2021 USENIX Annual Meeting Report

USENIX held its annual membership meeting on Monday, November 15, 2021, via Zoom. This report summarizes the topics covered by the Board and staff during the meeting.

Financial Update

At the membership meeting last year, we discussed three main concerns around USENIX’s financial health: the lack of revenue from in-person event registration, reduced corporate sponsorship of events, and possible significant venue cancellation charges (which we have successfully minimized to date). 

At that time, we estimated a budget shortfall of three million dollars between 2021-22, and we focused on five mitigating measures.

  1. Seeking large donations from individuals and corporations.

  2. Adapting our business model in light of the reduction of in-person events.

  3. Closing our physical office and moving to fully remote working arrangements.

  4. Reducing the overall number of programs that USENIX supports.

  5. Reducing the size of our staff by 25%.


Thankfully, the combination of those five measures along with a rebounding stock market resulted in one of our best-case projections. The losses in conference registration revenue were partially offset by an increase in membership dues and surprisingly solid sponsorship revenue. Although we anticipate ending the year with an operating deficit, we expect to have positive net income thanks to the performance of our reserve funds. 


We thank all of our generous corporate and individual sponsors and donors, as well as all of you who supported the organization by becoming members and/or attending events. One of the wonderful results of the past year was a 33% growth in membership! We had more than 500% growth in Champion memberships, 180% growth in Advocate memberships, and 125% growth in Student memberships. We're extremely grateful for the outpouring of support from our communities; you helped us weather a particularly challenging year.


It is important to emphasize that while we pulled through reasonably well this year, we know that any number of factors could have resulted in a worse-than-projected deficit. USENIX is more than just an organization; we are a community of people who care deeply about technology and education, and it truly shows when we pull together to provide such amazing support to each other during a truly difficult time.


As we move forward into the next year, we still face uncertainty, especially with regard to the pandemic, event formats and attendance, and the volatility of the economy and stock market. The Board continues to carefully track emerging trends and consider how to sustainably support the community and our mission. 

Membership Support and Benefits

The generosity of our donors and sponsors has been crucial to helping USENIX remain fiscally sound during the pandemic. Donations went from less than 1% of our sponsor and donation income in 2019 to over 12% in 2020, and is on track for about half that in 2021. The return to in-person events will hopefully bring a return to healthy registration numbers, a key source of USENIX revenue. Due to the pandemic, however, this remains uncertain and we will continue to seek your donations and memberships to help USENIX recover as an organization and increase our staff to its pre-pandemic level.


The key membership benefit remains registration discounts for conferences, which have allowed many of you to attend a number of virtual conferences effectively for free this past year. As we resume in-person events, the discounts for both in-person and virtual events will continue to be based on membership levels.


Almost two years ago, we added voting as a benefit to all membership levels. Previously restricted to only the highest levels of membership, voting for Board members is an important benefit to help set the course of the organization, and we encourage all members to participate in the upcoming Board elections in 2022.


Although not a direct benefit, USENIX membership supports our commitment to open access. This year alone we have published over 1000 papers and presentations from our conferences, all of which are freely available at no charge. Your USENIX membership is critical to allowing us to continue our open access policy, keeping USENIX free of the paywalls that many similar organizations maintain.

Program Changes in 2021-2022

Before the pandemic began in 2020, we started off well with our normal January and February 2020 events (Enigma, FAST, NSDI, and Vault). The rest of the year was thrown into turmoil by the pandemic. By June 2020, we had pivoted to virtual events, and carried through the rest of the year, adapting month by month as the pandemic restrictions played out. SREcon went from three globally distributed events to a single virtual event in December 2020, while most of the other conferences were held in a virtual format.


In order to deal with the significant revenue impacts, the Board decided last year to suspend a number of the smaller events that added work for the staff without commensurate community or sponsor support. These included Vault, HotCloud, HotStorage, HotEdge, CSET, FOCI, HotSec, ScAINet, WOOT, OpML, and PEPR. Many of the smaller research-focused workshops have found homes at other events and are operating successfully in a volunteer-run model more compatible with their size and format.


