Żegnajcie! Fedora Flock 2016 in words

Żegnajcie! Fedora Flock 2016 in words

From August 2 – 5, the annual Fedora contributor conference, Flock, was held in the beautiful city of Kraków, Poland. Fedora contributors from all over the world attend for a week of talks, workshops, collaboration, fun, and community building (if you’re tuning in and not sure what Fedora is exactly, you can read more here). Talks range from technical topics dealing with upcoming changes to the distribution, talks focusing on the community and things working well and how to improve, and many more. The workshops are a chance for people normally separated by thousands of miles to work and collaborate on real issues, problems, and tasks in the same room. As a Fedora contributor, this is the “premier” event to attend as a community member.

Although my report comes a little late, it comes with a lot of thought and reflection over the week at Flock. I participated as a speaker for my talk with Jona Azizaj titled, “University Outreach: New task or new mindset?” I also worked with Bee Padalkar on running the Community Operations (CommOps) team workshop for planning our own future tasks in coming months and knowing what issues or topics the community had in mind. And lastly, due to last-minute scheduling issues, I helped plan and organize the Diversity Panel with Amita Sharma and many other incredible contributors.

Without further ado, this is my analysis and report on the events at Flock 2016. And for anyone wondering what “żegnajcie” in the title means, Google Translate tells me that means “farewell!” in Polish.

General experiences around Flock

As a second-time visitor to Flock, I was a little familiar with the conference structure. Joe Brockmeier made a call for volunteers to help transcribe talks over IRC. I signed myself up to help transcribe all the talks and workshops I was attending to help cover them in the “CommOps-style” way that I run meetings. This proved effective and I hope that my transcriptions were useful both to those who wanted to keep up with Flock from home and attendees who wanted to remember specific parts of talks after the conference ended. You can find an index of all talks and their transcriptions on the wiki.

Brian Exelbierd nobly tries to organize Fedora Flock attendees for walking tour
Brian Exelbierd nobly tries to organize Flock attendees for the walking tour on Tuesday night.

The event organizers did an effective and incredible job of planning the fine details for the conference. When I arrived on August 1 at the airport, Rafał Lużyński greeted me and provided a ride from the airport to the hotel. Along with us at the airport was Bee Padalkar, Amita Sharma, Stephen Gallagher (thanks for sharing a plane ride with me!), and Ryan Lerch. Throughout the entire conference, I was always amazed at the hospitality and constant willingness to help by all the local organizers. For traveling in a country where the language was completely foreign, I never felt too confused or had a difficult time. I remember when Rafał helped translate the menu options for me at the restaurants we ate at on the first day, which was a major help for finding vegetarian choices. My impression on Kraków and then Poland is high and I hope to return again someday in the future.

Overall, the “i’s were dotted and the t’s were crossed”, as the saying goes. I am impressed by and thankful for the hard work that went into organizing this conference. The work of the organizers is one of the most important roles of the entire conference as it enables us to come together as a community. Events like Flock are powerful in many ways, and it would be easy for a conference to fall towards the “lousy” side of the scale. But the organizers, volunteers, and staff behind Flock help make the conference an amazing experience for all attendees. It’s difficult to explain my appreciation for this work that enables so many incredible experiences and magic to come together every year.

My participation at Flock

Unlike last year’s Flock, I also participated as a speaker. In all, I helped organize and plan three different talks and workshops, which are detailed individually as follows.

University Outreach: New task or new mindset?

My first talk was on Tuesday. Together with Jona Azizaj, we presented on the topic of outreach to students and university staff and faculty for the Ambassadors program. The talk structure was past, present, and future. We begin by looking at past efforts and trying to see what we could learn by things that have happened before now. Then, we looked at how Fedora is doing in working towards the University Involvement Initiative and what tactics are effective now. We also focused on areas of student outreach with the events we are attending now. Everything up to this point was more of presenting information.

Me and Jona during our presentation on University Outreach at Fedora Flock
Me and Jona during our presentation on University Outreach in Fedora

After running through the past and present, we presented the direction for moving forward with improving our outreach to universities, high schools, and their students and faculty members. We broke up the main points into four big topics: on-boarding, mentorship, focusing on not just students, and improving visibility. We presented some of our own thoughts on these topics and then opened the floor for community ideas and brainstorming.

My original plan for this talk was to present more hard information on how to begin moving forward sooner than later (e.g. “less talking, more acting!”). However, I had made plans and expectations for an EDU FAD to happen in late July, which at the time, would be the place where resources and guides were created focusing on this specific topic. But due to sudden complications, the FAD never happened. The resources I hoped to have were not available. So the end of this talk was a valuable time for attendees to leave their own thoughts and ideas on generating these resources and what kind of areas we should focus on first. The room was packed, and many people with diverse ideas had something to offer. The feedback was at times harsh, but I appreciated the directness towards coming up with solutions and the interest in the topic (after all, a full room says a lot more than an empty room).

