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.


4 Comments for this entry

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  • Bradley M. Kuhn
    jimjag, I agree with a lot of your assesments, but not all of them. First of all, I think even as a "Usual Suspect" speaker, it's tough to get any controversial topic accepted at OSCON. My talk this year, for example, was blocked by some muckity-muck who felt "copyleft isn't relevant to the OSCON audience". A few of the committee complained on my behalf, and won a hard fought last minute acceptance. But your point about the speakers primarily being company reps selling product at OSCON is definitely true. The sad part is there are now few events where that isn't true. Linux Foundation events, for example are much worse in this regard, and the speaker selection at LF events is even more biased than at OSCON: these days, OSCON is actually more community oriented than an LF event. For example, I helped organize a track at an LF event, and I was told to reject a speaker that I would have otherwise accepted because his company had refused to buy an LF sponsorship. (I don't help organize LF events anymore, in part because of that :-) I've never been to an Apache Con, but I got worried when I saw LF now organizes them. Has the ASF been able to keep LF's trade-association influence out of ApacheCon organizing (i.e., do you use LF as an service provider)? Finally, I'm surprised you mention POSSCON and ATO as meeting the criteria you mention. Those are *excellent* events, but they are excellent in part because they are geared toward newbies and users, not developers and experts. I always pitch intro talks for ATO and POSSCON (I'm speaking at both this year!) and they've been well received. That makes them really excellent advocacy events for FLOSS, but you rarely find key developers there, since most key developers don't want to give intro talks (although I wish more of them would)! At this point, the only community-oriented lots-of-key-developers-around conference appears to be FOSDEM. I agree with you that OSCON definitely isn't it anymore.
  • A.
    Even though I understand what you mean, it is funny to note that titles at no. 1 and 3 collide: "The speakers are different" vs. "The speakers are the same".
  • Louis
    I'm also not going to Oscon this year—I've pretty much been going since the start—and for much the same reasons you give. I too am in favour of more expansive and, please!, interesting events. Those that actually introduce not the latest same old but actually something new done by actual community members. And Oscon, oh, Oscon, fails to be anything other than an increasingly more expensive version of its former glory. Enough. The world's far more interesting than that and there are very smart and engaged communities out there. And many do not seem to be even thinking about Oscon.
  • MzK
    I'm sure you'll be missed, but I can't fault your reasoning! :-)

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