For Operational Machine Learning (OpML), we experimented with including a designated track at SREcon21, but after tepid feedback, the chairs for SREcon22 Americas have decided against including it as a track in March 2022. PEPR ran its own conference in 2021 but is returning to USENIX in 2022. LISA was held virtually, but after much consideration, the steering committee concluded that it had reached the end of its run and the Board, with much regret, concurred. The systems engineering and performance aspects of LISA will continue as a track within the SREcon conferences starting in March 2022.


Looking forward into 2022, we are cautiously planning to resume in-person events with a virtual component. Enigma, FAST, and SREcon are scheduled for the first quarter. Health and travel restrictions permitting, we tentatively plan to return to three SREcon events, with SREcon EMEA in Amsterdam in October and SREcon APAC in Sydney in December.

Virtual Conferences: Experiments and Lessons Learned

2020 and 2021 have been among the most challenging in USENIX history for our leadership and community, as all of us have shifted to virtual events. Our events competed with those of other organizations as well as video meetings with friends and loved ones. While our virtual conferences experienced consistently high registration thanks to our low registration fees--most of which were deeply discounted or complimentary to our members--flagging enthusiasm for virtual events is now evident in reduced session attendance and Q&A participation.


As we discussed last year, our focus in virtual events has been to present the conference material as effectively as possible, which has required collecting and processing pre-recorded presentations and focusing on Q&A during events. We have placed less emphasis on the networking aspects of conferences, which are more challenging in the virtual environment. As participation has waned in virtual events, we believe that the strategic emphasis on the sessions was appropriate given everyone's limited cycles. We also believe that a return to in-person events is critical, as is maintaining the inclusivity benefits of virtual events.


Virtual events have required a significantly different business model than in-person events, resulting in a new approach both to planning revenue and expenses, and to deploying our staff. Due to the hosting of pre-recorded presentations, our entire team has been required to run the virtual events to ensure a smooth experience for the audience. Our production team has shifted its priorities from creating print materials for in-person events to reviewing the hundreds of videos we've received from our presenters. Our conference and sponsorship teams have reviewed and implemented numerous virtual conference platforms and combinations thereof.


For our research-focused conferences, the combination of Zoom webinar and Slack has proved the most successful. We have gradually refined that model based on feedback from attendees, have integrated it with our registration system (Cvent), and feel prepared to successfully shift into the hybrid model of in-person and virtual participation for these events in 2022.


For our engineering-focused events that have a strong sponsor presence, our experiments have been more demanding and nuanced due to the sponsors’ need to interact with our attendees. We had varied success with the various platforms we tried this year, but have decided that once we are able to return to in-person events, our engineering-focused events will use Zoom and Slack for their virtual aspects, and our sponsors will return to on-site interactions primarily.


While the costs of these various platforms have varied significantly and have sometimes been jaw-dropping, none of them are as high as the costs of running in-person events with meeting room rental expenses, guest room blocks to fill, food and beverage minimums to achieve, and audiovisual and Internet connectivity costs. We have been able to offer low registration fees for virtual events due to this dramatic difference in direct expenses. 

Future Plans: Hybrid Events, Registration Fees

We are planning for all of our events in 2022 and onward to be both in-person and virtual. Attending events in person will require proof of vaccination, the wearing of masks in all conference spaces, and social distancing. Details of our health and safety plan are now available. We reserve the right to update our plans and requirements for in-person attendance and look forward to seeing many of you in person in 2022.


Registration fees for in-person events will be similar to pre-pandemic rates, and include catering and other on-site benefits. While virtual fees will increase, they will remain lower than in-person event fees.

Future Staffing

After a disheartening staff reduction of 25% at the end of 2020, we all felt deeply the loss of those team members in terms of both morale and the need to rebalance the workload as best we could with reduced resources. Nonetheless, the remaining staff has been incredibly dedicated in their work to support USENIX's mission and its communities, and the changes have provided a beneficial clarity around our needs moving forward. Specifically, the hybrid event model will require expanded staffing, and we are currently hiring for several newly-defined positions as we move into in 2022. 

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Efforts at USENIX

USENIX respects diverse life experiences and heritages, and strives to ensure that all voices are valued and heard.


