Samathy Barratt


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Samathy's First FOSDEM

Since I was a uni student studying Computer Science ( beginning 2014 ), I've wanted to visit the venerable FOSDEM conference. It happens so early in the year that I never seemed to get around to planning the trip before the weekend was too close. Plus, it always felt too expensive to go to as a student, especially if I didn't plan it far enough in advance.

This year, I was organised enough in October to start making motions to plan my visit. Both me and my partner Lex went to FOSDEM, and buffered the weekend with 2 days exploring Brussels.

At least partly by accident, this means I was out of the UK for the 2 most significant Brexit dates so far (The 2016 referendum result, and the January 31st initial leaving date ). We managed to spend Friday 31st of January 2020 wandering around the EU parliament in Brussels.

Getting to FOSDEM from our Brussels central hotel was easy, although the tram ride there was absolutely packed with hacker-dudes.

Unfortunately, we missed the welcome talk by a few mins and opted to get in the queue for T-shirts instead, as I expected they'd sell out in the first morning.

We also missed the first proper talk I wanted to go to, partly on account of the university being a bit of a maze, partly on account of my unwillingness to wander into a talk that'd already started in a hall seating well over 1000 people where the entrance door that we'd found opened right behind the speaker's podium.

Anyway, the first morning of FOSDEM was largely a success. I went to most of the talks I wanted to see, followed by a surprisingly easy lunch affair at the on-site food vans.

The afternoon was somewhat less successful, with both me and Lex missing talks we wanted to see on account some of of the small but popular devrooms either filling up fast, or just starting full and never emptying. The upside of this is that I saw a number of talks that I didn't expect to see and actually really enjoyed. So didn't loose anything really. Lex discovered the live streaming of talks that they didn't make it into and watched the talk in the hallway. So all was not lost, even though the room was full.

We made sure to see as many stalls as we could during the day. I was particularly excited to see the KDE stand had a PinePhone running KDE Plasma Mobile especially.

We left the event fairly early, at about 5:30 due to it being an exhausting day with so many people and so much rushing around between buildings.

We ventured back into Brussels central for Hackerspace Brussels's ByteNight FOSDEM after party, which turned out to be fun as well as a good chance to see another Hackspace!

Sunday was a later start. I ended up spending the majority of the day in the Microkernels and Component-OS devroom. Which was a very good idea, as it was very popular all day and I would probably have not got a seat for the most interesting talks if I hadn't stayed sat in the same one most of the day.

Lex left earlier on Sunday while I stayed for a talk on PostmarketOS and lastly, John 'maddog' Hall's talk. The PostmarketOS + Maemo talk inspired me to dig out the Nokia n900 I got about a year ago and restart researching how to make it usable.

Both me and Lex learned a lot at FOSDEM, and were exposed to a bunch of projects we didn't even know might exist! I leave feeling a renewed vigor to contribute to something.

We both very much enjoyed FOSDEM and I would recommend anyone interested in Free and OpenSource software taking a trip at least once.

Be prepared for a, long, draining weekend though. FOSDEM is busy, intense and exhausting.

Take notes of talks, of course. It's easy to forget what you learned when you see so much!

Use the FOSDEM Companion app if you can. I also planned my talk options the Friday night before and put them in my calendar to help visualise what overlapped with what and prioritise what I wanted to see.

I would highly recommend avoiding switching rooms as much as possible. It can take a while to find the next room which can mean missing a talk slot entirely if it's fill when you arrive, unless another interesting talk is in the same building.

If you want a tshirt, get in the queue early to avoid disappointment. K building tshirt stand had much smaller queues than the J building.

FOSDEM is live-streamed, and recorded, so not making it into talks you wanted to see is not the end of the world. Its also a good opportunity to see a talk that wasn't your first choice!

If you can, especially in the devrooms, sit as close to the front as possible. The devrooms are small, but the microphones provided by FOSDEM to the speakers are only for the cameras recording the talk, not amplification. Therefore meek speakers are very hard to hear.

I'll probably go to FOSDEM again next year, if you're there, say Hi.