FOSDEM 2018: My first time

The first Friday of February 2018, I was sitting on Madrid-Barajas airport, waiting for the cheapest flight available to travel to Brussels that day. After hearing my friend Nacho talk several times about FOSDEM, I finally decided to join him on the adventure. In this post, apart from my humble chronicle as a newbie in this kind of events, I gather some of the talks I could assist to.

FOSDEM stands for Free and Open Source Software Developers' European Meeting, which is a quite self-explanatory name. It is celebrated year after year since 2000 in Université Libre de Bruxelles. For two days, the Solbosch campus gets flooded with talks, company and organization stands, food trucks and people from all over Europe willing to chat about its hobbies, which all orbit around the FOSS philosophy. Thanks the savoir-faire of the organization in the previous editions, FOSDEM enjoys good health and reputation, being one of the most highly regarded FOSS meetings in the world and arguably the best one in Europe.

Janson during Marietje Schaake's talk

FOSDEM is organized in tracks and developer rooms. Each track is a set of talks happening in the same room that are related to a certain topic, for example security or Python. On the other hand, developer rooms are mini-tracks: the space dedicated to each of them is smaller and the topics are usually much more concrete and technical: debugging tools, virtualization or retro-computing are some examples of dev-rooms. Apart from those categories, there are also lightning talks happening (talks under 15 minutes), examinations to obtain certification in different software disciplines, and keynotes (which are massive talks that are expected to draw a lot of attention and get a special schedule).

    Also, I can vouch for some of the talks I assisted, since the streaming is available online and is possible to watch them in case you, dear reader, are interested in some of the topics. Out of the ones I assisted, the ones that interested me the most were:
  • Next Generation Internet Initiative: An opportunity to fix the internet, by
  • Rob van Kranenburg, Michiel Leenaars, Marietje Schaake and Georgios Tselentis. A talk about the impact of the internet in our life, the threats on its value and how they can impact our life. I found Marietje Schaake's intervention to be incredibly inspiring and forceful.
  • Using TPM 2.0 As a Secure Keystore on your Laptop, by James Bottomley. A
  • great introduction to TPM hardware, guides on how to store keys and debunks popular misconceptions.
  • Inside Monero: The world's first fungible cryptocurrency, by Howard Chu.
  • Presenting one possible successor of Bitcoin. Fungible since it loses track of their previous transactions, but still relying on Proof-of-Work and energy consumption to maintain integrity. Worth mentioning the Howard Chu spent the 5 minutes previous to his talk entertaining the audience playing the violin. Absolute boss.
  • The story of UPSat: Building the first open source software and hardware satellite,
  • by Pierros Papadeas. The story of the Libre Space Foundation (yes, that is a thing and it is as amazing as it sounds) told by one of its co-founders. I do not want to spoil the talk, but... These guys launched a satellite. For real.
  • Exploiting modern microarchitectures, by Jon Masters. An incredible computer
  • architecture master class disguised as keynote. Jon Masters is able to explain both Meltdown and Spectre from scratch in 45 minutes.

3D36's live performance

However, it is important to also mention that FOSDEM is much more than talks. There is plenty of people to chat with, from the VLC team wearing their cone hats to Grimoire Labs, a Spanish company established barely 1km away from the neighborhood I grew up in that I had the pleasure to meet 1300km from home; including 3D36, the first street busker I see playing bangers on a GameBoy. The meeting is full of gurus, hobbyists and other geeks or companies showing their wares: a router, a car computer or... Well, yes, satellites. FOSDEM is a parade of Thinkpads, esoteric gear and distributions, and of course, loads of Club Mate bottles. The E stands for Europe, after all.

The atmosphere in the meeting is great, although there was not much diversity: most of the speakers/attendees were white males, and that is something that we still need to fight for as industry and community. However, it was a great experience overall and I recommend everyone that can afford to attend to go. Furthermore, I discovered in Brussels a beautiful city with a terrible weather and a gastronomy made for my inner child: you can survive all weekend just eating waffles and frites (though it is not recommended).

Sometimes, it does not rain in Brussels

I have to admit that this last month has been a kind of epiphany for me, since I recently switched back to GNU/Linux after being a loyal Mac user for the last 7 years. A lot of things have changed since the last time I used it as a main driver, and I am happy to see that it is more accessible than I recalled. Feeling the freedom of going back to GNU/Linux and being able to witness the Libre/Open Source scene in the flesh was really shocking for me. Happy to be on the boat again, and of course, looking forward to come back to FOSDEM 2019.

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