A super big and special thanks goes to both Ardian Haxha and Jona Azizaj. Ardian was originally the other co-speaker for this talk, but was unable to attend Flock due to visa issues in Kosovo. Jona willingly stepped up as an interested member of the community to help deliver the talk and her help was greatly appreciated and helpful.

Once the videos of Flock are uploaded, I hope to review the comments and feedback from the talk once more and begin converting the ideas into action.

Diversity Panel

The first-ever Diversity Panel was originally headed by Fedora’s Diversity Adviser, María ‘tatica’ Leandro. But due to medical concerns, María was unable to make it to Flock. Amita Sharma stepped up to help lead and organize the panel this year. Amita reached out to me for help as a fellow member of the Diversity Team, along with several others at the conference.

Intense thinking on the Diversity Panel at Fedora Flock
Panelists on the Diversity Panel intensely thinking about the questions and concerns being fielded by the audience.

I was invited to take part, but I didn’t get to spend as much time answering questions or offering ideas as I would have liked to. I helped organize and establish a remote call with María to participate from her home and also helped document the panel with some picture-taking. I feel I have to say this because the picture I’ve seen shared the most from the panel has me looking down at my phone while the other panelists look deep in thought! At that exact moment, I was replying to messages with María to help troubleshoot some audio problems and help her identify who was speaking.

Overall, I feel the panel was a great success and I hope to see it become a regular part of Flock every year. We were able to target and name issues that the community feels needed focus in terms of diversity. Awareness was also raised for the incredibly large and diverse community we have. I hope together we can work towards breaking some of the stereotypes of Linux and open source communities, starting with our own. Big thanks (and hugs!) to Amita for helping organize the panel at the last minute, and a round of applause for all the panelists (Matthew Miller, Marina Zhurakhinskaya, Sylvia Sánchez, Bee Padalkar, Jona Azizaj, and Marie Nordin).

CommOps workshop

The Community Operations (CommOps) workshop was originally headed by Fedora’s Community Lead, Remy DeCausemaker, but due to an opportunity of a lifetime, he left his position at Red Hat and was unable to make it to Flock. Together with Bee Padalkar, we took over responsibility for this workshop.

Together, we helped plan out the key areas of focus we wanted to have for the workshop. We decided to focus on on-boarding discussions with community members and planning ahead for tasks we wanted to work on in the coming year. We created and developed some slides to help structure the workshop. Most of our preliminary planning work was done in an Etherpad, but some of the general structure and outlining exists in our wiki planning pad.

In the literal last minute before the talk began, Remy reached out to me and we patched him in for a brief audio introduction over Google Hangouts. He added some background and context to the work happening in CommOps over the past few months. Even with the suddenness of the arrangement, I was glad to have Remy with us for a time as we launched into the workshop. Unfortunately, it was only after his words we realized that our recording hadn’t started. So his words will live on in our minds and memories forever instead.

The on-boarding discussion was shaped by those who were in attendance, but as I anticipated, even a few people would be enough to begin discussion to know areas that need extra focus and attention. Two areas we spent a good amount of time covering and reviewing were the Python SIG (thanks to Miro Hrončok) and the Ambassadors (thanks to Christoph Wickert). We collected a lot of feedback and notes on these two specific teams. Until the workshop, the Python SIG wasn’t on the CommOps radar, and knowing that they could use some help and assistance with on-boarding new team members is the exact type of feedback that was perfect to hear. I knew the Ambassadors would be a large one to tackle, but we were able to get some added context and feedback from a FAmSCo member and veteran Ambassadors to help steer the direction for how that discussion and subsequent actions will be shaped and directed.

We also spent some time collecting feedback on “wishes” for community metrics that would be helpful to understand both our impact and areas that we could spend more time focusing on. Most of this part of the discussion was lead by CommOps metrics genius Bee. You can see some of her past work on her blog (like her FOSDEM analysis). One area that would be better to understand is the Globalization and translation parts of the project. It would also be powerful to measure contributions by location for translations. The example used was if a small number of translations begin appearing in a new language, we can spend time providing resources and help to new contributors, with the goal of helping spur organic growth and interest in translating Fedora to that local language.

Of course, there are hundreds of different ways we could spin this story on metrics, but hopefully with the information we gained, we can begin directing focus at specific areas and teams. Bee has already started reaching out to Fedora’s G11N team!

