Tutorials, community and making a business case


PORTLAND, Ore. — When I registered for this year’s Open Source Conference (OSCON), which was also my first, I selected four tutorials as a part of my ticket. Options ranged from making art with open-source libraries to database management. Many of the sessions looked like the winning card for buzzword bingo: Blockchain! machine learning! serverless! After some deliberation, I went with hands-on sessions about Rust, p5,js, building an AI assistant and constructing a programming language.

First day jitters

Leading up to the event, participants were asked to have all the prerequisites set up for the tutorials. We got daily reminders. Daily. For each tutorial. This was annoying to say the least, especially since many of the tutorials told you to clone some git repo and then they didn’t include a link to it in the daily email. There was no way to opt out when you had completed the requirements either.

Monday morning,  I arrived bright and early at the venue courtesy MAX. I’d expected the light rail system jammed with conference goers (think: the rib-crushing crowds on trains to FOSDEM) and was pleasantly surprised when it wasn’t. I walked right up to registration, typed in my email address, looked up my ticket and got my badge printed in a flash. (For people still intent on making QR codes good for something, you could log in that way,too.) You were offered a weekly MAX ticket along with your voucher for the conference t-shirt and conference book (it is O’Reilly, after all).

The first tutorial was great! I learned the basics of Rust via a fun lab that involved sword fighting. The instructor was deft at breaking up the material into smaller topics complete with examples before jumping into exercises in the lab covering the new material.

If only the second one had been a bit less dry. It sounded promising: build an AI assistant that you could interact with using the open-source project Rasa. The tutorial was essentially ‘teaching’ the AI assistant by listing thousands of example inputs into the config. The more examples you provide, the more accurate the response of the assistant. It was less engaging than the earlier tutorial, but the instructor was much newer to teaching than the previous one. With a few more repetitions, this could improve.

Tuesday, it was time for the next two hands-on sessions: Processing Foundation’s p5.js project and building a programming language. Despite all the preparatory nudges, it wasn’t clear to me that it was basically a refresher for a few of my college classes  (I had a visualization class that used processing and a C++ class where we built a natural language processor). That said, both instructors were very good. The first tutorial was similar to that of the previous day where some slides walked through particular aspects of the language and some examples before offering a wider view on a larger project to apply the knowledge. The afternoon was a little more continuous and sans slides.

General assembly

The next two days kicked off with keynotes before hitting a roster of presentations. As carefully staged as these performances are, you can’t control everything: Wednesday morning’s keynotes were interrupted by a fire alarm. OSCON organizers still managed to end on time with only a few small changes to the keynote schedules – most speakers had their time cut a few minutes across both days and one keynote got bumped to day two.

The content of the keynotes split among two main themes: the importance of community and how it adds value, stability and marketability to any open-source project and how open source is part of the future for most businesses (hopefully not the entire business plan, but definitely playing a role.) I found myself agreeing with many of the key messages and appreciating the general rallying cry to open source and not one specific project or foundation. A single project won’t solve all the industry’s problems just as a single foundation is not the best home for all projects.

I crammed my agenda with sessions on open-source community, governance models in open source and themes like how to be a good community member etc. Nothing was earth-shattering or exactly new, but it’s always a pleasure to see a lot of good speakers share their experiences and observations. I also really enjoyed that many of the things to aspire to/good community traits/best practices are already built into the OpenStack community. It made me appreciate the stability of our community and the efforts of those who’ve come before me.

Overall, I’d give the event a A- or B+. OSCON brought together a cool mix of open-source projects from many foundations on a relatively level playing field.

Next year, you’ll still find me haunting the halls — even if my talks don’t get picked again, ahem — and I hope next time OpenStack, Kata,  Zuul, Airship and StarlingX can have a larger presence there.