On 2-3 February Devoteam attended FOSDEM in Brussels, a two-day event organized by the community, for the community. Its goal is to promote free and open source software (FOSS).
Although my work hasn’t all been about open source software, this conference caught my attention many years ago and I, like many others, have been going to it ever since. Attendance is free and registration isn’t required, so the exact number of participants is unknown. However, with 123,875 devices connected to the IPv6-only wireless network and more than 600 speakers, you get an idea of the size of the event.
The atmosphere is remarkable too – open and non-corporate – and made possible by the many volunteers and donations. The event is sponsored by a limited number of companies, so it doesn’t feel too commercial. The open mindset is also reflected in smaller things, like the absence of well-known soft drinks multinationals.
A great time to be around
With 400+ hours of content, 740 lectures and 63 tracks, there was definitely something for everyone. The extensive programme included both lightning talks and an in-depth look at specialized topics. Content definitely came first, so you often had to settle for minimal slides and poor English. I joined the talks about CAD and Open Hardware because of my personal interest in electronics – with all the innovations in IoT it’s a great time to be around.
Of course, there were also inspiring keynotes to start and end the conference. I managed to get a seat in the Janson auditorium for Jon ‘maddog’ Hall’s talk “Fifty years of Unix and Linux advances”. Even with 1,500 seats the place was jam-packed, with people sitting on the stairs and standing in the aisles. Mr. Hall gave a very animated presentation and made us laugh a lot. Given the fact that he’s seen it all happen from the start, he is a reliable witness and the ideal person to give our newbies good advice for the future: “If you want to see the most important person in FOSS … look in the mirror.”
Besides the talks, the 65 stands in the hallways were also worth checking out. I headed for the Ham Radio booth, hosted by the Royal Belgian Amateur Radio Union (UBA). I’m following their HAREC course for an amateur radio certificate this year, so some networking is appropriate. Meeting like-minded people is definitely the biggest benefit of attending FOSDEM. Another highlight is participating in the keysigning event to get yourself into the web of trust. You can also go for certification in one of the exam sessions or attend one of the activities outside the conference, the so-called Fringe. And last but not least, don’t forget the beer event on the opening night.
With all these different facets, FOSDEM attracts people from all over the world. It made me realize that it’s rare and special to have such a great conference in our ‘backyard’. No doubt, I will be back again next year for the 20th edition. And in the meantime, let’s watch this year’s video recorded talks.