My FOSDEM Experience

I attended FOSDEM this year for the first time ever. In fact, it was my first conference ever, so it was very exciting. Brussels is a lovely city and relatively close to where I live, so I decided to take the opportunity to go.

FOSDEM is one of the biggest Open Source conferences in Europe. It is usually held during the first weekend of February at the Université Libre de Bruxelles

The conference is free and no registration is required, which is great, but it also means it gets really crowded. If you’re a person who suffers from anxiety particularly among crowds like me, this can be intimidating, but there are ways to still have a great experience.

The talks are held in different rooms simultaneously, so you can choose between the Keynotes, Main Tracks, Developer Rooms and Lightning talks. The majority of the talks are held in the Developer Rooms, and there are a lot: JavaScript, Internet of Things, Go, Python, Community, and many, many more. 

I enjoyed all the talks I had the chance to attend, but my favorites were in the Community Devroom. Here are some links to the videos in case you are interested:

Building Ethical Software Under Capitalism

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The Ethics of Open Source

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Cognitive biases, blind spots and inclusion

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All the talks are available here: https://video.fosdem.org/2020/ 

There are a lot of food trucks with different food options, and I was able to easily find vegan options. Of course, these spots are usually crowded so if you don’t like crowds, plan to get your meals during less busy moments. 

If you’re thinking of attending next year, here are some tips:

  • Plan ahead which talks you want to see. This will help you plan your day. 
  • When the rooms are full, the doors close, so you might want to be there 15 minutes before the talk begins.
  • If you’re anxious in crowds or closed spaces, like myself, make sure to stay close to a friend or someone you know 
  • If you’re not feeling well or you feel unsafe, talk to the volunteers, they will help you.

Overall it was an amazing conference, but it also made me realize how truly unbalanced representation is in tech. Although there were some non cis-male people of course, particularly in the JavaScript and Community Devrooms, in general the crowd was overwhelmingly male. 

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Trying to find a woman in the crowd was like playing Where’s Waldo. Oh there’s a lady! Nope, just a long haired dude.

While this is not news to anybody, to actually see it in real life with a live sample of people was an eye opener, and a little unsettling. This is why Outreachy exists.

Outreachy is a paid internship program for people typically underrepresented in tech to work in open source and free software. I got involved with open source as part of my internship with Outreachy, and because Outreachy provides a travel stipend to interns to travel to conferences and events, I was able to attend. So if it wasn’t for Outreachy, I wouldn’t have been in FOSDEM in the first place. I would have probably never even heard of it.

I am definitely planning to go again next year, so if you’re going too, feel free to reach out – maybe we can meet there!

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