The OSCON 2013 experience

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We're live blogging from OSCON 2013 in Portland, OR. Keep coming back here for updates. Tweets from @opensourceway at the hashtag #oscon. Jump to day 2 keynotes and sessions or jump to day 3 keynotes.

Welcome: 15 years of OSCON

Sarah Novotny of Meteor Entertainment and Matthew McCullough of GitHub, Inc., welcome the audience. They asked the crowd who has a GitHub account (lots of hands went up). Then, they asked how many of those folks have licenses on their code (not so many hands went up). Having no license on your code isn’t a feature, it’s a bug. They walked the crowd through

Keynotes and sessions from day 1


The first plenary keynote speaker was Jeff Hawkins of Numenta, Inc. His talk was called: On Open Intelligence and provided a lesson on the subject of neuroscience. His goals are to discover the operating principles of the neocortex and then build systems based on these principles.

Jay Parikh of Facebook gave an update on The Open Compute Project (OCP). When Facebook launched the project they wanted to build more efficient and flexible data center infrastructure. Think open hardware at the lowest possible cost. There have been numerous new contributors to the project and Facebook has moved from being the founder to just a major contributor. The OCP Networking Project kicked off in May to unlock the last remaining proprietary pieces in the OCP stack.

Mark Hinkle, Director of Open Source at Citrix, gave a keynote called Creating Communities of Inclusion. How do we include more people in our communities to make the software we create, better? A few years ago, a lot of open source communities looked the same. But not every community should look the same. And we’re starting to see that today.

Hinkle shared some of the lessons that he learned over the years. Open source is not a zero sum gain and we work better when we collaborate across our communities. "We won. Open source is everywhere. It's time to take it to the next level and make the world a better place." It’s time to take it beyond software.

Live hardware demos on stage were part of  the Joy of Flying Robots with Clojure keynote by Carin Meier from Neo. "Robots are great fun to program," said Meier. She hacked and demoed both a Roomba and an AR.Drone. We then watched a video of both of those robots talking to each other in a robotic dance.

Russell P. Reeder of Media Temple, Inc. talked about the secret ingredient in open source. He said it is "you" (referring to the audience) and the open source community. I tend to agree with that, but I think there is something more to it. Passion!

Open source in education is the challenge that inBloom is facing with their start-up. Sharren Bates from inBloom shared some of the difficulties with applications in the education system. The apps all need the same student data and needs to understand who can access it. Their start-up is looking to address the problem around this meta data and create an interoperable platform. InBloom can provide the expertise for working with kids and teachers; they get enthusiasm and expertise from the open source community. InBloom needs storytellers, writers, open source software process gurus, java developers, and ORM experts. Get involved.

The final keynote was called Redefining What's Possible On Mobile and Cloud by Mark R. Shuttleworth from Canonical Ltd. He talked about designing for a family of interfaces: TV, desktop, tablet, and phone. Shuttleworth also stressed the importance of having convergence "under the hood"—one device should be able to provide multiple experiences. He also talked about Ubuntu mobile and made some product announcements.


10 Secrets to Sustainable Open Source Communities, Elizabeth Leddy (East of Eaton)

All communities are not created equal. Leddy began by asking "What are you looking for in a community?" She shared stories and lessons learned from her experience in the Plone community. Leddy provided insights and reminded us to think globally in our communities. She also talked extensively about culture, having a non-profit foundation, governance, and to be awesome and expect awesome. She ended with a quote to remind us how to be awesome: "You are responsible for the energy you bring into this room."

Using Open Source in the Classroom Every Single Day, Jon Roberts (Davis School District)

Open source can have a huge impact in the education sector. Jon Roberts is bringing open source technology into his classroom. He walked us through why open source should be used in education, the obstacles and barriers to using it in the classroom, and then shared examples during "show and tell." Roberts is using Kig to replace Geometric sketchpad and other tools like Kmplot, Katrium, Kstars, Kgeography, and Scratch. Here's a more detailed post about this session by Nicole Engard.