As part of the statement on Racism and Black, African-American, and African Diaspora Inclusion USENIX published in 2020, we committed to take specific steps to increase USENIX’s representation of Black people across the axes of

  • Conference organizers, presenters, and attendees

  • Campus representatives at HBCUs 

  • USENIX staff and Board members


As of the last reporting period at the end of May of this year, USENIX has

  • ensured that every conference invites Black speakers/authors to present;

  • ensured that every conference has Black representatives on the list of program committee candidates (6 of 9 accepted);

  • advertised conference grants specifically for Black attendees and obtained sponsored grants for 2 of 3 conferences; and

  • modified our conference and online magazine submission guidelines to eliminate discriminatory language.

Earlier this year, USENIX published a statement on Racism and Anti-Asian and Pacific Islander Hate that reaffirms our commitment to prevent harassment of members of our Asian and Pacific Islander community.

As part of both of these efforts, USENIX also published a revised statement on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and expanded Code of Conduct. Examples of those policies in action include the following:

  • We require that all event attendees, speakers, sponsors, exhibitors, staff, volunteers, and community participants adhere to our Code of Conduct. USENIX staff members are trained to address incidents.

  • In our Code of Conduct, we provide guidance to authors and presenters regarding alternatives to discriminatory terminology and ask them to avoid language that could be perceived as offensive to others.

  • We offer conference grants for students and members of underrepresented populations.

  • When selecting conference venues, we thoughtfully consider the needs of our attendees, and strive to provide reasonable accommodations for those in need of them.


As many of you are already aware, we introduced significant changes to ;login: this past year. As we announced a year ago, ;login: transformed from

  • a print magazine to a digital-only magazine;

  • paywalled content to freely available content online;

  • scheduled issues to continuous publication of articles; and

  • being exclusively edited by Rik Farrow to a collaboration between Rik and editorial volunteers from USENIX’s various focus areas.


This change was prompted not only by the significant costs of printing and mailing hard copies, but also by the financial implications of the pandemic. We are especially thankful to Rik for his amazing work this year, not to mention all the past years of shepherding the print version. We are also grateful to our web developers at Giant Rabbit for their rapid work on getting the online version of ;login: up and running.


The online version has some advantages over print. Articles are being shared on social media and included in curated news feeds such as SRE Weekly, and we are reaching significantly more people. It has also given us the ability to react to events in the technology sphere in real time, without the delay introduced by printing schedules. We’ve published 26 pieces this year to date, including contributions from several new writers.


Members have the exclusive ability to comment on articles, a feature that is unavailable to the public. We encourage you to get involved; comment, provide feedback, and consider writing articles or joining one of the editorial committees for your professional area or research interests. Contact Rik Farrow or Laura Nolan if you’d like to know more.

2022 Elections and Implementation of Electronic Voting

2022 is an election year for USENIX, and each new Board, with the support of the staff, commits to the important work of moving the organization forward. The 2022 Nominating Committee, composed of past Board members Carolyn Rowland and John Arrasjid, and retiring Board member Hakim Weatherspoon, has worked to assemble a slate of Board candidates that will represent the breadth of USENIX’s current and future communities, which we have announced since the Annual Meeting occurred.


In 2022, USENIX will implement the open source Helios electronic voting platform for the first time. Originally proposed in a USENIX Security ’08 paper, more than 2,000,000 votes have been cast on Helios to date. The system has been used for over ten years by the membership of the International Association for Cryptologic Research (IACR), a number of universities for student elections and faculty hiring/tenure decisions, as well as numerous nonprofits and open-source communities for their board elections. Given this widespread adoption and the feedback we received from domain experts in the USENIX community, we feel confident that it will provide sufficient security for our elections. USENIX thanks Ben Adida, Helios project founder, for his personal assistance with the adoption of the platform.


Watch for email to the membership in January 2022 regarding the election.


The Board thanks the USENIX Staff for its amazing accomplishments this past year with reduced resources, showing an extraordinary degree of creativity, perseverance, and loyalty to the organization, mission, and community.


Our program committee volunteers have gone above and beyond, not only reviewing the content for our conferences but also serving as session chairs and room captains during events that compete with their busy schedules.


We also thank the trusted partners we rely on: our accounting service, Sutro Li; our attorney, Jeff Tenenbaum; our bank branch manager, David Tulabut; our financial advisor, Glenn Samson; our web developers, Giant Rabbit; our ;login: editor, Rik Farrow; and the HotCRP author and maintainer, Eddie Kohler. Their outside expertise enables all of us to focus on the core USENIX mission.


Finally, thanks once again to our members for their dedicated support and participation in USENIX events and communities.