FOSDEM is the largest European Free and Open Source Software developers conference. During the first weekend of February, thousands of volunteers flock to Brussels... but in 2021, as any other event, it has gone virtual. I am participating and want to share my impressions with the RIPE community in this live blog. Stay tuned!
FOSDEM '21 took place online on 6 and 7 February.
It is a "rather busy conference. This edition features 677 speakers, 764 events, and 114 tracks."
RIPE and FOSDEM
The RIPE Community and FOSDEM, having a lot of shared interests, overlap as communities. This post is about encouraging each other's participation!
"FOSDEM is a rather busy conference. This edition features 677 speakers, 764 events, and 114 tracks."
Community Participation Tips
In many communities (RIPE, IETF, CCC...) we are struggling with the challenge of how to encourage both active participation and diversity / inclusion. There were some useful tips presented on Saturday morning; I will be adding to this topic during the whole weekend:
- Tools and Concepts for Successfully Open Sourcing Your Project
Beginners level; two speakers make the talk more interesting; first woman presenter of my day; slides available; + great illustration (see screenshot)
- 10 Ways Everyone Can Support the Java Community
- useful tips BUT too specific, making it almost a "sales pitch"; I liked the "unconference" tip #10
- if you follow the tip #9 (below), we would be interested to (re)publish your article/blog post on RIPE Labs!
- “Making Documentation a First-class Citizen in Open Source Projects”
- Next "Write The Docs" event: 25-26-27 April 2021 (Virtual)
- Create “Priority of Constituencies” for circle, organisation, community...
- Make a documentation hackathon!
- Invite Brendan to the Open House about Mental Health
- Explore FLOSS tools for organising our events: Jitsi & Matrix
- Suggest creation of Open Source Program Offices (OSPO) role in RIPE NCC
initiatives to help you having a successful OSPO, like OpenChain Project, TODO Group, SE360, CHAOSS, Cauldron.io
- Watch the recordings of all the talks I've missed at video.fosdem.org/2021
- Invite many of the speakers to the RIPE community events
I’ve been going to FOSDEM for 10+ years, and both myself and the conference have changed during that time. To start with, I was learning a lot, and following many talks; then I started giving talks; and after that, I was mostly meeting with people, having informal but passionate discussions and “building communities”. I’ve skipped the previous two “real life” conferences - and the virtual event in 2021 is a good opportunity to go back to following the content, without waiting in the long queues in the hallways, fighting my way out of the summer-small classrooms, or falling asleep in the auditoria ;-)
I do miss my friends, beer, friet (fries / patat), and squirrels in the nearby park!
At the end of the two long days, I can conclude: I am impressed with the smooth logistics and high quality of talks and speakers! The chosen platforms (Jitsi & Matrix) are following the spirit of FLOSS, and the volunteers running the event are making their contribution to the FLOSS community.
Deb Nicholson is one of my favourite speakers at FOSDEMs ever - and her talk was amazing, as always! Preventing burnout, taking care of your (mental) health, and being mindful of the paradoxes - doing less to achieve more!
It may sound counter-intuitive, but skipping things, scaling down and doing less can help you be more effective.
Tasks that are done with ample time can be done with more care and are less prone to error.
People who aren't constantly feeling like they're up against impossible deadlines will be happier, well-rested people that are more likely to stay involved for longer. Let's do less!
"Timely honesty" - be honest about what you need - e.g. "I can do half of this" or "I need a couple extra days"
Don't attend meetings unless you're able to take on tasks. It's okay to skip the meeting! Don't attend if you only have an interest vs. being a key stakeholder.
Add extra time buffer - e.g. add 30% to all tasks you haven't done before.
Under-committed people have a broader perspective on their projects.
Develop a culture of appreciation for people who delegate - thank them for giving up tasks, build in a culture of working smart (not overtime)
Relevant to FLOSS and many other communities: hackers, network-infrastructure operators (NOGs), open standards, activists…
- The additional emotional involvement feeds mental health issues such as stress, anxiety, self-esteem issues etc an awful lot
- Publicly stating your views within the community and having your contributions questioned or even attacked
- Blueing the lines between personal, professional and volunteer life makes the “balancing” between work & “life” difficult
- FOSS is a very personal thing, which can make such disagreements very tiring sadly, because we care so much about our projects
- Digital Declutter tips
Comments in chat:
As someone that has experienced burnout during 2020 I can say that I actually think it is worse than physical problems, because physical problems has clear and "simple" solutions. Mental issues are not straight forward to solve.
how can you deal with becoming more-and-more kinda of a control freak, i.e. treating the project in too much of a personal way?
how you dealing with your aggressive behaviour which appears after repeating fact to someone more than 3 times?
Open source is defined in practice by its community-driven, collaborative mode of software development. So it should be no surprise that the best open source projects have a laser focus on building thriving communities. Nor should it surprise us that many projects using OSI-approved licenses appear open source in name only. Ethics is the study of how to get along with others. This makes it the perfect tool for understanding how to build thriving, successful communities. In this talk, I argue that the Ethical Source Definition actually provides a more compelling definition of "open source" than the OSD. It better accords with community usage of the term, capturing what makes open source unique and successful.
