One of the highlights of my time at LinuxCon and CloudOpen this year in New Orleans was the first-ever women in open source luncheon held the very first day of the conference. It was a real pleasure and an inspiration to see women from all backgrounds and levels of experience with Linux and open source come together to talk about their skills and interests in technology.
There were no formal presentations. Instead each of the more than 50 women had the chance to stand up and introduce herself and share her experiences as a woman and a professional in the Linux community and the tech industry in general.
"It's important to The Linux Foundation to have a place where women can learn from each other and be supported," said Jennifer Cloer, Linux Foundation director of communications in her welcoming remarks. "We want to give women more opportunities to connect."
All women attending the conference were invited to the lunch. And though it represented a small subset of total attendees at LinuxCon, which draws more than 1,100 Linux professionals each year, the lunch felt huge, especially to those who could remember being the only woman at other open source conferences in the past.
Karen Copenhaver, a software licensing attorney with some 30 years in the industry, was among the women attending the lunch and ended the roundtable with some inspiring remarks.
"When I walked into the room it felt good. I felt like I belonged here," said Copenhaver.
"One of the things I love about working with open source is that the most valuable person in the room is the person everyone trusts," she said. "Many of you can play that role in your communities."
Again and again the women who stood up to talk recounted moments in their careers when they were the only woman in the room. But mostly they spoke enthusiastically about their past and current projects as sysadmins, software developers, Linux kernel developers, network engineers, project and community managers, marketing directors and open source strategists, among other professions. And they expressed their eagerness to see more women succeed in such highly technical fields.
The Linux Foundation, too, is eager to help grow the number of women in open source professions, as well as those attending and speaking at Linux events, said Linux Foundation event coordinator Angela Brown. She encouraged the group to provide feedback and advice on how to improve next year's programs and events. For example, the woman-sized t-shirts available at registration were the direct result of a request from a kernel developer attending a previous event.
"I hope this room continues to grow every year," Brown said.
Many of the women who attended the lunch felt energized by the experience as well and left a little more connected to each other and their profession.
"This was amazing," said Sujatha Gurumurthy, a senior talent advisor at Intel after the lunch, who was attending LinuxCon for the first time. She was breathless and grinning after handing out her business cards to others around the room.
Another first-time LinuxCon attendee was the recipient of one of those cards.
"I love LinuxCon, I think it's amazing," said Lidza Louina, an intern this summer in the Outreach Program for Women and an aspiring kernel developer. She worked with mentor and Linux kernel developer Greg Kroah-Hartman on updating and maintaining Linux device drivers. "It's another learning experience and a great way to network with people."
Indeed, throughout the rest of the conference when I saw one of the women from the lunch in the hallway or in a session, we immediately recognized each other and had a good reason to say "hi" and a starting point for discussion.
I hope to see Lidza, Sujatha, and all of the other women at lunch again next year -- in a room twice as big.