Event Report: Linux.conf.au 2019, Part 1

I’m often asked about the timing of linux.conf.au as it generally occurs during January, or early February, when a lot of people in Australia and New Zealand are taking a summer break. My response is that the timing is perfect as it provides a much needed mental jump start at the beginning of the year, and always leaves me excited about the amazing things happening within our Open Source community.

The 2019 linux.conf.au in Christchurch NZ, I’m very pleased to say, did not disappoint in this context. It easily stands as one of the best conferences I’ve been to in the last 10+ years, and I already can’t wait for next year’s conference in the Gold Coast of Australia. In addition Red Hat continues to sponsor the conference each year, and several colleagues had speaker slots.

When writing up about an LCA I’ve usually taken a day-by-day diary like approach, but this year I’m going to look at some of the big themes of the conference

  • Linux of Things
  • Privacy and Security
  • Diversity and Inclusion
  • How to get/keep a job
  • A bit of history as linux.conf.au celebrated 20 years.

First, I need to clarify one thing, even though the conference started with a distinct focus on Linux, today it covers a very broad range of Open Source and Open Culture topics outside of that original remit.

Secondly, a warning. This is one of the few true grass-roots volunteer conferences at this scale, and many of the international attendees freely admit it becomes a highlight of their year. Yes LCA can easily become a welcome addiction. I personally haven’t missed one since I first attended back in 2007, and even ended up running it in Auckland with my wife in 2015.

Keynotes

Unlike many commercially focused conferences you can’t buy an LCA keynote, you are invited by that year’s conference organizers. The conference keynotes are often unexpected and almost always deeply inspiring, and this year was no exception.

Tuesday we had Rory Aronson from the Farmbot project with a talk titled “Beyond Readme.md”

After an introduction into their open source and open hardware project Farmbot, which can automate all of the plant cultivation steps from planting seeds, weeding, and watering, Rory pivoted into the power of good documentation. They have documented not only the code and hardware specs, but the core processes of operating their business including staff compensation.

They have effectively open sources their entire business, including their day-to-day operations.

Dana Lewis at LCA 2019 Keynote

Wednesday was a special highlight for myself when Dana Lewis, a 2018 Red Hat Women in Open Source award winner, spoke about the OpenAPS project, and how Open Source can change healthcare.

With a non-developer background, she provided different perspective, and I loved the fact that the whole project effectively started with her personal need for a louder alarm for her Insulin monitor. This evolved over time into an automated solution that can carefully manage the Insulin delivery for people with Type 1 Diabetes.

User-driven innovation

To help illustrate her story she used the analogy of building an electric car, where the goal is a completed car, vs starting with a skateboard, that becomes a scooter, then a bike, then a motorbike and eventually a car. Their solution continues to evolve and has users and contributors from all over the world.

I think it is awesome that in addition to keynoting, Dana used the opportunity of being over in NZ to engage with some of the local users of the OpenAPS project.

Thursday‘s Keynote was Shannon Morse on “Personal Branding for the Security Conscious”

Shannon Morse LCA 2019 keynote.

Shannon is a blogger and YouTuber, and has developed a career providing tutorials and how-tos on security, privacy, development, hardware reviews, and network administration. Shannon’s talk was about developing your personal brand, provided numerous tips for anyone early in their professional journey trying to define their path, and even for us older hands who might be looking for a change of direction.

Her talk was engaging, stimulating, amusing, and I highly recommend catching the video. I’m also very pleased that my daughter was sitting next to me for this keynote session and got a chance to spend time with Shannon over the week.

Rusty Russel LCA 2019 keynote

Given this was the 20th Anniversary of linux.conf.au it was only appropriate that Rusty Russell delivered Friday‘s Keynote, covering a history of the conference along with his own journey to Open Source.

Rusty started the very first LCA back in 1989, then known as CALU, which he notoriously backed using his own credit card. The keynote at that first conference was John ‘maddog’ Hall, so the baseline for keynote quality was there from the very very beginning. If nothing else it is worth catching the beginning of his talk for the “Suit of Money” he wore for his grand entrance.

Rusty’s story went back even further to his initial use of Sun Solaris, and how he first engaged with the Linux community via a Usenix conference. He went on to write ipchains and iptables stacks, among other major core components of the Linux subsystem. For anyone with an interest in Linux history, this was a wonderful journey down memory lane. We also had Linus Torvalds in the audience, and saw his reaction to some of Rusty’s stories.

If this alone isn’t enough to get you interested in next year’s conference, I’ll be back in Part 2 with some of the various talks I want to highlight from this year.

Photos CC-BY-SA Marc Merlin

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About Steven Ellis

Steven has been with Red Hat since they opened their New Zealand office in May 2011. His involvement in Open Source stretches back over 20 years, including over 15 years using Linux within a variety business environments. Since moving to New Zealand he has provided technical direction and operational guidance for a number of New Zealand companies on the use of Open Source and Linux through roles with Optimation and IBM prior to joining Red Hat. As NZ Platform Solution Architect, his focus areas are Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Virtualisation/Cloud products as well as Storage technologies. Follow him on Twitter @StevensHat

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