I'm trying to multitask: watch talks, ask questions on chat, keep notes and take screenshots...
taking a cue from open source communities can help managers handle this new landscape with flexibility, clemency, and above all, empathy.
Useful for managers who are beginners with “async” teams; good learning about privilege, diversity, “personal time zones”. I liked the link to self-care the most. And I’ve learned about this abundant source of icons!
Nice & slow & comprehensive - but - quite basic & too corporate for my tastes... I prefer the approaches that are aware of intersectionality of oppression, and history of colonialism, rather then explaining it with “culture”.
- “Contributing (with) civil servants”
How government and public sector open source projects and contributors are different from individual and corporate ones.
Good overview of multiple communities and approaches - diving deep into “human centred” processes! Also mentioning RFC889 that I reviewed here . Video, slides and links are all available here. Links: https://www.selfdefined.app/, https://builttoadapt.io/technologists-hippocratic-oath-94b88d3fe480, https://ar.al/2020/08/07/what-is-the-small-web/
Interesting comments from the chat:
Sage Sharp (they/them): I feel like a lot of this talk can be summarized by "prioritize the most vulnerable". Which ties very closely with Kim Crayton's saying "Tech is not neutral".
Vittorio Bertola: This is fine as long as "end users" are "individual end users". If some companies start to pretend they are "end users", it is not fine any more.
Sage Sharp (they/them): Thanks for the great talk, tobie ! I'm already thinking about making a constituent priorities statement for Outreachy. It's been implicitly stated, but I think it's useful to explicitly state it.We prioritize the most vulnerable groups in our internship program, which is applicants and interns. And sometimes that means we have to ask mentors to do a bit more (like provide more detailed project descriptions, or provide a list of system requirements for their project).
I had an opportunity to ask the CEO of MariaDB what is he going to do about the diversity:
My reply: labs.ripe.net/diversity
- Other people pointed to the useful tips too:
- “I like to know if a space is safe before entering. It's not what management likes to hear (i.e. being shy, scared, not showing preferred bold behaviour) but it's true for me”
- "As a design researcher that makes a living by invoving humans who use technology into the making of those technologies, it is wonderful to see a presentation like this in this devroom :) We talk a lot about this within the Open Source Design community, and it's great to see the subject reaching other groups"
Sunday, Snow Storm
9AM CET: I'm so happy to be inside, warm, protected from the storm! Preparing to fill my schedule with all things FOSDEM!
Plan, for now: the whole "Community devroom" programme, and all the ones ill miss from "legal" track, I'll catch later at the archives!
As this is a virtual conference with prerecorded talks, all talks are recorded. They will be made available on video.fosdem.org/2021 as soon as the event has finished.
Before the start, I thought that the most interesting tracks, for me, would be the Community track.
However, there are many other presentations that got my attention!
The first one I caught by accident was "OpenStreetMap Features as Proxy to Socio-Economic Indicators: A Network Theory Approach": about using machine learning & open data in crowdsourced maps to, for example, help humanitarian efforts in fighting poverty. The graph that was used in the parliament for exposing corruption in Philiphines. The data visualisation and measurements analysis should be interesting for the participants of the RIPE MAT WG. What I liked about it and that the speaker was calling for the technology to serve the people!!
For the RIPE's Open Source WG, the talk about safety can be beneficial: "Why we should use Free and Open Source Software for safety applications". I like the terminology of "safety" over "security"; the speaker regrets that "the safety applications often are closed source... companies are reluctant to share their code. Ultimately this is to the detriment of everyone, and leaves us all vulnerable to unsafe software. [...] how using FOSS practices could benefit not just the wider community but the leading industry suppliers." The content might have been too technically specific for me, but I did enjoy the accent of the speaker :)
One cute presentation was about art / theatre and data analysis!! "Combining crowdsourcing and expertise in Digital Humanities"
Another interesting talk from the "research" track was "Making Tools for Social Media Research: Principles and (Future) Challenges". What I liked about it is that the speakers were not typical "techies", but came from the humanities / social studies; they are from Amsterdam! They have a cute logo, and a nice "fireside chat" vibes.
What I didn't like was the "manel" format: I can recommend many female researchers and data scientists who could bring valuable contribution to the future work! From the RIPE Community perspective, these kind of talks would qualify for RACI support: ripe.net/raci.
Community track had three great talks in the early afternoon!
Maya talked about her personal experiences in Open Resaerch in Social Science (OSOS project). I am looking forward to learn more about "transculturation" & would like to watch this talk again! There was a live-tweeted thread during the talk:
- Challenges: Many FLOSS tools assume users are coders, and even when using GUI tools, there may be unspoken assumptions that less technical users may not be aware of (e.g. network vis changing each time if not told to start from the same node!)
- "Time and resources need to be committed to built communities... this can only be achieved when communities and users share defined goals" Sparkles - YES! open source is about the goals and people, not just code!
- Docs, docs, docs - one message we're getting from @MayaAndGonzalez! when knowledge is preserved inside your head, others can't benefit from it and might not know about the pitfalls and usage options. Perhaps extra-important for users who can't look at the code!
