Notes from the FOSDEM Community DevRoom

FOSDEM Logo During FOSDEM, I had the privilege of co-chairing the Community DevRoom with Laura Czajkowski of Couchbase for the second time. We got a much larger room this year (80 seats, up from 40 last year) and still had a packed house the entire day with a queue for seats reaching down the stairs for all talks.

We were also honored to hear from the organizers that they received unsolicited feedback from several attendees that the DevRoom was one of the best at the event and had a great mix of talks for both seasoned open source contributors and folks who were old hands in the tech world but new to open source or to FOSDEM.

You can check out all the talks, and videos have been posted for each one.

I think most of the talks are useful to anyone in the community space, but I’ll call out two(ish) for being the greatest interest to readers.

  • You’ve got some explaining to do. So use an FAQ! Useful views into how FAQ documents allow internal teams to reach consensus, particularly on contentious topics, before informing people outside of the company about decisions. Also wonderful for Simon Phipps and Rich Sands’ colorful insights into the process of releasing Java under the GPL whilst at SUN Microsystems.

  • Why people don’t contribute to your open source project. From Mike McQuaid, the maintainer of the highly popular Homebrew project. Reviews the process from moving users into the contributor pipeline and common barriers to entry for contributions. Mike also talks a bit about the GitHub maintainers community, which is worth learning about if you’ve never heard of it.

So, I said I’d choose two talks, but I fibbed. I selected two more that are of general interest but particularly interesting to two different community audiences, engineering people managers and new employees who may not have much experience with open source projects.

  • Passing the Baton: Succession Planning for FOSS Leadership (for engineering people managers). From VM Vicky Brasseur, FOSS old hand and Engineering Director/Product Manger extraordinaire, this talk delves into the process for planning to reduce a project’s bus factor. It also goes through common hurdles when doing succession planning and how just going through this process can reduce maintainer burnout. An incredibly worthwhile talk for anyone whose teams ship product, as we all understand folks take new jobs, decide to retire, etc. Vicky’s advice is just sensible business practice for any company creating software products.

  • Asychronous Decision Making – why and how (for those newer to open source). Bertrand Delacretz is a Principal Scientist with Adobe Research, another FOSS old hand and an Apache Software Foundation Board Member since the late 90s. (It was also his first FOSDEM!)
    For those who are newer to open source or how Red Hat gets things done, this talk is an invaluable view into our corporate culture and workflow. If you’re not used to reading long emails or waiting a few days for a decision to get made as you work across global time zones, Bertrand’s talk does an excellent job educating you on both how async decision making works. Further, he carefully illustrates why async decision making is actually more powerful than either keeping everyone online 24 hours a day (hello, burnout!) or leaving the decision making concentrated in the hands of only a few whose work hours overlap well (hello, demotivation due to feelings of disenfranchisement or lack of ownership in one’s work).

Last but not least, I will quickly echo the sentiments of all the other folks reflecting on their own FOSDEM trips—it’s barely controlled chaos, in the good way, with incredibly fruitful opportunities to meet with community folks and our co-workers that we rarely see in person. We had numerous requests to make the Community DevRoom a two-day affair next year, and both Laura and I are trying to figure out how we could make that happen without sacrificing a day to engaging in the great discussions we have in the hallway track.

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About Leslie Hawthorn

An internationally known developer relations strategist, speaker, and author, Leslie Hawthorn leads ecosystem initiatives for the CentOS project at Red Hat. Follow her on Twitter @lhawthorn