My experiences at FOSDEM 2019

Published 2019-02-05 on Drew DeVault's blog

Currently in a plane on my way home from FOSDEM and, as seems to be a recurring pattern when I fly long distances home after attending a conference, a recap is readily flowing from my fingertips. This was my first year at FOSDEM, and I’m glad that I came. I’m already excited for next year! It was also my first year volunteering, which was equally great and another thing I expect to repeat.

My biggest feeling during the event was one of incredible business. My scatterbrained interests throughout the domain of free software came back to haunt me as I struggled to keep up with all of the people I had to meet & thank, all of the sessions I wanted to see, and all of the dinners & outings I wanted to attend. Before all of the fuss, though, I was lucky enough to have a day and a half to myself (and later with Simon Ser) to enjoy Brussels with.

The first FOSDEM-related event I found myself was when the Arch Linux developers graciously invited me to their dinner on Friday. I have a long friendship with several Arch developers, but never met any in person. We were speaking in the weeks before FOSDEM about how to save them from their subversion nightmare, and we spoke a little bit about some ideas for fixing this, but mostly we just had a good time and got to know each other better. Later in the week, Jerome finally convinced me to apply to become an Arch Trusted User, and in the coming months I hope to work with them on a nice next-generation system for Arch Linux package maintenance.

The hallway track1 continued to be the highlight of the event. Later Friday night, I had volunteered to staff the FOSDEM beer event’s late shift, so the inevitability of time and biology led to missing the first half of day one. I ended up wiggling my way into the BSD room and saw a cool talk on NetBSD - long one of my favorites among the BSDs, and learned that the speaker had a cool project which will save me a lot of time when adding NetBSD support to sr.ht. Grabbed his email afterwards and met up with my friends from KDE for lunch. We met up with Daniel Stone as well, and spoke for a while about how we’re finally going to approach unifying and standardizing the Wayland ecosystem. This discussion took place waiting outside the graphics room for the Pipewire talk. Simon has been working on a portal to connect sway’s Wayland protocols with the dbus-based ecosystem Pipewire lives in, and along with KDE’s Roman Glig they had some interesting questions for the presenter.

The second day was quite a bit different. My other role as a volunteer was doing A/V support in the rooms. For this I got a second shirt, with a different color! I think next year I may try to collect them all. This was interesting and slow work, and basically entailed walking down to the stage crouched down to tweak the mic volume until someone on IRC from the war room said it was better. I did get to observe more exciting crises over IRC from the comfort of my relatively normal room, though, and got to play a bit with the astonishingly sophisticated A/V setup FOSDEM uses. After that I grabbed a light lunch and passed the time by playing Magic: the Gathering with a group we found in the FOSDEM bar. I grabbed some Club Mates - I love them but they’re super difficult to get in the United States - and waited until the highlight of the event: the sr.ht and sway meetups.

Big shoutout to the FOSDEM organizers for entertaining our last-minute requests to have a space to meet users of both groups. The turnout for both rooms was way more than I expected - almost 50! It seemed like every seat was filled. I was also surprised at how distinct the groups where, with only a 5-10% overlap. After making sure everyone got a sticker, there was some really great questions and feedback from the sr.ht crowd. A particularly interesting tangent had me defending the email choice to a skeptic and getting a lot of good feedback and insights from the rest of the room, as well as elaborating on my plans to improve the workflow for those less comfortable with email. There was naturally some discussion about the crappy name and my plans to fix it, and I had the pleasure of demoing the experimental Fedora builds live to someone who was asking when there would be Fedora support. It was also great to meet many of the users and contributors who I’ve been working with online, and made sure to thank them in person - particularly Ivan Habunek, a prolific sr.ht contributor who was part of our roaming sway/sr.ht/Arch Linux/etc clan throughout FOSDEM.

The sway meetup was equally fun, and I thank the attendees for bearing with me while I answered the post-meetup questions and comments from the sr.ht crowd - my fault for scheduling two back-to-back sessions. We started off with a bang by releasing sway 1.0-rc1, then turned to questions and feedback from the crowd. Simon had a lot to say during the sway meetup as well, explaining his work and future plans for the project, and together we also explained our somewhat novel philosophy on project governance that I credit the success of the project to. It’s designed to maximize contributors, and it’s entirely to their credit that the success of sway and wlroots is owed. Speaking of the future of sway and wlroots, I also met Guido, an engineer at Purism who works with wlroots, again after our initial meeting at XDC 2018. This time, Guido brought a gift - a Librem 5 dev board for the wlroots team to use. Thank you! You’ll hear more about our work with this board in the coming months as I use it to improve touch support for sway and send it out on loan to various wlroots project developers.

I had a flight home Sunday evening so we had a hasty and delicious dinner, a quick round of beers, and finally parted ways. An overnight in Dublin and here I am - on the plane home to Philly, with 43% of my battery2 and an estimated 3 hours left in-flight. FOSDEM was great - a huge thanks to the organizers and volunteers! I’m looking forward to next year.

  1. The part of the conference which takes place in the hallway, i.e. socializing with other attendees. 

  2. Paranoia about which led me to spend some time optimizing my development environment’s power consumption a bit 

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