- @MayaAndGonzalez 's advice for researchers using open source tools: Open source developers are very approachable! if you're using their tool and stuck or need advice, it's totally reasonable and realistic to approach the developer for advice, tips, and bugfixes 💪 #FOSDEM2021
“2020 was a very bad year for most of us, under the shadow of all that was going on there was a troubling trend we all need to be aware of: the erosion of the classic open source model and values.”
Interesting talk: contemporary, full of memes. Insightful, well presented, slides available.
Lessons: consider your values and ethics when taking part in software projects or choosing “products”! Which "wolf" will you feed: shareholder value or betterment of the community ?
"Do you feel like you don't belong, you don't deserve what you achieved, everyone in your office is more talented than you? Do you have imposter syndrome... too? Imposter syndrome is common across all industries, but the increasing pressure to be successful in IT is taking its toll on employees, affecting more than half workers, me included :) After many years working in tech for a lot of companies (from startups to big corporations) in many business fields, I found a way to overcome self-doubt and turn this weird feeling in a booster for greater achievements... and I want to share it with you!"
Very important talk about mental health practices, that are impacting technical communities but are not talked about enough, IMHO! The speaker has defined 5 different types of Imposter Syndrome & its opposite: the Danning-Kruget effect :)
He also gave very practical tips on what to do when you feel alone in these struggles -- you are not alone!
Saturday After Lunch
(5PM : oh no, live blogging is painful! I typed in text & inserted pictures for an HOUR and then I lost connectivity & all my work was gone! I will just insert some links later today, when I calm down :-( )
Make F(L)OSS Truly Global
Open source software powers incredible scientific and research discoveries, from images of the black hole in 2019, visualising proteins in 3D virtual reality, and open source hardware can affordably save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sam, a researcher in a white coat: they spend hours in the lab with their beakers, test tubes, and agar plates. Once they’ve gathered results they think the world will want to know, they write up their conclusions, publish in a journal, and repeat. Joy, the computational researcher. Joy may identify as a coder, a researcher, an engineer, a data scientist, support staff, a lab assistant, or some other title. The main theme is that Joy writes computer code in order to make their job easier, or perhaps even to make it feasible at all. In the current world, Joy is typically less supported than a more traditional academic like Sam. The Wellcome Trust has dedicated £75 million GBP over the next five years towards making trustworthy data science a first-class citizen in the research ecosystem.
This presentation covers the history of various governing structures and why democracy provides superior results. It then explains that open source is a form of democracy, compared to the methods used by proprietary software producers. It covers the many benefits Postgres has enjoyed using an open development model, and how its future remains bright.
I liked insightful points about direct democracy. What I missed is the reference to consensus-building rather than voting, as a decision-making process; and although the speaker did refer to the “messiness” of democracy, I am still looking for - and would like to debate (with) him about it - the shortcomings and challenges of the “majority” democracies of the 21st century. Interesting community portal concentrator: https://pglife.momjian.us/
Open Source Culture is Very US-Centric, But It Shouldn't Be, by Deb Nicholson and Hong Phuc Dang
Free and open source software is made up of a truly global community of tinkerers, collaborators and innovators. In this conversation, will look at the global state of open source policy and talk about why no particular country -- especially the US -- should be centered. So, let's make sure the conversation about the future of open source is a truly global one!
Sure, lots of tech came from the US but a large proportion of the story of free and open source software didn't happen in the US. In fact, most of the exciting parts of the work to encourage people to adopt, build and adapt open source are happening in other places.
Open source is a global community of tinkerers, collaborators and innovators. It's time to share the spotlight more equitably. Solutions for small cities, or minority language groups or vulnerable populations could come from anywhere and be applied around the world. The discussions around public code and adoption aren't even happening in the US yet, and code without hearty adoption isn't enough. So, let's make sure the conversation about the future of open source is a truly global one!
On this panel, Karen Sandler, Fabio Balli, Adriana Groh, Luis Falcon will discuss the extent to which the use of Free Software and open hardware can be used in the public health sector. Software and hardware can help to solve global problems together. The wheel does not always have to be reinvented and through cooperation common innovation can succeed.
The Corona crisis has clearly shown us that we also need to work together in the area of software and hardware. Hackathons were held in various countries, for example, to find software solutions to counter this crisis. The development of tracing apps or solutions for hospitals and health authorities has also shown that Free Software can help many people and that isolated solutions are counterproductive. In the panel we want to discuss what lessons we can learn from the crisis and how Free Software and Open Hardware must be used in the future.
I was happy to meet again some of the organisers of COVID hackathons from EU, Switzerland and Germany! They are bringing the FLOSS philosophy (openness, in(ter)dependence, flexibility, solidarity) to the events that used to be more corporate, by: not making hackathons competitive! Emphasise cooperation, and the follow-up based on free software! If you trust & empower people, with the large participation this makes a huge difference! Next step is: pharmaceutical industry!
Interesting initiative: https://www.gnuhealth.org/
Even shorter links to interesting talks & tools for research:
- https://fosdem.org/2021/schedule/event/open_research_filecoin_ipfs/ & slides
Read these notes! Read them and understand them!!