Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Reflecting on FOSDEM 2017

FOSDEM 2017


FOSDEM is the largest European event for software developers. The 2017 edition had around 600 talks and almost 12000 visitors. Every community is present there. You can meet people from the projects you are interested in and interesting people from projects you haven't even heard about. You can influence and be influenced in many and often unforeseen ways. An idea or a random thought that you say or hear may result to a single commit or to a new project.

All talks in FOSDEM are streamed live yet all these people choose to come to the event. It is like going to a good restaurant. In the end it is not about the food but about socializing and spending time with interesting people.

The organization of the event was very good, because of the work of many volunteers. There were complaints about full queues for food or full rooms or small rooms but of course in such a scale these are inevitable. No hacker there claimed that he can write an app to improve on the organizational aspects and this is a proof of the good organization. The good mood of the people was not affected even by the rain that kept on for all the weekend. I would say that because of the rain people stayed a bit longer at the stands discussing with the representatives of each one and looking for stickers and t-shirts. 

The Talks


Before the event i made a plan for the talks i would attend. I intended to focus on non-technical talks and hear about software in general, applications and social aspects.  However it didn't go as planned. Sometimes the fatigue, sometimes a full room but more often a change of plan because of an instant inspiration(remember the vibes of the communities), resulted in a much different talks set than intended.  The talks i attended in Saturday, the first day:

Kubernetes on the road to GIFEE A talk on Kubernetes and how it enables consistent infrastructure everywhere. Also a small perusal of the tools offered by CoreOS. A good overview of the above, mainly intended for a less experienced audience.

Software Heritage Preserving the Free Software Commons This is a very interesting project. It views software as a common resource for humanity and builds infrastructure to preserve it and make it easily accessible to everyone. The talk was a presentation of the project, it's goals and it's targets. At FOSDEM they also released an API for data and now they are starting to build the community around it. I think it is a project that must be watched very carefully, it has great value.

What legal and policy issues concerning FOSS need to be systematically researched? A legal talk about FOSS which was mind blowing. There are many issues of critical importance. To name just a few:
  • software procurement
  • data formats, open or close
  • standards and organizations
  • licenses
  • copyright
  • distribution
and many more. I liked this talk very much as it was presented in a very simplistic language and touched all the points. At the time of writing the slides are not published yet. Luckily i have photographs 😉 It is very important to understand, in par with the talk on software heritage that software is much more than code and plays a very important role in our lives. We, developers, tend to focus on technical stuff and easily miss or bypass these aspects which is wrong.

Introduction to A-Frame Build Virtual Reality on the Web A talk on virtual reality for the web. To be honest i went there to see some mind blowing graphics but it was a tutorial of the technology. Well, at least i saw that it is easy to do it yourself but i really wanted to see graphics not markup

From pipelines to graphs A lightning talk about dgsh a shell supporting scatter-gather pipelines. This was a very exciting talk as it demonstrated examples of data flow processing on acyclic graphs that usually are written in higher level frameworks and not in the shell. If this works then we have a very good tool for quickly prototyping such flows. From a first glimpse on the project the documentation is very good and is easy to start with. I will certainly give it a try as i have some very good use cases.

The RocksDB storage engine for MySQL A new storage engine for MySQL. It is supposed to be a replacement for InnoDB, it has good prospects but is not there yet. It was a high level talk. I really wanted to hear about SSTables and disk latencies but as they told me these were presented at FOSDEM 2016 and this talk is the logical continuation. In other word i saw the second half of a big talk.

Don't break the Internet!, Mozilla Copyright Campaign in Europe The EU copyright law is broken. Go to https://www.changecopyright.org and read about it. The new law under discussion is in fact worse. The law makers do not understand copyright in the digital age. The talk was a synopsis of the current state of the new law. Visit the site it contains very useful information

The Go room


The second day, was the day of go and i attended all the talks of the track. For this track i want to talk about gophers not talks. Although go was designed as a systems programming language it is now used in every field. In FOSDEM officially, we saw go for android, go for robotics (with drones flying in the room), go for advanced assembly, go for systems programming and go for monitoring. In FOSDEM unofficially, go was everywhere. There were many people interested in the platform and there were many teams already using it for exceptional things. Most of them passed from the go room to attend. The room was overcrowded for the go1.8 features. It seems without exaggeration that nowadays go is the second most important point of excitement in our industry, the first one of course being AI. But really it is amazing that so many people become excited because a new version of a platform adds a new API for something. My 1p thought is that people have become tired of learning complex platforms and they just want simple and efficient tools to concentrate on their applications. Go is such a tool and the excitement is justified.

Aftermath


FOSDEM is always a great experience and the 2017 edition was not an exception. It is the kind of event that reboots your mind and installs new software. The impressive is that every time the spike is different. It can be an aspiring talk or an impressive demo or just an idea you discussed in the cafeteria with someone you met there. The spike is different but the source is always the same: the people and the communities they form.