Constructive Criticism

Posted by Jim Jagielski on Sunday, July 19. 2015 in Junk Drawer

My previous post (Why I won't be going to OSCON this year) generated a lot of twitter comments and a lot of private feedback, mostly agreeing with my points and one actually calling me "brave" for making such a post. I'm not so sure about the "brave" part, but I think I kind of made it obvious that the post was my own personal opinion as well as that shared by many others. It was a grieving  for the OSCON that was and a lament on what it has turned into.

One tweet however confused me. In it, I was told that my post wasn't "constructive". I really don't see how that was the case. It seemed to me kinda obvious on what suggestions I was making, but to make it crystal clear, and easy to grok, let's list them, shall we.

  1. The speakers are different:
    My complaint is that most speakers were not the actual developers behind the projects. The solution is obvious: have more developers as speakers. When someone is talking about the architecture behind some code, I want to hear about it from the person who designed it.

  2. The audience is different:
    Here I was lamenting the skew of the audience away from the technical and more towards the business/marketing point of view. By having parts of OSCON actually be concerned about the tech, the audience might just skew back to something more reasonable.

  3. The speakers are the same:
    This one is real easy. With a conference as large as OSCON, and with a conference that obviously gets a huge number of session and speaking proposals, the fact that a large portion of speakers are the same from year-to-year is either laziness or favoritism or fear-of-change. For a conference around open source, which is all about energy, enthusiasm, building community, creating opportunities and the need for change, that mindset is really counter to the core. Solution: Mix it up regarding the speakers.

  4. The cost is burdensome:
    Another easy one. Reduce the cost. Make it easier for students and the pure volunteer open source contributors to attend. Use some of the huge sponsorship funds to reduce ticket prices. Help foster the next generation of open source enthusiasts.

As someone mentioned, most people go to OSCON today for the "hallway track" and as a social excuse to meet up with old friends and colleges. These later years, that's why I went, as well as for the occasional worthwhile (IMO) session. And I agree that conferences are a social event, and should be. But when it becomes the sole or primary reason for a conference, then maybe that conference needs to be re-thought (At Apache, we had this some exact issue with ApacheCon, resulting in our changing producers and re-focusing on outreach and info for a larger audience).

In the first post I specifically said that it wasn't meant to dissuade anyone from attending OSCON. It was a listing of why I (and others) don't go, with a specific set of reasons behind that decision. That certainly sounds like constructive criticism to me, at least to anyone actually willing to listen.


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