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.


Why I won't be going to OSCON this year.

Posted by Jim Jagielski on Friday, July 17. 2015 in Junk Drawer

OSCON is next week, but if you are looking for me, I won't be there.

The "why" behind that decision is kind of complicated, but it's a decision that has been brewing for quite awhile.

First of all, however, don't take this as some sort of post designed to convince you to not go; that is not my intention. It's just an explanation of why, at least for me and others, OSCON is no longer one of the "Must Attend" conferences of the Open Source world.

  1. The speakers are different:
    Back in the day, pretty much every speaker was one of the core developers behind the open source project they were talking about. This made OSCON a great opportunity to learn about the project from the experts: the people who actually wrote it, people who were intimately involved. Not so much anymore. More than likely, presentations will be made by "community managers" or marketing folks from companies leveraging the project. Ask them a technical question and the answer you'll get is "Give me your name and number and I'll have one of our developers get in touch with you."

  2. The audience is different:
    It seems to me that the vast majority of the audience aren't really developers, and if they are, they aren't there as developers. They are there to be seen or marketed by their companies ("Be sure to wear a company t-shirt!"), or they are there to hang out with their old buddies. Few are there to learn (mostly because the content is simplified) or hone their skills. There also aren't many people there who are interested in "learning what this whole open source thing is about" or even "what this open source project is about". No, it seems that most of the audience are marketing people, or people hoping to make business connections.

    Now don't get me wrong here. When I attend a conference and my employer is footing the bill, the least I can do is wear a company T-shirt and make sure that my employer gets the recognition and credit they deserve. Nothing bad or unacceptable about that. But when you are there only as a prop, well, something is amiss. And sure, I also understand how the success of open source is based on the acceptance of it by companies (heck, the whole idea of the term "open source" was to make it more palatable to corporate interests), so I have nothing against marketing and business alliances either. It's just that, at least for me, OSCON isn't the place for it, at least to the extreme that it is today. Unless you are in Marketing or Strategic Alliances, what does OSCON actually hold for you?

  3. The speakers are the same:
    Read through the list of speakers. Now compare it with last years list. Sweet Sassy Molassy that's a lot of repeats! In fact, there are a large number of names that you can be pretty much guaranteed to be speaking year after year. Really? It's become almost a joke submitting a talk; unless you are one of the blessed, your talk must be exceptional and direct and non controversial. The "usual group" can submit anything they want and it'll be selected; the unwashed masses? Good luck.

  4. The cost is burdensome:
    The reason why OSCON is mostly a business-related conference is because with the amount of money it costs to attend, it is really out-of-reach for "regular" people. The only way people can attend is if their company picks up the bill. Hardly a good way to build a grass-roots community.

So what conferences do I go to and enjoy? Well, there is ApacheCon, of course. But there are also POSSCON and All Things Open. These are great conferences because they have a true mix of speakers and attendees, where speakers are there to teach, and attendees are there to learn. More than OSCON, these conferences are, IMO, an accurate reflection of the open source ecosystem, as it is and as it should be; they embrace all aspects of the open source community.

So no, I won't be at OSCON this year. But if you do attend have fun and drink a pint for me.


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