2022 USENIX Annual Meeting Report

USENIX held its annual membership meeting on Tuesday, November 29, 2022, via Zoom. This report summarizes the topics covered by the Board and staff during the meeting.


The trend of USENIX memberships over the past five years has been on an overall slow, steady decline. This hasn't necessarily correlated with attendance at our conferences, especially prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, many of the people who are part of our conference-going community are not choosing to become members of the association. 

We had a noteworthy increase in membership numbers in November of 2020, correlating with a membership and fundraising campaign brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a particularly appealing time to join because, in order to help the community weather the isolation of the pandemic, we steeply discounted virtual event attendance for members. 

This year we’ve also seen a drop in conference revenue. At the 2020 community meeting we shared that we anticipated a deficit of $3 million between then and now; as reported at the 2021 community meeting, we were able to mitigate the loss of conference registration revenue in 2021 due to our concerted efforts to:

  1. Seek large donations from individuals and corporations;

  2. Pivot to virtual events, executed almost exclusively with just our staff;

  3. Reduce the overall number of programs that USENIX supports; and

  4. Reduce our operating expenses by reducing our staff, closing our physical office, and moving to fully remote working arrangements.

Along with those deep cuts we made, the rebounding stock market, and pleasantly robust sponsorship revenue allowed us to end 2021 with positive net income. At the end of last year, we had a more optimistic financial projection and looked forward to returning to events in person in 2022, even knowing that attendance would likely be lower due to the continuing pandemic.

That brings us to this year. The emergence of new COVID-19 variants meant that attendance was indeed lower, and, for various reasons, remote attendance also dwindled to single-digit percentages as the year went on. At the same time, we incurred steep expenses providing a hybrid conference experience, which we detail below. On top of the effects of the pandemic, this year has also seen global impacts from the war in Ukraine, rising inflation, poor stock market performance, and widespread layoffs in tech. 

Event sponsorship spending remains stable so far, but we are cautious in light of the overall economic climate. Similarly, the outpouring of support we were fortunate to receive from long-time members of our community in the first 18 months of the pandemic has decreased as other compelling areas needing support continue to emerge.

All of these factors mean that we are currently projecting an operating deficit of over $2 million once the books close at the end of 2022. In an effort to mitigate some of our financial liability in 2023, the staff will continue to pivot and seek ways to streamline spending while approaching our upcoming events. In particular, one of our biggest levers is to mostly return to the in-person conference model.

Conference Experiments and Lessons Learned

Throughout 2021, we were able to offer virtual events with just our staff power and a streamlined set of platforms that we were able to optimize with each event; this year, the changing environment around COVID-19 and being responsive to related evolving protocols made every subsequent event a new experiment. Despite these challenges, our 2022 events had healthy attendance, and we witnessed larger than ever hallway tracks at our events. It’s clear that many in our communities had been hungry for in-person conversations. 

We received positive feedback from attendees among our different communities, expressing gratitude for providing a safe conference environment and increasing access to the conference experience for those unable to travel. But the steady decrease in virtual attendance and engagement, plus feedback from attendees surveys, confirms that the actual remote experience for attendees is far less than ideal. Additionally, providing a safe in-person experience alongside a seamless experience for our remote presenters and virtual attendees required additional staffing, connectivity, and audiovisual equipment and services. Those costs amounted to 20 to 40 percent of our spending for each conference in 2022.

These demands on our financial and personnel resources have proved to be unsustainable, and led to our difficult decision to eliminate virtual attendance at our 2023 events. Our staff has done its best to support the logistics of getting our virtual attendees connected to the content, but our low virtual attendance numbers and high costs propel us to step back to explore ways to create a more inclusive and participatory environment and recruit the help of USENIX's many communities. We remain committed to open access to our published research and event recordings while knowing that these are not substitutes for the hallway track.

Inclusion and Outreach

A key area on which we hope to refocus our attention and resources in the coming year is in making further progress on Black inclusion and increased gender diversity at our conferences and in our communities. As part of the statement on Racism and Black, African-American, and African Diaspora Inclusion that USENIX published in 2020, we committed to increase USENIX's representation of Black people among our conference organizers, presenters, and attendees; campus representatives at HBCUs; and USENIX staff and Board members. 

