Tag Archives: oscon

Packing for OSCon

I have this recurring problem when packing for a conference. Should I dress as mild-mannered reporter, or as Superman?

Um … I mean … should I dress in “professional casual” or in “slovenly geek”? On the one hand, I’m presenting myself as the CEO of Cooper McGregor, Inc, and so should look at least a little bit like I’m a professional, right? On the other hand, most everybody else will dress like they just rolled out of bed on a Saturday morning and are sitting watching looney toons.

Decisions, decisions.

How to attend a conference

I attended my first conference in 1996, and, almost without exception, I’ve been to at least one conference, at usually two or three, every year since then. I’ve attended conferences differently, and observed a large number of people attending conferences differently. My first conference (some Sun event, for reasons that I don’t remember) didn’t do much for me, because I had no goals in attending the conference, except that I’d heard of some new thing called Java, and because I had no idea what to expect.

The key to a good conference experience is to have a good idea of what you expect to get out of it, and then do whatever is necessary to accomplish that end. If you’re very new to attending conferences, you may not know what sorts of things those could be. To this end, I’ve compiled a short list of some of the most common ways that people view conferences, at least based on their behavior. While there’s certainly some humor in this, it’s also a serious effort to get you to think about how to attend a conference so that you don’t get to the end of it and feel a sense of regret about what you’ve missed out on.

Of course, conferences will look somewhat different to me than many folks, since I’ve also been speaking at every conference I’ve attended since 1998.

Conference as week-long party

If you’re like me, a conference is the closest thing to a vacation that you get. It’s a week away from work, away from responsibility, and away from doing dishes. Party time! From observing folks at conferences, it would seem that the seasoned conference attendees have fallen into this view. The goal of any decent conference, therefore, is to spend as much time as possible hopelessly inebriated, and to attend as many parties as you can possibly get an invitation to, and several more if at all possible.

If this is your view of conferences, there are some warnings that I should make:

  • Most folks have digital cameras these days, and they will post their pictures to their web sites
  • Despite what you may think, your boss does read your blog
  • If you can produce no evidence that the conference was a worthwhile investment, you won’t get to come back next year

Conference as social gathering

This is somewhat different from Conference as Party. In most of the world, who you know is significantly more important than what you know. Conferences are the best possible place and time to meet the important people in your field, and to shmooze. Sometimes this is called “networking.” I’m not sure what the appropriate term is these days.

The seasoned conference-goer who is not firmly in category one is almost certainly in this category. They’ve long since exhausted category three, and now attend the conference to be with their friends. I readily admit that this is where I wind up. Although I tend to spend an inordinate amount of time contributing to the production of the actual conference (ie, speaking), I try to spend the rest of the time catching up with friends who I get to see two or three times a year, other than time online, which is … different.

Conference as classroom

Most first-time conference-goers view a conference as an academic event. They are there to learn. It’s a good idea to have in mind exactly what it is that you want to learn. And do your research before (ie, reading all online available information on the topic) so that you are not wasting your time, and the experts’ time, asking questions that are in the FAQ. This should be a time when you get the hard questions answered, not the easy ones. If you’re asking the easy questions at a conference, you’ve wasted your money.

This is, incidentally, why I’m always amazed at how well-attended my “intro to apache” tutorial is. Not that I’m saying you shouldn’t come, but it always seems populated with people who have not done the most basic of preparation work. And they’re paying extra to attend this tutorial. I sincerely hope that I’m giving them the content that they paid for, but I can’t help wonder if their money would have been better spent if they just read the documentation and then attended one of the other tutorials.

Particularly at a conference like OSCon, it’s very uncommon that something is covered in a session that is not already available online somewhere. Granted, getting it right from the expert, and being able to ask for clarification and demonstration, is of enormous value. But do the work ahead of time to make that experience more worthwhile.

Conference as vacation

One of these days, I’d like to just attend a conference. Not speak. Not have a panel. Not do “guru is in” sessions. Not even have to introduce anyone or chair a talk. But I don’t expect that’s going to happen any time soon. I am very ready to admit that I stand entirely on the shoulders of giants, and I owe much more back to the community than they can ever owe to me.

Having said that, I’m starting to view conferences as vacations. I give two or three talks (ok, at ApacheCon it’s more like four or five. Sheesh.) and in exchange I get to have a few days off. No to party, or socialize, but just to get away. There’s certainly an aspect of the party and social gathering mixed in there for me. Indeed, the Sams Publishing authors’ dinners are some of the high points of my year. But looking at the schedule for OSCon, the first thing that came to mind was that I have Tuesday and Thursday completely off, and I’ll probably just go geocaching. 🙂


Which one of these categories you fall into is entirely up to you. I just encourage you to give it a great deal of thought before you get on the plane, so that when you arrive, you’re entirely in the right mind-set to make the most of the conference.

For example, if you intend to have the conference be a social gathering, or a party, then you have to firmly decide to be the last one to leave any event, that you won’t sleep more than absolutely necessary, and that you are willing to buy drinks for those persons reticent to trade the talk on LOTR for your company.

Or, if you intend to treat it as an academic gathering, make sure you know exactly what you want to learn, and don’t let that speaker out of your sight until they have answered your questions. While many of the speakers just want to get back to the speakers lounge, or to the next party, most of them enjoy discussing their topic and answering (intelligent) questions about it. They will, however, swiftly tire of questions that you should have answered by reading the FAQ.

And if you intend to treat it just as a vacation, make sure you stage a few photos of you appearing studious, and that you cram the printed notes from a few important sessions on the plane back, so that you can persuade your boss that you need to come again next year.

