I’ve been to this event a bunch of times over the years, always as a speaker I think. But if I couldn’t speak I’d probably pay real money to come anyway. It feels, for the moment, still essential.
Software’s open-source-ness (or not) seems hardly newsworthy these days. For you youngsters, there was a time when it was controversial, something that mattered, and there were businesses with no-OSS policies, and you felt like you were swimming upstream if you insisted on running GNU/Linux or Apache or MySQL or whatever.
Missing a couple of years let me look at OSCON with fresh eyes, I think. Here’s what I saw.
People · The crowd is a little greyer and a little less gender-imbalanced. It’s not as though it’s half women or anything, but it may be pushing close to a quarter, way above average for a hard-geek event.
This isn’t an accident; the O’Reillyans work hard at it, but nobody’s satisfied with the way things are.
On the age thing, I bet if you drew a graph of people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and older, the 40s & 50s bars would be highest, but it’d be reasonably flat. One person I was talking to raised an explicit concern that we’re not replacing ourselves and are in danger of aging away.
There’s something in that; the first generation of OSS loudmouths is still by and large active, and quite a few of them, er us, end up on the stage at OSCON year after year. I’m not convinced though; there were plenty of fresh faces among the grizzled ones.
We’re Hiring! · Oh. My. God. Man, if you’re a geek looking for work and can make it to at least the trade-fair part of OSCON, well you should. There were several outfits there whose booths were basically recruiting stations. I enjoyed reading the job boards just for their vigor and variety.
Best Talk · Totally The Joy of Flying Robots with Clojure by Carin Meier. She told us how when she was a little girl she wanted a Robot Friend, and now that she’s a grownup programmer realized that a Roomba might be one, and a drone quadracopter might be another, and then made them dance together for us by running Clojure functions out of Emacs. The audience was putty in her hands.
Tech · “Hey boss, you speaka da cloud database mobile devops languages tools?” About what you’d expect, I guess. The OSCON crowd’s placement on the tech spectrum is a mile wide and an inch deep, so lots of the sessions are pretty well introductory. I’m fine with that, I usually go to sessions on things I don’t know much about.
And there are deep dives; my favorite was Bruce Eckel’s 40 very considered minutes on error handling, its comparative history, and some new thinking provoked by Scala and Go. This is How It’s Done in Go:
result, err = SomeFunction()
That idiom certainly made me think a little differently, and obviously I’m not the only one.
The OS in OSCON · This year, it stood for OpenStack. Lots of glitzy stands from the BigCos, lots of arm-waving. I went and spent some time surveying the API and wow, it’s big.
Disclosure: I have an attitude problem. The hell with APIs, I’m horribly cynical about clouds in general; and in particular about “private clouds” which I see in the light cast by the dollar signs glowing in hardware vendors’ eyes at the thought of everyone bulking up their infrastructure so they’ll have the slack capacity to keep those automated API-driven deployments snappy.
And damn, that’s a great big honking API. And, it glories in doing both XML and JSON, which I have long argued is actively harmful. And, I distrust the motives of (some of) the people pitching it.
I dunno, maybe there’s some really useful there there. But I have to confess that my BS-detectors were twitchin’ and quiverin’.
Culture · It’s eclectic. It’s forgiving. It’s partly on the autism spectrum. There are hippies and entrepreneurs and Burners and marketers and sexual minorities and activists. I will say that a few of those people could do with a little more time out playing Ingress.
I’m comfortable there; I can find something to talk about with more or less every one of them, and I know in advance that the way they look or sound tells me nothing useful about them; which is a wonderful thing. I learn something useful every ten minutes.