How to prepare for an open source conference

Preparing for my first open source conference

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How many open source conferences have you attended?

93 votes tallied
61 votes
3 votes
More than 10
29 votes

It's time for a confession: I have never been to an open source conference.

I've been an open source and free culture advocate for more than half a decade. I've used open source operating systems and applications on my computers and mobile devices for nearly as long. I've contributed to open source documentation efforts. I've organized a university event to promote the principles of open source in college. And I've been writing for

But I've never been to an honest-to-goodness, full-blown conference.

That will change this week, when the team and I head to SouthEast LinuxFest in Charlotte, NC, from June 8-10. To say that I'm excited would be an understatement.

But I'm also overwhelmed. Just look at this presentation schedule. It's packed. In order to decide how I'm going to handle it all, I'll do what I've learned I can always do: ask the open source community for help.

So tell me: What's the best way to experience a Linux conference?

SouthEast LinuxFest (or SELF, as the veterans, I'm told, will call it) begins Friday at 9 a.m. While many attendes will likely be snaking their way across the program grid, hopping between sessions on various open souce technologies like MySQL and FreeNAS, I'll try to confine myself to a speaker track rife with engaging talks on diverse topics like spam control and open source education (by the way, don't miss our own Jason Hibbets speaking on "The Making of an Open Source City" at 4 p.m. that day).

Saturday is bookended by the conference's dual keynotes—one by Robin "Roblimo" Miller, former editor of Slashdot, and another by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, veteran technology journalist who has written about Linux and other open source projects for Computerworld and ZDNet.

Sandwiched between these two powerhouse presentations on Saturday are too many sessions to list (though I must take a moment to mention that correspondent Ruth Suehle will be speaking on open source in popular culture at 10:15 a.m.).

No doubt my head will be spinning as I drift between talks on accessibility in free software, open source cloud technologies, and copyleft licensing. And then there's the 1:30 p.m. talk on Qtractor by Klaatu—yes, the Klaatu—which forces me into another newbie connundrum: How does a timid first-timer work up the courage to get a hero's autograph—and more importantly: what does he have that hero sign?

Between all that, I'll have to figure out how to hold down the fort at the table on the conference's expo floor. If you're headed to Charlotte, be sure to visit, pick up some buttons and stickers, meet other members of our community, and star in a video that we want to create during the weekend.

You won't miss me. I'll be the one with stars in his eyes.

About the author

Bryan Behrenshausen
Bryan Behrenshausen - Bryan edits and manages the Open Organization section of, which features stories about the ways open values and principles are changing how we think about organizational culture and design. He's worked on since 2011. Find him online as semioticrobotic.