A DebConf doesn't just happen in a few months. It's not even a year, it's closer to two or two and a half. I've only been through two cycles, and I think this process has happened for the last three or four DebConfs. This post will talk about a "brief" summary of the general DebConf timeline, with elaboration on all the bits later. This post describes the preparation of DebConfN in year 20XX.
At DebConfN-2 (mid 20XX-2), there is a talk where interested groups can describe their location and how it would be suitable for a DebConf. This consists of a short presentation and discussion, but not many details by this point. No decision is made here.
Throughout late 20XX-2, teams develop their bid as best they can. The last two years there has been a nominal deadline of December 31 20XX-2 for submitting a bid, but like all DebConf deadlines it's more for guidance than a real deadline. There are various checklists and templates to provide guidance here, which I'll describe later.
Early 20XX-1 brings a lot of work to finalize bids, and then the actual selection process. There is a burst of mailing list traffic where people ask questions and help each other refine their bids. There are several meetings where bid teams give their status and people can ask questions. In February or March, there is a selection meeting.
After the decision meeting, there is a big round of cheers but people soon refocus on DebConf N-1 since it is more urgent. Ideally, most of the people involved in DebConfN help with DebConfN-1 both because DebConfN-1 needs help, but also to learn how to make DebConfN go well. The DebConfN local team keeps working in the background doing whatever is needed to prepare for their conference.
At DebConfN-1, there is a talk where the DebConfN team presents their progress to the DebConf attendees and tries to build support.
Late 20XX-1 brings the end of the previous conference and time for N's localteam to really start getting stuff done. Throughout the last part of the year, we try to work out enough details for registration to begin: final conference dates, locations, accommodation, etc.
Registration opens in early 20XX. The exact dates for opening/sponsorship deadline/reconfirmation/etc all depend on how early in the year the conference will be. There are nominal deadlines published, but they usually slip. With our limited volunteer base, it's hard to make things go according to schedule, but things always work out.
Around this time, the fundraising team really starts working hard. Also, the travel sponsorship team needs to meet to decide who gets funded. The talks team needs to issue a call for events, read, and select them. The video team needs to make sure that they will be ready for the DebCamp setup period. There are many more things I'm forgetting, too.
In the months before arrival, it becomes kind of crazy from a local perspective. There are many things to get organized before people arrive, mainly focusing on food, accommodation, and venue space logistics.
Once DebCamp starts, things get even more complicated, but we have a flood of experienced DebConfers from around the world come in, and they all know a bit and can help out. DebCamp is effectively the DebConf preparation week to the organizers. DebCamp becomes DebConf, and much bigger, once all attendees arrive.
Eventually, people leave and everyone goes home. This doesn't mean local stuff is over - I'm still engaged in DebConf10 wrap-up, making sure everyone gets paid and everything is returned.
Mid to late 20XX brings a brief period of rest for most people.
There is one last thing to do, though: the DebConf final report. This describes the events of DebConf, and is very useful for getting sponsors. It is also a valuable reference for future years looking back on the lessons learned. You can browse past final reports in our archive . Because everyone is tired, this too frequently gets pushed off until early 20XX+1, when DebConfN+1's fundraising team needs it. A frantic rush finishes up the missing pieces and it's done.
So, there you have it: a rough outline of the timeline of a DebConf. It extends from mid 20XX-2 to early 20XX+1, more than two and a half years. This post nowhere near describes all the details that go into DebConf, almost any of the paragraphs above could be made it's own post. Stay tuned for them.