts, and also a way to see where your sign ups come from which showed us that we got a TON of views from Tweets which apparently was an impressive number (I am told by one of our attendees who is an Eventbrite employee)
* Mozilla! By sponsoring the event - providing the space and food - being able to let people/groups spread out and work in our various conference rooms as well as having lunch on site was very much appreciated by attendees (and of course by me!)
* CodeChix!  This peninsula-based group of women coders accounted for 30% of our attendance and also netted some teacher/assistants for the workshop. CodeChix co-sponsored the event and helped get word out as well

There was something odd happening with the Eventbrite signups. In a couple of short bursts, a ton of tickets were being snatched up by names that seemed slightly suspicious. Now the event has passed and I've checked in all the attendees as well as accounted for the no-shows (almost all of whom took a moment to send in their regrets so the tickets could be freed up for another person - very sweet!). It looks to me like about 40% of our attendees were fake accounts. Julie (who works at Eventbrite) and I took a look at the numbers and she's kindly offered to look into it further to see if there is indeed something fishy happening. All that aside, we had 47 people! That feels like great attendance to a first workshop, on a Saturday, in Mountain View.
Speaking of Mountain View - we had attendees come from all over Northern California. I love this view of how spread out geographically we all were:

This graph is useful for seeing how my own promotion attempts were successful.  The original spike of page views is obviously when I first announce the event link. CodeChix, Baypiggies, and Devchix were the mailing lists I sent emails to with the link. While that got the ball rolling, it was the tweets and emails sent out almost 3 weeks later - a week before the event where the event got lots of attention.  It probably helped that PyStar Minneapolis was happening then too so #PyStar got lots of tweets (sorry to the person who's twitter nick is @pystar).
Can I just say that I am so thrilled with the amount of people who volunteered to teach/assist?  Seriously. Amazing. I love that there are people out there who really enjoy getting newbies involved, who can share their skills, and who will give their time to events that grow community.
Finally, here's a breakdown of where we got ticket "sales" from via Eventbrite. This is another reason they rock - they help you promote your event!  As you can see here the Twitter share link definitely got us the most eyes even though direct invitation resulted in more actual signups. For next time I would send the link to a few more mailing lists like SF Python Meetup, Systers, and also next time we'll be able to invite the folks who came to the first one as well as those who couldn't make it.

In follow-up posts I will post and analyze some of the survey results of both the PyStar Bay Area and the PyStar Minneapolis. I need to go learn how to create charts from Google doc spreadsheets. Also we need to figure out how to set up our site and materials to be easily updated and adjusted by a distributed team without having to break off into separate sites.  Finally, the curriculum needs an overhaul. We kept an etherpad during the event to track issues so that I can go through post-workshop and take advantage of all the feedback to improve our offerings.

What's Next?
The next PyStar I plan to organize will be in late July or early August and I'd like to do that one in SF.  Following that I'm going to plan one in Toronto for mid-to-late October.  What we did this past Saturday is only the beginning. I'll be working with all the folks in the pystar group to get this program shaped up into a much more modular system for learning Python and Django in stages (badges) and also will be setting up sub-groups for things like hack nights, code-masters (think toastmasters but writing code in front of people), and I have this idea of taking the PyStar lessons into women's prisons as a way to get marketable skills into the hands of people who need them badly.

Anyway, first we'll get more material prepared and digest/incorporate all the excellent feedback. Then we can take over the world :)

I hope I'll see you at future events. Thanks to everyone who helped make this a great day!

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