Should Campaign Technology be Open Sourced? OSS During a Presidential Election, Ryan Resella (Upworthy)

Ryan Resella was on the Voter Contact team with the Obama for America campaign. After the election, Resella pondered if campaign technology should be open sourced? The voter registration platform the campaign used was re-written under an open source license so that it could be re-purposed and re-used. It was the first time a presidential campaign released a piece of software they built for a campaign under an open source license. Resella believes that the future of campaign tech is open source.

Burnout and Bickering: a Community Manager's Guide to Conflict, Jono Bacon (Canonical Ltd)

As the person who wrote the book, The Art of Community Management, Jono Bacon shared his experience in community management during this session. He identified why conflict happens and talked about the mediation role. Bacon also covered ways to identify burnout and a few tips on how to effectively manage this form of stress in a community.

Become a Digital Humanitarian Open Data and Open Source for Good, Moderated by: Kate Chapman (Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team)

Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software (HFOSS) is making a real difference in the world. It’s helping to save lives, responding to disasters, and hacking for good. Kate Chapman lead a panel discussion with HFOSS experts, including Thea Aldrich (SecondMuse), Lindsay Oliver (Geeks Without Bounds), Heather Leson (Ushahidi), Sara Farmer (Change Assembly), and Pat Tressel (Sahana Software Foundation). One of the debated questions was around duplication in HFOSS world. One panel member said it’s creating problems and silo's. These groups are into maps, hacks, and data—and they could use volunteers and your open source expertise.



Keynotes and sessions from day 2


"I’m going to talk about race. Which is super awkward," said Laura Weidman Powers with CODE2040. Her keynote was about diversity in the innovation economy and how her organization is preparing now for what’s predicted to be a different demographic in 20 years. There is a lack of diversity in the technology sector and innovation economy. Powers identified two major shifts happening in the United States. First, software is eating the world and is a key component of nearly every industry. Second, we’re going to see a massive demographic shift where by 2040, 42% of the population will be black or latino. These two factors are important to open source because it will effect our communities and what they look like in the future. But more importantly, these changes will impact and influence the workforce.

"Work on things that matter." We’ve been hearing this from several speakers at the conference. Jared Smith from Bluehost took the stage with Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Media and Michal Migurski from Code For America to have a discussion about making government more effective. They shared a video highlighting the efforts from a Code for America Brigade called OpenOakland out of Oakland, CA. I was excited to see that my book made a cameo appearance in the video! Migurski shared ways to get involved. Their fellowship program application deadline is at the end of the month, you can join one of over 40 brigades in the US or start your own and even if you just have an idea, be sure to share it with #wec4a. 

Tom Preston-Werner from GitHub started his keynote with some thoughts on decision making. He talked first about principles, freedom, and the public domain. Then, the talk quickly turned to licenses, or really, the lack of software developers defining a license for their code. "Software without a license restricts freedom," said Preston-Werner, and he urged developers with code on GitHub to remove any barriers to software freedom. Furthermore, he explained what the MIT license is and directly suggested that developers use this license for their code. The GPL wasn't completely lost in the shuffle though as he compared the two side-by-side, declaring that the MIT license offers both freedom and simplicity. To wrap things up, Preston-Werner took us back to decision making: "If you start with freedom, you can finish with happiness."

Leigh Heyman from the Executive Office of the President shared a story about We The People, the open source petition platform built by The White House. The platform allows citizens to create petitions and they get an official response from The White House if they reach the threshold of required signatures. But making the platform open source was just the beginning. Heyman showed a video with US President Barack Obama asking The White House technology team, "What’s the next big thing?" The answer: APIs for The response from the President, "APIs for, what does that mean?" Heyman and his staff are moving forward with creating a readable API. They are hosting hackathons at The White House and hope to release a beta version of a writable API in late summer or early fall.



Open Sourcing Hardware with GitHub, Christopher Clark (SparkFun Electronics Inc.)

