July 21, 2009

OSCON So Far

Article Source Dissociated Press
July 21, 2009, 11:54 am

OSCON has a major problem: There’s way too much to do! So far, this week has been chock full of excitement.

Though not part of the “official” OSCON program, the Community Leadership Summit started on Saturday. Lots of people from OSCON were in attendance, but also a fair number of people from communities that have nothing to do with open source. This was a pretty good mix. A few hundred people showed up Saturday morning, and a smaller crowed turned up Sunday.

Overall, had a number of good conversations and attended a handful of interesting sessions. One topic that kept coming up, over and over again, is the problem of “that guy” in the community — you know, the disruptive element in the community that makes things less than pleasant for the people who want to get real work done. Some of these folks are disruptive intentionally, some because they mean well but suck at expressing themselves, and some (frankly) because they’re not on their meds. Whatever the reason, though, it seems every community has had this as a major pain point.

This is something I want to blog about a bit more later, but the overall consensus is it’s only something that can be mitigated, not solved. That’s too bad, because I know of a number of people who have reduced their involvement in FOSS over the years due to the drama and headaches involved with dealing with the “poisonous people,” who crop up. (A rather high profile FOSS guy I know objected to the “poisonous” label because he had seen it incorrectly applied to a rather innocent type of community behavior. I agree with him that it’s an unfair application, but the label seems appropriate.)

The glimmer of hope here is that sometimes “that guy” can make a turnaround and be a positive member of a community. One of the attendees confessed that he was “that guy” years ago, but various things helped him get past it, and he’s a pretty valuable member of the FOSS community these days — so there’s some hope!

As usual, the hallway track was particularly useful and worthwhile. I had a chance to catch up with several folks I see infrequently, and find out more about what is going on in other communities.

Another fun discussion was the “Letting go of Leadership,” session that Karsten Wade proposed. In a stroke of genius, Karsten showed up late to the session, illustrating what happens when a group is “leaderless,” and how quickly the vacuum is filled.

Congrats to Jono and the other organizers who put CLS together — went very well, and I think next year’s event will be very interesting. One thing that would be cool is if we had some kind of collaborative project that the attendees could work on together, instead of just having the “unconference.”

OSCON Day One

Monday and Tuesday at OSCON are strictly for tutorials, and I opted to attend the first half of the Foundations meeting and then Damian Conway’s workshop for speakers, and the Writing Open Source Birds of a Feather.

The Foundations meeting was good. Spent some time covering trademarks, which was particularly valuable. Good to know how other projects view trademarks, and also got some good insight into trademark issues that we (openSUSE) haven’t run into yet. Definitely time well spent.

The next item on the agenda was the speaker’s workshop. Last year, I went to a two-day workshop in Waltham, and that was pretty valuable — but very, very corporate. The guys who were doing the workshop were very professional and great at teaching people to do professional presentations aimed at a professional (read: sorta stuffy) audience. Nothing wrong with that, as most of my colleagues are giving business presentations most of the time, and — let’s face it — largely to captive audiences.

Conway, on the other hand, keynotes a lot and gets audiences in the palm of his hand. People line up to see him, and for good reason — the guy is damn good at presenting. So, with the opportunity to get some feedback from Conway, I didn’t need much convincing — even though it was a bit intimidating to actually get up in front of him to be critiqued.

About 40 people showed up, and 10 were given time to get up and give a 5-minute version of their talk to be critiqued. Some of the major takeaways from the session:

  • Be competent in what you‚Äôre speaking about
  • Be passionate about what you‚Äôre speaking about
  • Whether you like it or not, you have to be entertaining ‚Äî people have too many opportunities to tune out
  • Be prepared. No really. Be really prepared. Conway said he spends a huge amount of time (like 50 hours) preparing for a 1-hour keynote. Hard to do if you‚Äôre also employed full time and the presentation is not your full-time gig.
  • Be stylish
  • Be yourself ‚Äî harder than it sounds, most people have trouble relaxing and being themselves in front of a group.

And, find some way to make your presentation a story — not necessarily a “once upon a time” type story, but something with a coherent narrative structure.

This is, of course, the Cliff Notes version of the workshop. I found it particularly valuable. If you have a chance to participate in a similar session do it! Your audience will thank you.

The Writing Open Source BoF was pretty good — people from several different projects turned out, and we had a good discussion about various issues around documentation. I hope to see more projects getting involved in WOS in the future, it’s a good idea. After hearing all the discussion around work going on in Drupal, I’m inspired to check out the Drupal tutorial later today (Tuesday) at OSCON.

Tomorrow, the exhibit hall opens and we’ll be running the Novell booth with representation from openSUSE, SUSE Studio, Mono, and Kablink. Should be a great time — look forward to talking openSUSE and hearing what kind of questions people have.

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