2019 FOSDEM logo on my volunteer t-shirt


FOSDEM 2019: report

I guess you can call open source a lifestyle, and every lifestyle has its own gatherings. In Europe, FOSDEM is a very popular gathering. The website boasts 8000+ visitors (‘hackers’ they say) and 742 lectures, I myself add loads of fun and a world of opportunities.

I don’t think that there is any aspect of “open source” that is not covered in this conference. From the latest programming languages (Go, Rust, you name it) to community building, and from legal issues and to design and usability, and everything else you can imagine… there were talks, and meetings that you could contribute to.

In this report, I will discuss some general points regarding this conference, and discuss the tasks that I had this year. Of course, I also went a listened to some talks, I will mention them briefly, too.


I attended quite a few lectures this year. There are different types of lectures. There are some that are held in a very large hall, others that are themed and grouped together (the Community DevRoom piqued my interest especially) and others that are more like community meet-ups.

Lecture hall

In the lecture hall (Janson Building, holds about 1,500 people) topics that are of interest to large audiences are held.

Yours truly at Janson -ready for heralding

Overview of the Janson Lecture Hall

I attended (and heralded) a session by DuckDuckGo (DDG). The session was perhaps a bit light on the actual software used at DDG, but it did touch upon many of the privacy issues that are present on the internet. DuckDuckGo does make some fine tools to circumvent (or at least make you aware) of the issues.

DDG’s Chris Brind

Developer Rooms

Developer Rooms (DevRooms) are a range of talks for self-organising groups, for working together and to to discuss relevant topics. Topics range from BSD to Blockchain, and from Legal and Policy Issues to Free Software Radio.

Unfortunately it was impossible to attend everything I want to see - luckily all talks are videotaped and accessible through the FOSDEM website.

The Community DevRoom deserves a special attention. It’s a veritable Labour of Love of Leslie Hawthorn and Laura Czajkowski, two well-known faces in Community Management in Open Source. They also have a very readable and down-to-earth sub-site on Medium.

Last but not least:

There are snacks…

A suitcase full!

I attended a few talks in the Community DevRoom and they were quite good, and of a diverse nature. I learned something on metrics at Pivotal, on resecurrection of the national Linux association Hamakor and also on coaching in Open Source, particularly at Mozilla Italia. All very valuable knowledge - I feel richer for knowing this.

Dawn Foster on Community Metrics

Tomer Brisker introducing Hamakor

Candid insight in Hamarkor’s finances

This is what makes up an active ecosystem

Look at that opening slide!

Into the nitty-gritty of coaching by Daniele Scasciafratte

Birds of a Feather meetings

The Birds of a Feather meetings are community meeting rooms, meant to discuss topics (or brainstorm) or just meet for specific communities. I joined the one hosted by Jolla, the makers of SailfishOS.

In the pictures you can see Simonas Leleiva, a Jolla Employee discussing points of view with the community. Doing camera work was the other Sailor (Jolla employee) Vesku Hartikainen - he’s not in any of my pictures.

Jolla’s Simonas Leleiva

Point of View picture

Just after the release a new betaversion of Sailfish X (now up to version for the Sony XA2 devices) there was plenty to discuss. As a small operating system, the list of wishes is endless and the amount of resources quite finite. All the more appreciated that they made the effort to come out and speak to the community. The browser, Qt and how to involve the community remain popular topics for discussion.

Well-known Jolla user (and former Jolla employee, now RedHat) Carol Chen made a few 360° pictures.

Group pic - taken by Carol Chen

Group pic - taken by Carol Chen


FOSDEM offers some great opportunities for volunteering, and you get ample recognition, too.

This year, I volunteered for the first time. There are many tasks, but I volunteered at the Infodesk, and in Heralding. The last task means that you announce and briefly introduce a speaker (if they want it) and that you take care or order in a room.

The first task, at the Infodesk involves taking donations from visitors and giving out a t-shirt or book token in return. Of course, you answer many questions too. There is no real pattern in the questions, but they range from public transport to lost and found and recommending lectures to other visitors.

The heralding perhaps in this case isn’t quite my thing (it’s not so easy to add your own twist in the FOSDEM setting). However, I really enjoyed the work at the Infodesk, together with peers. I made some new friends, and yes, I think I look cool in orange, too :)

Alongside another volunteer - picture by Swapnali Jalande

General stands

Of course, many of projects devoted to free and open software have a stand at FOSDEM. Of course you will find the major Linux and *BSD operating systems, but also less well-known projects such as IsdardVDI for VDI deployment and Schul-Frei which focuses on free and open software in schools.

Phython stand - picture by Swapnali Jalande

Kiwi TCMS - picture by Swapnali Jalande

Perl - picture by Swapnali Jalande

I liked the PINE64 stand too, especially their Pinebook was a very nice piece of demo kit.

Pinebook Demo

And of course, in general, the stands are also excellent places to get a few stickers for your laptop lid :)

Pinebook Demo - and stickers :)

Corridor track

If you walk the corridors you meet many people, and I have found all people at the conference to be very approachable. If you recognise a face from a talk or an article, most people don’t mind if you ask them a further question or anything else, really.

Many projects’ voltuneers also have hats on to make it easy to recognise them. The Videoland/VLC team has cones on the head (as you would expect) and those with a red hat often know their yum from a deb :)

In this way, you’ll soon find the people you want to speak to. It has been very effective for me.


Attending conferences like these are very useful if you are involved (even as a user) in any type of open hard- or software. You can make your mark on the projects that you really enjoy using, say hello to the developers and can contribute in many different ways.

Open Source lives on contributions of all types… programmers, documentation, organisation, whatever. Every contribution counts, and perhaps more importantly, everything is valued too. I have therefore been making it a point to attend such conferences whenever I can. The next opportunity for me is the Chemnitzer Linux-Tage on 16 and 17 March, in Chemnitz (Germany), where you can see me moderating the Community and Infrastructure tracks.

All pictures are available in full resolution here:

Other conferences

In 2019, I expect to go to several ICT-related conferences, the next one planned is the Chemnitzer Linux-Tage in March. You can read about them here here.

Wian Stienstra
ICT, Strategy, Marketing and More
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