FOSDEM 2023: Glad To Be Back
Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend FOSDEM 2023 in Brussels. It was the first time FOSDEM was a physical meetup since 2020, when it was celebrated in the early days of COVID-19 when we were completely unaware of what was coming. For the first time in three years, waves of developers marched through Brussels to the ULB campus, ready for some talks and plenty of Club Mate.
It certainly felt special to be back to what used to be a staple in my calendar every February since my first time coming in 2018. There is something special in FOSDEM: just like a concert, it is not only relevant because of the content but also because you have the certainty that you have at least one thing in common with everyone in that huge meetup. And when that thing is just a desire for collaboration to ensure knowledge dissemination and availability, it is beyond belief.
The M stands for Meetup
FOSDEM happens during the first weekend of February and is organized in two main tracks and a whooping 55 devrooms, which are smaller tracks that refer to a particular topic. Apart from that, this year there were 36 lightning talks happening. In both buildings H and K there are plenty of stands of different FOSS projects and initiatives, which are the perfect places to stock up on new stickers.
Apart from all this, food trucks and cafeterias are available along the main avenue where one can get a quick bite without leaving the campus, with everything you could expect: frietjes, gaufres, broodjes, and different fast food options.
Apart from the main events, the amount of people roaming the place always results in fun and interesting anecdotes, like TinyGo’s own spy balloon (it works). In the end, things like that are what people come to FOSDEM for!
Some of my favorite talks
Even though this year I did not attend to that many talks, I was lucky enough to attend some exciting ones (listed in chronological order):
Ingesting over a million rows per second on a single instance, by Javier Ramírez. A quick QuestDB demo, a SQL server with a focus on time series. A fascinating project to keep in mind.
An introduction to MicroPython, by Wouter van Ooijen. A wonderfully entertaining talk to get started hacking with MicroPython - a light Python distribution for microcontrollers. The talk felt like a Moby Dick rendition with LEDs instead of a whale.
Talk to DBus from a Python application, by Vendula Poncova. A quick introduction to
dbusand its Python interface,
dasbus. A really interesting and informative talk for a technology I had heard of but never bothered to investigate.
Open Software at NASA, by Steve Crawford. A excellent review of the efforts of NASA towards their Open Source Science Initiative and some of the tangible results they have already provided.
Some tough love
If you have read up to this point, you probably guessed that I enjoyed myself in the meeting and am a huge fan of it. That does not come with some criticism, which is mostly fueled by my desire to make FOSDEM better every year.
The first and most important thing to mention is the elephant in the room: just like the tech world, FOSDEM is dominated by a very telling lack of diversity. We could argue that this is a characteristic of the technology and CS world and that FOSDEM simply inherits it. However, it is 2023, and we should do better. Having roughly a 10% of female speakers 1 with not even a clear upwards trend is not representative of the industry anymore, and it is certainly not inviting for a conference that (I think) tries to be a safe space.
The other constructive criticism is the issues in room dimensioning. I would bet money on the fact that every single attendant has run into a “this room is already full” sign at least once this weekend. I understand that this is not an easy issue to tackle: FOSDEM has no entry tickets, but I am sure that most attendees would gladly fill out a quick interest check to help the organization tackle this issue.
Some final thoughts
Now, two days later, and once the FOSDEM frenzy has more or less settled, I was able to gather my thoughts on the meeting and write this post. FOSDEM always has a special place in my heart because of that feeling of being a part of the counterculture against big tech. Now, it has also become a great place to meet old friends that live abroad. I always end up with this euphoria of looking forward to contributing more, even if it always seems to fall short in retrospect. Let’s see if this year is any different, and I hope to see you all there next year!
Thanks to Edward Betts for the script used to compute it. Also, I would not like to point fingers, but there is also the per-devroom count. ↩︎