Mon, 10 Dec 2007

FOSS.IN: I had fun

For me, it's hard to properly enjoy a conference I'm speaking at. So I judge a conference by the discussions I have after my talk(s), and on that scale rated highly. Good technical questions, ideas and interest.

The chief organizer, Atul, made my enjoyment particularly difficult by asking me on Friday afternoon to do Saturday's pre-closing slot: he wanted me to fan the flames of FOSS contribution among the delegates.

I am touched by the faith of my colleagues, but here's the secret: if I do a good presentation it's because I spent a few solid days preparing it, and much longer actually planning it. Spontaneity fills the gaps, but it can't provide content. A restless night rolled into the morning with no great plan emerging.

So I asked for ideas from the sample of fellow speakers staying at my hotel, and they really came through for me. Lots of raw ideas that I tried to sculpt into a coherent whole. My message was simple: contributing is simply not hard! I talked about how I started, and I talked about how my first conference (USENIX/Uselinux in 1997) convinced me to get involved. I got James Morris up to talk about his similar experience at CALU, then Amit Shah, the only Qumranet employee in India.

Then I invited a volunteer on stage (actually one of the organisers; I wasn't quite brave enough to leave it to random chance!), and got her to create and submit a kernel patch using my laptop. Despite my perennially sticky escape key and the general impossibility of typing when hundreds of people are watching, the point was made: it's easy to join in (and actually the kernel is one of the more formal projects to submit to).

Finally, I asked for groups of people to come up to the stage: all the FOSS coders and contributors (well over half the audience), bug reporters, those who've helped other people with free software, then finally the trailing few who've only used free software. We heard from a few people on stage, on what they were doing (my mistake here: I should have tried to cover far more people, say 5 words each). I sat in the chairs and listened to their excitement over their contributions.

All up, I gave my performance a 6.5 out of 10. I'm not sure that I helped anyone overcome internal barriers to making useful contributions. But if someone in the audience goes home and starts creating something awesome, that'll be worth that one night of lost sleep.

I greatly enjoyed my time in Bangalore; for once I had time for sightseeing and shopping. But the conference was still the highlight, and I plan on being there again in 2008.

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