In the last year, USENIX has focused on areas where we have the agency to solicit change, including:

  • ensuring that every conference invites Black speakers/authors to present,

  • ensuring that every conference has Black representatives on the list of program committee candidates, and

  • offering conference grants specifically for Black students at all of our conferences. 12 grants were awarded, partially funded by corporate sponsorship and the balance financed by USENIX.

Additionally, our Development/Grants Program Manager and Community Engagement Manager have collaborated on targeted outreach to HBCUs, as well as allied organizations focused on women, Black, Indigenous, and LGBTQ+ STEM students, to raise awareness of grant opportunities and open calls for papers and participation. For the majority of our 2022 events, our Development and Sales team secured 2.5x more grant funding than the previous year. 

Looking ahead, we understand the need to bolster these communities beyond offering financial support, and we're committed to adding activities such as gatherings of allies and members of underrepresented and historically marginalized groups that are focused on supporting early-stage career development and cultivating an atmosphere of diversity and inclusion. Additionally, we plan to continue to offer remote presentation capabilities, increasing inclusion and accessibility for those who may be unable to travel or attend our event in person due to country or health restrictions.

Staffing and Volunteers

After our 25 percent staff reduction in 2020, our remaining staff aligned around supporting the production of virtual events throughout 2021. Our return to in-person events in 2022 would require increased staffing to help address areas we were able to identify as priorities while understaffed the prior year. 

We were able to fill the following new positions: 

  • Development/Grants Manager: manages our current grant programs, the funding for which has remained strong in 2022; and also pursues new grant and funding opportunities that might expand our diversity, equity, and inclusion at USENIX conferences and among our communities. 

  • Information Systems Manager: works with each of our departments to provide technical expertise and support teams in developing efficient practices while leveraging our existing data and systems. 

  • Conference and Membership Assistant: supports both our conference team and our member constituents.

The fragility of the workforce and the ever more clear work–life imbalance galvanized our commitment to staff retention, preventing burnout, and maintaining morale. We began a four-day workweek experiment in April and participated in collective research of the trial with the U.S./Canada subsection of the 4 Day Week global community. Other than one staff member's anticipated retirement earlier this year, we have seen 100 percent staff retention, and we continue to explore other areas to improve our workplace.

We are also intentional about preventing burnout among our volunteers, who help organize our events on top of their full-time careers. We will continue to work with our steering committees and program co-chairs to increase the pipeline of volunteers across our communities to have more resources available to fill the critical roles needed to create our conference programs and to contribute to our other programs, such as ;login: Online.

New and Emerging Areas of Interest

Our industry changes and it is important for USENIX to evolve over time as well, to ensure we continue to serve the needs of our communities. Historically, we've created space for emerging areas of interest in the form of workshops, collaborations, and new full conferences. We've missed opportunities to explore new topics via workshops due to COVID, and have also faced constraints: managing a lot of change over the past three years, adapting to the “new normal,” adjusting staffing levels, and balancing these concerns with an eye to the current economic outlook.

In terms of specific areas, the PEPR (Privacy Engineering Practice and Respect) conference was introduced as a USENIX event in 2019, and held again in 2020. After running successfully as an independent conference in 2021, it has now returned to USENIX. Additionally, our collaboration with SOUPS (Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security) continues, running co-located with USENIX Security. The OpML conference, focused on production machine learning, ran in 2019 and 2020; SREcon, which deals with production systems more generally, has recently hosted some OpML-themed tracks. 

We are watching some other emerging areas, including the area of resilience engineering and human factors learning from incidents, as well as the area of green technology and minimizing the environmental footprint of tech. We will continue to balance our need to stay abreast of new areas of interest that align with our mission, with being efficient as an organization.

Digital ;login:

We’ve now had almost two years of the digital ;login: format—how time flies! The benefits of this format include articles being published as they are ready; content is now open access right away; and authors are able to share their content immediately after publication, which is a significant benefit to those who write for ;login:. 

More volunteers from all areas of our community are encouraged to help out with sourcing and shepherding articles through the publication processes. Contact laura@usenix.org or rik@usenix.org if you are interested in writing or in shepherding articles, or would like to provide feedback. We also encourage sharing of this content on your own social media and other channels.


Help us start the new year on strong financial footing: become a member or make a donation to USENIX, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Your support is critical to our ability to fulfill our mission, to bring communities together to discuss the latest research and practices in advanced computing systems, and to champion open access to content like the presentations linked above.