Thoughts on LCA2010

January 26th, 2010

I spent most of last week at LCA2010. For those of you not familiar with it, LCA is short for linux.conf.au, a conference held annually in Australia or New Zealand that focuses on free and open source software, particularly Linux. Because the conference was held in Wellington this year, I decided to go, even though I am not the typical attendee. For a start, I’m the wrong gender (female), and the wrong age (middle), and I certainly don’t identify as a ‘hacker’, at least not any more.

I was initially attracted to the conference because of the three overseas keynote speakers:

  • Gabriella (Biella) Coleman, an anthropology professor from New York University
  • Benjamin Mako Hill, a researcher and student from MIT, who is associated with many free/open source software and open culture projects; and
  • Glyn Moody, a journalist who writes about free and open source software and related issues.

I owned Glyn Moody’s book Rebel Code, and had cited an article by Colman and Hill in the research proposal for my PhD, and I thought  it be very silly to pass up the opportunity to hear what they had to say when they came to Wellington. However, when I looked at the draft conference programme, other sessions caught my eye, particularly the ones to do with building and supporting a project’s community, and the threats software patents pose to FLOSS development. In addition, the miniconfs on Monday and Tuesday covered a number of my interests, including Education, Business of Open Source, and Haecksen and Linuxchix. So I decided to go, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

Each of the keynote speeches was very different, but at the same time they all had a common thread: the importance of software freedom and its broader implications for our society. I found that there was plenty to choose from for the rest of the day, and overall I enjoyed the talks I attended very much. I was particularly struck by what appears to be an increasing emphasis on supporting and encouraging members of a project’s community who fall into the ‘user’ category, and I got a strong sense that some members of the the hacker community are starting to acknowledge that there is more to life than coding. However, this is still a conference aimed predominately at hackers, and the Wellington Perl Mongers organised a ‘HackOff’ event (subtitled ‘Coding Just For Fun!’) on the Wednesday evening (see HackOff2010 for more information).

The conference is described as being “run by the community, for the community”, and I definitely got the sense that people who attend lca regularly see themselves as a community. One person I chatted to told me that he planned his year around going to lca, and I can now see why. The people were friendly, and easy to talk to during the breaks, and overall the tone was casual. One thing that I noticed was the lack of any trade exhibits, which meant that people at the conference didn’t feel pressured to ’support the sponsors’ during the breaks, and could instead talk to each other without feeling guilty. The sponsors weren’t overlooked, though; their names were displayed in the main auditorium during the announcements and keynote addresses, and they all had an opportunity to have stands at the Open Day, which attracted a range of people.

As a first-time attendee, I was particularly struck by the strong traditions that have built up since the first conference (initially known as CALU: Conference of Australian Linux Users) was held in Melbourne in 1999. To take just two examples, the conference dinner is known as the ‘Penguin Dinner’, and the conference ends with an ‘open day’ to promote free and open source software to the public. This was also worthwhile, and the stands included representatives from Google, Status.net, Wikimedia Australia, the New Zealand Open Source Society, CatalystIT, Moodle, IBM, Canonical (Ubuntu), AmberDMS, RimuHosting, and Digital NZ, to name just a few of the ones that caught my eye. I managed to buy a copy of Geek Prayers, a self-published book by David Merritt, as a memento of the day and conference.

One other bonus was that I was able to meet a number of people I had previously only known through email or Twitter/Identi.ca, including Dave Lane (@lightweight) from Egressive, Lynne Pope (@elpie), and Nic Steenhout (@vavroom), and had some good conversations with them and others. Next year’s lca will be held in Brisbane, and I’m already wondering if I should go.

Entry Filed under: Free/open source, lca2010

4 Comments

  • 1. pfctdayelise  |  January 29th, 2010 at 12:56 am

    Another convert… perhaps? :)

    This was my third LCA and definitely the one I have felt the most comfortable at. Because there are so many people that go repeatedly, I have had a chance to meet a few of them by now and so it’s easier to spot one, two, lots of people I’m at least acquaintances with, in any given crowd. I didn’t have any more “whoa, wall of MAN” experiences this year, which I did the first time around.

    Did you come to the Girl Geek Dinner? Do you know about the NZ LinuxChix mailing list? I see that you’ve said you don’t identify as a ‘hacker’, but there is some great support in the LinuxChix groups if you feel like indulging or exploring your techie side.

  • 2. Brenda  |  January 29th, 2010 at 8:00 am

    Thanks for this, Brianna. No, I didn’t go to the Girl Geek Dinner, because I had an opportunity to meet Glyn Moody that night, but I’d certainly consider going in the future. And I’ll definitely take up your suggestion of joining the NZ LinuxChix maling list.

  • 3. Donna Benjamin  |  January 29th, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    Hey Brenda,

    Lovely to meet you at LCA, albeit briefly. I’m looking forward to continuing our dialogue about FOSS for Libraries.

    I think it’s safe to say, LCA has grown to accommodate geeks of all kinds… I certainly hope you are a convert! As for wondering if you should go… of course you should! You should even consider submitting a paper to the conference!!! :)

    Welcome. ;)

    - Donna

  • 4. Brenda  |  January 29th, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    I enjoyed our short chat too, Donna, and I’m looking forward to continuing our conversation about FOSS and libraries too. And yes, I’m thinking of submitting a paper for LCA 2011, now that I know what it’s like.


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