It’s my favorite conference, I think. I love the smaller, more focused events too, but OSCON is a gathering of the tribes and we need one of those.
Gosh, in Portland this time of year, even the street people are wired.
Oh wait, that’s Tim O’Reilly.
What is OSCON For? · I think the question is important; the conference isn’t as big as it once was and I’d hate for it to start sliding downhill. Maybe it needs more focus on what it’s about. I don’t really think it’s about Open Source as a whole, which is good as that subject has become inconveniently large and diffuse.
OSCON had its roots in the Perl conference, and remains at its core about the practice of writing and improving computer programs. Infrastructure conferences like Apachecon and the various Linux meetups tend to dip unapologetically into deployment and infrastructure and administration issues, and there’s nothing at all wrong with that. But it’s a fine thing to have a program that centers around what programmers build and the tools they build with.
OSCON is not actually incorrect as a name because in this day and age, most of the tools for constructing computer programs — essentially everything that’s not from Microsoft — are open-source.
I’m not sure what, if anything, I’m proposing; not a change of name, but maybe a bit more acknowledgment of the fact that this is a programmers’ event.
Keynotes · I thought they were on balance a little less gripping than the track sessions. Some of this was a consequence of the organizers’ public-spiritedness; a determination that the geeks in the crowd really ought to care about Open Government and Open Healthcare Informatics and so on, whether or not they were actually technically interesting or not. Hard to argue with that.
But then there was that bad old tradition, the keynote-for-the-sponsor. I won’t name names, but I thought a couple of those were pathetically lame.
Another problematic example was Simon Wardley’s polished and thorough Situation Normal, Everything Must Change. There was nothing wrong at all with Simon’s material or presentation; but it was about Cloud stuff, and in fact the OSCON crowd by and large just didn’t care. I’m talking about keynotes full of material that someone thought the attendees should care about, as opposed to what they actually did.
Casting my eye back over the list, the only keynote focused clearly on the craft and science of programming was Rob Pike’s Public Static Void; I wasn’t there, but it was well-reviewed. If I were the conference organizers, I’d be looking for some more pure-programming pieces.
Google and Android · Were there ever a lot of Googlers in Portland; twenty-plus by my count. Let me say something that’s perhaps controversial: OSCON is quite possibly the world's pre-eminent gathering of people who think practically about better ways to create computer programs. Since Google lives and dies on its ability to create better computer programs, we ought to be there, learning and teaching; I’m glad we were.
I was primarily focused on Android of course, and came away with a smile. The OSCON gang was interested and friendly, turning out in force for our sessions. Whenever I turned my Mac on, it saw WiFi networks with names like “AndroidAP” and “JoesDroid”.
The big deal for us was the Wednesday-evening Android Hands-On. We had unannounced (but I think not unpredicted) Nexus One phones for the three hundred or so attendees, which produced a lot of big smiles.
As the event ran, all I could think of was ways to improve the program, but it can’t have been that bad because almost everybody stayed right through to the 9:30PM end. To my delight and amazement, the network stayed up under the strain of 300 or so phones syncing up Gmail and calendars and contacts, not to mention downloading the 80 or so megabytes of Froyo. Whoever does WiFi for the O’Reilly events, you should hire ’em too.
It’s the first time we’d run an event in just this style, and I think there are lots of ways to improve it.
This event was a little bit controversial inside Google. The Android leadership (appropriately) includes people with strong consumer-electronics experience; it wasn’t obvious to them that all these open-source hippies constituted a good potential pool of mobile-app developers.
Personally, I can’t imagine a better one. We’ll see if I’m right; in the meantime, my most sincere thanks to the skeptics who gave this a chance, to David McLaughlin for marshaling resources, to Roman Nurik, Justin Mattson, and Dan Galpin for their teaching, and especially to the other Googlers and O’Reillyans who rallied around and made the not-fully-thought-through logistics run smooth.
People · It’s a cliché all right, but a good one: the real reason to attend is the people you meet who are stimulating and cool and not coincidentally members of your own tribe.