Talking free and open-source at FOSDEM 2020Events Published on •5 mins Last updated
Back from Brussels, Peter Statham reports on great company, amazing food, splendid beer, and the latest tech talk.
Andy Zak, Andrew Howe and I are back from representing Loadbalancer.org at the 20th FOSDEM (Free and Open source Software Developers' European Meeting), held in the beautiful city of Brussels earlier this month.
Organized by the open-source community to promote the widespread use of free and open-source software, FOSDEM is Europe’s largest and best event for thousands of software developers from all over the world to meet, share ideas and collaborate. Sponsors include tech giants like Google, Facebook, RedHat, and AWS.
"FOSDEM is Europe’s largest and best event for thousands of software developers from all over the world to meet, share ideas and collaborate."
I find FOSDEM a great platform for tech professionals to discuss projects, attend talks and presentations, learn about the latest developments in the free software world, and promote the benefits of free and open-source solutions. While Andrew and I have been there a number of times before, this was the first time for Andy and he says, “I’m sold! I will definitely go again next year.” That more or less sums up the spirit of the event!
HTTP 3 and loads more
It’s amazing to see how a common passion for free and open-source culture is driving so many people to get together in one place. This year’s edition featured more than 800 speakers delivering insightful talks, all around the ethos of free and open-source software.
"It’s amazing to see how a common passion for free and open-source culture is driving so many people to get together in one place."
What particularly caught my attention was a talk on HTTP 3, which is the upcoming third major version of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol used to exchange information on the World Wide Web. It was an interesting discussion around designing the specifications of HTTP 3 and understanding the thought process and methodology behind it. Generally, you don't get that sort of exposure everywhere! So, I felt it was a great learning experience for us as engineers as well as a business.
There was a lot of knowledge that we could bring back and share with our colleagues here at Loadbalancer.org, which can make a difference to our organization. For instance, many times we may not know how the underlying software in a particular technology works. When someone shares those insights, you get an idea of how we can implement that within the company, whether by helping someone who’s already working on a similar project or by implementing it as a support or product feature. Like Andrew rightly pointed out, “events like these are always about seeing something interesting and being inspired to do something new or in a different way.” For example, last year, a developer gave a talk on coming up with a graph-driven software-defined everything. What it means is, you just change this one configuration file and the system is immediately reconfigured to make it conform to the specification. Not only that, but it then continually monitors and re-configures the system to ensure that it remains in the desired state.
The best things in life are free
Certainly, there is a lot of inspiration at FOSDEM every year. And Andy feels, “it’s one of those events where the organizers can charge money for attending and people would still go. But they’re doing it for free.” That’s because FOSDEM is all about helping and bringing a bigger community together to do what’s best for everyone. As it’s completely unpaid, all the speakers are techies volunteering their time at the event. So everyone is sort of, on the same level. Like, someone who’s presenting something right now will be sitting next to you an hour later, which makes it a lot easier to communicate and collaborate.
“It’s one of those events where the organizers can charge money for attending and people would still go. But they’re doing it for free.”
Another thing that I personally like is whenever time permits, the speakers would open the floor for questions and discussions. So the audience has the choice of interacting with them directly. Other than that, there are meet and greets organized which are again, a lot of fun. While this might sound like a joke, it’s not this time – on Friday night, all of us went to a bar and to get in, we had to answer a technical question. After a correct answer, you enter and find yourself in a nerd herd where everyone’s socializing and having deep discussions with complete strangers! We thought it was a really cool icebreaker because as they say, food and drinks always help people bond better.
Open source coming together
Just like Andy, Loadbalancer.org made its debut at the FOSDEM event this year. As a company that’s built on open-source software, I think it’s really important that we have a bigger presence among the open-source community. And there’s no better way than attending events like FOSDEM, just because of how big and significant such events are to the community! Besides, these events are the few opportunities where open-source developers from across Europe gather under one roof. Otherwise, projects are mostly developed remotely, so people communicate through chat rooms, mailing lists, etc. Having people in one place and talking to each other face-to-face is invaluable.
"As a company that’s built on open-source software, I think it’s really important that we have a bigger presence among the open-source community."
Showing up in events like these benefits us as a business in more than one way. Plenty of attendees at FOSDEM are engineers like us, working in companies that we sell to or could potentially market to. These are the kind of people who make recommendations, if not purchasing decisions in an organization. So networking and building a good rapport with them surely helps. Besides, it is also a great platform to brand ourselves as an interesting employer and thus, attract the right talent. So it definitely gives us more scope in recruiting. Andrew seems to be very excited about attending the event in 2021 and hopefully, giving a talk this time! In fact, it was also his idea this year to get the company to sponsor us and represent Loadbalancer.org at the event, and not just attend as individual engineers.
As this year marked the 20th anniversary of FOSDEM, towards the end of the event, the organizers touched upon how it all started in the first place even before the likes of Facebook, Twitter and all these big companies existed. They followed it up with a run-through of how the event has evolved over the past two decades which clearly shows that free and open-source software is here to stay. Amazingly, FOSDEM is as relevant today as it was 20 years ago. In fact, we're already looking forward to FOSDEM 2021!