September 4, 2011

Conflict of Interest

Wow, I can't believe how quickly DjangoCon has sneaked up on me. Thought everything was under control, but here I am printing delegate badges early on Sunday morning. Truth to tell, it's a labor of love, and reminds me fondly of the first days of PyCon when a team of volunteers including me as chairman pretty much established the way PyCons would be, setting a determined trend away from full commercial conferences and using more of the ethos of the sci-fi community conferences. We also got an amazing amount of help from the Perl community, who had established the Yet Another Perl Conference (YAPC) format some time before. This initiative was very much aligned with the EuroPython effort, begun almost a year before, which was also a community-run conference. The EuroPython organizers also attended and gave valuable advice.

In one way DjangoCon is the answer to a question I have been thinking quite hard about for quite a long time (viz how to provide sufficient value to open source communities to ensure commercial viability). My relationship (and that of my companies) with the Django Software Foundation is in essence a business one, though I believe that my long experience in open source communities allows me to better predict and cater for the demand for conferences for such audiences, and means that I know more of the people involved.

Unlike PyCon, therefore, DjangoCon is a product of my commercial existence rather than of voluntary service. The rights to the name are owned by the DSF and our Open Bastion subsidiary runs the conference (with the capable assistance of Nancy Asche's team) on the Foundation's behalf, passing back some of the profit. This makes it a somewhat different event for me, as I have to take overall responsibility for everything from the quality of the lunches to the adequacy of the network because people have paid money for the conference. Fortunately most people's expectations are reasonable. I sometimes jokingly tell people that 70% of it is adequate network bandwidth and sufficient supplies of caffeine (as always the devil is in the details).

For PyCon, of course, Jesse Noller (chairman for the next two years) is doing pretty much the same thing for the PSF, as a volunteer. Knowing Jesse's workaholic tendencies I have no doubt he will do an excellent job, but I fear for his sanity all the same (mine doesn't matter, I've been batty for donkey's years). He puts a ferocious energy into his efforts and makes amazing progress, and I know that PyCon will continue to develop and mature under his guidance.

As the conferences side of the business develops there is the likelihood of a conflict of interest. If my companies were to run Python conferences then it could be argued that these might tend to reduce the PSF's PyCon income, which could easily be construed as an abuse of my position as PSF chair. This being the case I am inclined to consider conferences about non-Python topics, but this might turn out to be cutting my nose off to spite my face. It's hard to think of ways to serve the Python community while also making a living from it.

If you have any ideas about how the two might be ethically combined I'd be interested to hear them.