See y’all at OSCon!

Getting ready for OSCon

Apparently OSCon is just a few days away. Sheesh. This year is going by mighty fast. And I *still* don’t have confirmation on my travel plans, although I’ve sent a number of irate email messages to the purported travel agent. I’ll be even more irate if I show up to the airport and don’t actually have a reservation to fly.

I don’t really have the building enthusiasm for OSCon as I have in years past. I’m not entirely sure why this is. I suppose it’s somehow related to my disconnection from the community for the last year, with work conditions and general busier-than-heck-ness conspiring to make me less involved. It seems that by this time last year I was all but packed and ready to go.

Perhaps I’ll meet interesting people and get fired up about some project or other while I’m out there. And, due to the savings that one gets from staying over the weekend, I’m actually not leaving until Sunday morning. Perhaps that could translate into more fun. Dunno. I just know that I’m greatly unenthused about the whole thing.


OSCon is almost upon us. The deadline for submitting talks was the 9th, and now we have one week to select which talks will go on the schedule. I have 4 tutorials and 4 tutorial slots, so no problem there. But for talks, I have 24 talks and 12 slots. I’m trying to be completely objective. By which I mean that I’m trying to select speakers who are fun at parties, so that I can have a good time at OSCon. 😉

Software and community

Someone asked at OSCon why Open Source people are so obsessed about community. I answered with my standard answer – that it’s really that community-oriented people are attracted to Open Source – that software is really just a vehicle to get to community, and it is really much more about the community than about the software.

Andy disagreed with me, but then we got distracted, and the conversation died there. I’m really interested in continuing the conversation. So here’s my bit of it.

I joined the Apache project for the software. I stayed for the community. Likewise Perl. The software is interesting, but the people are more interesting. So now that I’m really not even writing much Perl, I’m still involved with the community, to some degree, because they are cool people.

Is there a PhotoShop Community? Well, sort of, but they don’t really have any ownership of their community. They are at the mercy of some large organization of which they are not a part. The Apache Community, on the other hand, has their hands in the thing that drew them together, and can remake it into something cool.

It’s very cool that I’ve had lunch with Larry Wall on a couple different occasions – not that he’d remember me particularly. It is very cool that I’ve chatted with Bradley Kuhn, Eric Raymond, Eric Allman, Tim O’Reilly, and a variety of other people – again, not that any of them would particularly remember me. But all of this is to say that it’s the opportunity to meet interesting people that has been one of the most valuable things about getting involved with Open Source Software. But what’s way cooler than that is the people that I’ve actually gotten to know in all of this – people that I would have *never* run into without OSS, because they live a world away. Folks like Mads Toftum, Greg Stein, Kevin Hemenway, Jesse Vincent, and the list goes on and on. There is no chance I would have ever met these folks in “the real world.”

So it appears, as I think about this, that I’ve often expressed these thoughts, but never really unpacked them completely, as Brother Bourbon would say. I’m very interested in hearing other views, or whatever.

So, why am I involved in Apache? Well, there’s a few reasons. I’m good at something (which happens to be writing about things in terms that beginners can understand) and this makes peoples’ lives easier. Doing something that potentially millions of people will benefit from is very cool, both from the perspective of helping people, but also from the sheer hubris of all of those people thinking I’m cool. And then there’s the community of people that it puts me in touch with. I care a great deal about the Apache Software Foundation and what it does, but I’m not so sure that the Apache HTTP Server is the primary part of what I care about. Presumably, if we had to, we could create that from scratch again. But the community is less replaceable. (Tirade about people destroying community ommitted for your reading pleasure.)


OSCon, day 5

Day 5 was a little bit of a disappointment, really. I think that I had Milton Ngan’s talk built up a little too much in my expectations, so that when he did not show a preview of Return of the King, I felt rather let down. He showed some very cool stuff about Gollum and the Ents, but nothing approaching the amazing stuff that he showed us last year. Apparently he was unable to obtain permission to show us anything of the upcoming movie. I would expec that it would be inthe best interests of the movie makers to have the geek community fired up about their movie, as long as they didn’t show any “spoilers.” Not that you can really show spoilers when the book has been out for 40 years. Sheesh.

OSCon, Day 4

So much to say about Thursday. The goal was to work on the book all day, but I ended up in talks for much of that time. Highlights were Geoffrey Young’s talk on Apache-Test, and the Perl DateTime BOF.

I know that if I don’t write about this stuff now, I’ll probably never get back to it – like last year – but I’m very tired and and grumpy and still disappointed about missing my geocaching date this morning, so I think I’ll sit and sulk and work on my book instead.

OSCon, day 3

I’m not entirely sure how it became Wednesday already. Sheesh.

OK, last night I was out until 3 this morning, and so I’m a little worn out. Last year, I left everything early so that I could get sleep. In doing so, I missed out on some stuff. So I determined that this time I would attend everything I possibly could, be the last to leave, and get everything possible out of the week. So, this morning I am a little ragged.

Tim O’Reilly gave the same talk that he gave at ApacheCon. Well, different title, and a few different examples, but essentially the same talk.

Next, there was a talk about Eclipse, which is apparently very cool and shiny if you like that sort of thing. I think that if I cared at all about Java or IDEs, I would have had the patience to endure the speaker saying “uh” every 5th word. No, I’m not exaggerating.

Right now, I’m in Justin’s AAA talk, which I will hopefully be able to pay attention to, but I need to make sure I’m ready for my talk, which is immediately after. Migrating to Apache 2.0.