There are some challenges with open hardware. It comes mostly in the form of versioning with firmware and hardware. SparkFun has open schematics and designs and choose the open source way from the very beginning. They choose open source because testing is difficult, engineers are expensive, but users are engineers—and the end consumers tend to be part of the community. Clark described how SparkFun uses Git for version control and GitHub for distribution and community. They’ve had to change some of their internal practices such as naming repositories, managing pull requests, licensing, and providing README files. They also have to provide guidance about their products. SparkFun provides tutorials and recently added a dedicated quality assurance (QA) resource as a community manager. Next, SparkFun is looking to grow their community.

Open Source Automotive Development, Jeff Payne (OpenCar, Inc.), Sam Skjonsberg (OpenCar, Inc.)

The car is becoming a personal mobile command center, but drivers can’t let go of their devices. The automobile industry is moving forward with creating proprietary software for device sensors, onboard entertainment, controls, and host services. There is a need to create an ecosystem around these unique attributes in the auto industry "It will be a long time before there are open standards for all of this," said  Jeff Payne, OpenCar Inc. But where does the user experience meet automotive safety? There is a long list of safety standards and OpenCar has developed a set of safety principles for their project. Some of the items in this list include: not distracting or visually entertaining the driver, ensuring all text and icons are legible, and maintaining ample contrast in all lighting situations. We’re beginning to see the emergence of the the car as a platform and the outstanding question is, will this platform be open or not?

Choose Your Own Adventure - Growing Your Own Career in Open Source, Amye Scavarda (Acquia), Leslie Hawthorn (Red Hat)

"Your mileage may vary," said Leslie Hawthorn to kick off this session. Along with Amye Scavarda, this duo gave a dynamic presentation on practical advice on careers in open source. With a disclaimer, their advice included establishing your current baseline, discover your options, and think about what works for you. They noted that short and long-term goals are different than short and long-term gains. There will be unexpected opportunities—and they should be considered and explored fully. One of the most important take-aways was that as you go through this process, it’s really about self-discovery. And remember, you are the only one to say what success if for you.

Hardware Hacking With Your Kids, Dave Neary (Red Hat)

One of the things Dave Neary values in the open source movement is the read/write ethos. As a parent, he’s trying to instill the values from the open source and hacker communities: sharing is good, freedom is not having to ask permission, and with freedom comes responsibility. Neary provided six tips for indoctrinating kids in the hacker way: creative toys, hackable living space (bedrooms), grow a garden, arts and craft, teaching electronics, and coding literacy. He also stressed that there is value in creation and creating learning experiences. The key part to all of this us that he wants his kids to know that they have control over their environment.




Keynotes from day 3


"The thing you’re doing has already done before," said John Graham-Cumming from CloudFlare. His talk was called Turing's Curse. "It’s not depressing, it means that a degree in computer science is worthwhile." A degree in computer science has value. Graham-Cumming also highlighted that we are living in an age of great productivity. We’re building on technology and linking it together. But we have yet to conquer unreliability. We need to work on reliability, make fewer mistakes, and help others find their mistakes.

"Why is distinction important and how do you get it?" asked Robert Lefkowitz from Sharewave, commonly referred to as "r0ml" in the open source community. We need to manufacture distinction. We like to say we won in open source. So many people in open source have done so many distinguished things. He wants members of the open source community to join professional organizations and recognize each other's efforts.

Piers Cawley from Thermeon took the audience to space. With a song. And a dance. Apparently there wasn’t yoga scheduled for this morning so this was our calisthenics. Then he led the audience in a sing-along, A Chat With Your Mother (here's a version). And that’s how we ended the keynotes at OSCON.

Jason Hibbets is a Community Director at Red Hat with the Digital Communities team. He works with the Enable Architect, Enable Sysadmin, Enterprisers Project, and community publications.


Nicole Engard ‏(@nengard) is also blogging from OSCON. Check out her recent posts on

Someone should tell Ryan Resella that CiviCRM originated with the Howard Dean campaign.

Thanks for writing this up for those of us who had to 'attend' OSCON vicariously.

No problem Joshua, just trying to share my experience!

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