Monday, February 01, 2016

I was at FOSDEM'16

Long story short: I thought FOSDEM 2016 was terribly non-technical.

The entire conference took place at the ULB Solbosch Campus in Brussels, Belgium, which is composed of several buildings in which many rooms are being used for presentations. That meant that not only you had to plan the speeches that you wanted to attend to, but also consider the time it took to move from one building to another (in the cold and rain). Add to this the fact that the space was still insufficient for most talks, and if you didn't get there before the talk started, it wasn't uncommon to find the room full and be turned down at the door for security reasons (meaning fire hazards and the likes, not stupid terrorism). I thought the mobile app FOSDEM Companion was very helpful in keeping track of what is what and where and when.

The talks themselves, though, were mostly 20-25 minutes long. While some reached to 45 minutes, most of them were short presentations of one product or another. Someone would speak in front of a Powerpoint (or some alternative) slide and the most common template was: "I am X I work at Y and we are doing product Z. Here is a history of the product, here is what it can do for you and you can find more at these links." They were open source and free, alright, but other than that it felt like it was a marketing conference, not a technical one. I have seen only one presentation that included actual code.

This doesn't mean I didn't enjoy myself. I've met old friends and some of the presentations were really interesting. I was particularly impressed by something called Ring, which is a completely peer to peer and securely encrypted communication system. Basically it allows you to find people, talk to them (via text, sound, video), while having no central server. It was something that I was looking for and that uses DHT as a discovery mechanism.

So my conclusion is that if you are not there for a specific project or topic, so that you end up finding the people that are interested in the same thing and network with them, FOSDEM is pretty superficial. The talks were recorded and the videos will slowly appear on the FOSDEM video archive site, so actually going there just to see the presentations alone might not be necessary. Being from a slightly different technical domain, I wasn't interested in socialization, and I think that was my biggest mistake.

The people there looked interesting. A friend of mine summarized it well: "one of the few places where there is a queue at the men's bathrooms and not at the women's". There were of course plenty of facially haired, pony-tailed, black leather wearing, Linux laptop carrying hackers running around, but most of the people there didn't look that young or that "hacky". In fact, I think the age average was probably around 40.

That's about it for my FOSDEM report. If you need any more information, leave me a comment and I will fill any holes in the description.

The talks that I went to and I liked were these:


Andrei Ignat said...

I want more details about the open sources that impressed you.