OSCON Amsterdam 2015


These are some of my memories after three days of awesomeness at O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, OSCON, in Amsterdam 2015.


The best thing about going to OSCON was the people I got to talk to. It's great to speak to people that write the software that you've used for ages and it's inspiring to meet fellow tribesmen from afar.

Among others, I talked to people from Mozilla, The Document Foundation/LibreOffice, Drupal, Github, the Perl community, O'Reilly (of course), Gitlab and Purism. There's so much going on in the open source world, so much dedication and passion for creating open source software and meeting some of these hard working people is nothing but inspiring.

Compared to a conference like JavaZone, the free and open source profile at OSCON is much stronger. People are a lot more aware of what goes on in the FOSS scene and the geek factor are a couple of notches higher. It's great to be a place where it's natural to ask if and what open source project people are involved in.

Another notable aspect of OSCON was that the speakers were experienced presenters. They knew how to address an audience and were used to adjusting their material to a large room with an audience.

Glancing at people's laptops showed a good number of people running Linux natively, something which always gives me a warm fuzzy feeling πŸ˜ƒ I also bumped into fellow Emacs users, but didn't get much time to exchange tips as there were just too many good presentations!



The venue was the RAI conference center outside Amsterdam and it served OSCON well. The staff was professional and plentiful, there were always more than enough people everywhere; at the check-in counter, at the food stalls, in the reception area, outside the lecture rooms keeping track of time left for the speakers, in the hallways guiding attendees in the right direction and even telling you where the lunch queue was the shortest πŸ˜ƒ

I've never been to a conference that was so well marked. As a visitor you were welcomed and guided by signs the moment you got off the train. They had even set up actual street signs just for this three day conference!

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There were lots to like about the venue, the wifi was spotless (how often can you say that at such a big conference?) and there were lots of electricity outlets were the audience were sitting in the lecture halls. The food was good and plentiful and when the queues were too long, they even came serving us while we were waiting in line (!). Way to go, RAI!

Sonic Pi

The keynotes were generally really good, but one was in a class of its own: Sam Aaron's live coding with Sonic Pi

It was a perfect example of a talk being both highly interesting, compact and fun to watch.

AB testing

Another great talk was on AB testing by Stuart Frisby. It had lots of interesting points to take away. Being only a keynote talk, it was not longer than 15 minutes. Still, the talk managed to cram lots of interesting context from booking.com, humour and and experience reports into it and you felt you've got an AB boost after watching it.

When talking about AB testing, we were giving a good starting point:

Experiment, learn & be open to change

My favourite quote from the talk was:

Robbed of context, the result of an experiment is a fart in the wind

So true.

Open source, baby

There was a distinct flair of open source and free software to OSCON, including in several talks, like in Simon Phipps' keynote talk, highlighting the importance of GNU, Linux and OSI approved licenses. In addition to this, his latest message was that we have enough foundations, join one of the existing ones


I spoke to many fellow coders at the conference and it was quite common for people to ask me in what open source projects I was involved and in which ways my company used open source. People at OSCON had much more awareness of what open source and free software is than what I am used to.

Communicating your ideas

My job is back-end development, green text on black all day. Yet, Tom Greever's talk on communicating UX design was 100% applicable.

I highly recommend everyone to watch this 1 hour talk (it's from a different confernce, the OSCON talk isn't out yet):

The physical web

This was a session that presented an interesting concept: that mobile devices can interact with systems around you without knowing anything about those machines: Just like REST, the machines tell the devices what they can do and what the devices need to do to operate the machines.

The example that was used was a mobile phone which paid a parking machine. This worked because the machine broadcasted the URL which the device needed to access in order to pay the ticket. Thanks to clever design, the user experience was that the mobile phone had a native "parking machine app".

A good quote came up during the talk:

It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link of the chain of destiny can be handled at a time.

β€”Winston Churchill

This was to reflect that there are many problems and criticisms that come immediately when this physical web is being presented. Some slack should be given with the belief that not all terrible things will come true and good forces will work out hard problems in time.

Loads more

I also attended talks on container security, non cryptographic hashing functions, the Seif project, growth hacking, an interesting talk on scalability with Kafka, distributed systems with hadoop, spark, cassandra & kafka, architecting for failure using a chaos monkey and race conditions in C code (the latter of which was pretty boring, probably because it was way over my head, still, I was in awe of the technical expertise of the guy presenting).

Almost forgot: I attended an interesting talk on scaling MariaDB and other DBs in the MySQL family

Go bootcamp

I learned a lot about the Go language in this 3.5 hour boot camp, going from being a complete noob to creating multi processing channel consumers and producers. The tutor was John Graham-Cumming who did a fine job of leading us to a higher state of geekness.

Among the things I learned is that Go UNIXy tooling, allowing building, auto completion (!), linting, documentation lookup and code formatting offcially supported, from the command line from day one.

The Emacs support also pretty decent, with on the fly syntax checking through flycheck. To compliment go-mode, I wrote a write hook that runs gofmt whenever you save the file.

Here's a screenshot of my Emacs while following the lecutre. Top left buffer is the current Go source file, top right are my lecture notes, bottom left is my compile output and bottom right is the Go documentation:

go boot camp

Fun and interesting as it was, though, I don't see any reason why I'd pick Go for any project any time soon πŸ˜ƒ

Kubernetes & Google Cloud SDK bootcamp

The last input at OSCON came in a workshop about The Google Cloud and Kubernetes.

The workshop was extremely fast paced and hands-on, where we started with nothing and went on to setup a full cluster on Google Cloud.

After so may years of only hearing about Amazon AWS, it was refreshing to try out a new hosting platform and the way we set up Kubernetes and CoreOS to control Docker machines was cool. It's something that really excels when your system becomes BIG. For my typical work use case with 10-15 machines, it seemed a bit of an overkill, though.

Still, if I were to start out from scratch creating a new cloud platform today, the stack presented in this workshop might be a viable option.


All in all these three days were a blast. I've learned a lot and gotten lots inpsiration for future adventures in the world of geeks. I'll definitely be coming back!

I'll leave you with some of the pictures I snapped while attending OSCON. Cheers!

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Licensed under CC BY Creative Commons License ~ βœ‰ torstein.k.johansen @ gmail ~ 🐘 @skybert@emacs.ch ~ 🐦 @torsteinkrause