FOSDEM attendees and European hacker culture

A little more personal pointer to the people at FOSDEM. It was nice to see O'Reilly as the major sponsor. The bookstore was hot, with people agonizing over just how many dozens of books they should buy. In many ways (as indicated by the full name -- Free and Open Source Software Developers' European Meeting), the attendees are the core audience for O'Reily's books. OSCON, on the other hand, tends to be priced out of reach of the mainly grassroots, non-commercial hacker culture in Europe (aside from being accepted as a speaker).

Some of the usual European suspects were there -- Ralph and Edwin (wow -- Edwin did some Englsh blog posts Day 0/1, Day 2), and I did see Gerv off in the distance although I didn't end up talking to him directly. I also met Christ, who came with Ralph and Edwin (and yes, that name will be funny to native English speakers).

Geo Dan came along to experience the uniquely European hacker experience that is FOSDEM, along with the infamous Ivan with whom I had many great talks about architecture and culture as well as a fantastic dining experience. Andy brought an Amsterdam crew (Gijs, Marco, Nadya) and talked about Flock and I stole the wonderful Nadya's scarf.

Back to culture. The stat I hear floating around is that 80% of open source developers are based in Europe (with India and other parts of South East Asia gaining fast, I'm sure). And many of these are the passionate anarchists who believe in free information, are against software patents, and generally are part of the fuel that make open source work. But the disconnect is that there are very few in between people that can explain the concepts of open source to middle management and big business. So, talented developers who stay in Europe do what they can to integrate open source into their day jobs or academic research.

I'm hoping that the EuroOSCON in September in Brussels will include a venue for open source projects. Right now I have to signup for an O'Reilly account before I can even subscribe to the EuroOSCON newsletter -- the only interactive way to receive notices. Please -- cross post newsletter items to a blog for easier interaction!

Some point form FOSDEM feedback:

  • network access needs work: geeks were collapsing in the hallway and tearing out their hair with the lack of network access at FOSDEM. It was worse than last year. Please, ask for help -- there are several low cost, documented ways to blanket an area with WiFi. Maybe get both a team of network volunteers as well as a network sponsor to make sure this is in place.
  • power needs work: see last point. The Jabber crew brought a spool of network cable and a bunch of power bars, and pretty much supplied their whole area of FOSDEM with power and connectivity. Get power bar sponsors and keep them from year to year.
  • Be clear in the schedule and to your presenters/tutorials on what to present: One presentation I saw was basically reading out manual pages -- even developers need high level introductions on why they should care before getting into the nitty gritty. On the other hand, Alex Russell's bait-and-switch with Dojo and then describing in heavy detail how good of a language JavaScript actually is was excellent (slides here).
  • fantastically fertile culture: everyone was there to learn, discuss, mingle, hack. Being able to buy beer for 1EU and 2EU for a sandwich meant everyone hung out for 6 or 7 hours in a row...only to move on to bars and cafes.
  • developer rooms vs. main talks: some of the best presentations and interactivity happened in the developer rooms. Put the developer rooms directly into the schedule. Keep the big presentations (if only to use the auditorium space for highly popular topics), and perhaps even promote them more directly to a wider audience -- I bet there would have been hundreds of enterprise folks who would have been highly interested in the Xen presentation -- "Enterprise Grade Open Source Virtualization). FOSDEM Interview with the Xen presenter, Ian Pratt
  • work the university angle: FOSDEM organizers should contact every University in Europe and encourage researchers, academics, etc. to come into the mix

Organizing a free conference is a lot of work. Congrats to the organizers for the attendance, I'm looking forward to next year.