Again, I’d like to reserve a very special thanks to Bee for helping organize, plan, and execute this workshop. I didn’t originally anticipate being tasked with this and I had never organized something like this before. Having her help was a lifesaver and I think together we turned it into a productive and informative session. I’m looking forward to another year and beyond on working with her throughout the Fedora Project.

What Flock was for me

The context differences between my first and second Flock are immense. At the first Flock, it was a stroke of luck that it happened to be hosted in the same city as where I was already planning to move for attending my university. At Flock 2015, I was a newcomer and even an outsider. I didn’t know anyone in the conference, I didn’t know the city, and I had only ever wished to contribute up to that point. But I hadn’t done much leading up to Flock 2015 other than observe. But even at the conference last year, there was one thing that was evident to me even as an outsider. The community is strong. The community is together. It was clear that the relationships within Fedora also extended outside of Fedora. I remember seeing people have a heated discussion about Fedora, or spend an entire workshop focusing on a particular issue… and after all the work was done for the day, they would walk out, have dinner together, buy each other a drink, and celebrate. There were smiles, there were hugs, there was a true air of friendliness across the entire conference. I didn’t have to be much of a contributor to see that, even then.

Changing roles

Smiling, laughing at Flock 2016
One of the rare moments where I’m in front of the lens, not behind it.

Now, at Flock this year, the roles were reversed. Since becoming involved in Fedora around September and October of 2015, I slowly became immersed and absorbed into the community that I had watched and observed from the sidelines at Flock 2015 (and a year or so before then). But instead of watching this time, I became a participant. IRC names become names, and names become faces. In place of giving karma cookies, we shared real cookies, high-fives, hugs, and our thanks for each other. We had intense discussions on real issues or dilemmas in our project and our community. We built solutions and addressed tricky topics, we challenged each others’ ideas, we focused on how to improve the thing we spend so much time working on, either paid or volunteering.

And then we would walk around the city, jump on a river boat, visit a brewery, or hit the dance floor together. We smiled, we laughed, and we enjoyed the rare opportunity to eliminate the factor of distance and spend time with our community members. There’s an air of incredibleness to this that makes it difficult to describe. But when you’ve experienced it, you know exactly what it feels like.

Difference in saying goodbye

Bee, Jona, Amita at Kraków brewery at Fedora Flock 2016
Bee, Jona, and Amita as we get ready to have dinner at a famous local brewery in Kraków.

The one major difference between Flock 2015 and 2016 for me, outside of changing roles from an observer to a participant, was something I wasn’t expecting. Unlike the previous year where saying goodbye was driving a couple of miles to my apartment and thinking about all the things I saw and experienced, this time it was saying goodbye to new friends, shared memories, and an empowering sense of community. The names in IRC weren’t just usernames, but they were faces… people. They were conversations, they were walking around together in a foreign city, they were sharing the view of a beautiful sunset on a river. It was remembering that we’re all humans with unique ideas, perspectives, and personalities, even if the tools we use to communicate make it easy to forget that.

Saying goodbye at the end of the week was far harder than I anticipated, and it made me crave the opportunity to close the factor of distance again at the soonest possible opportunity.

On a more personal note

To this end, Flock came at the right time for me this year. Over the past few months, I’ve spent a lot of time working across all different areas. My weekdays focused on Fedora and Google Summer of Code, my weekends woke me up at 4:00am for my weekend job at a local coffee shop in my hometown, and any extra time I could sneak goes into managing my now four-year-old Minecraft server community, CrystalCraftMC. Before that, I finished my first year of my undergraduate degree at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and I’m preparing to move back up to Rochester this week.

As much as I may have tried convincing others and myself that I wasn’t at least a bit burnt out, it was definitely beginning to wear on me. Anyone who has experienced burnout knows what the feeling is like. It’s different in how it affects all of us. But I was reaching that point through this summer. But Flock helped remind me of all the different people who are involved in this incredible project and why we’re doing the work we are doing. Anyone who isn’t familiar with open source will always question why we spend so much time working on something without being paid for it. But it’s more than just that. It’s more than a financial thing. The reason anyone volunteers willingly to open source is rarely ever to meet a financial or monetary goal. This is also a difficult thing to describe, and I hate to write something off as “you have to experience it to know what I mean”, but maybe this applies in this situation.

On that note, Flock served as a vital reminder for me about why I choose to involve myself with the Fedora Project. And it helped show me that the answer I need to take away isn’t to contribute more, but it’s to contribute enough for me. The several times someone in the community came up to me personally and said, “Hey, thanks for all the work you’re doing” or something along those lines was incredibly powerful and moving to me. And that helped provide value for all the contributions and time I spend in Fedora. I want to make sure that I am at my best where I am able to contribute without burning myself out and away from Fedora. The unique opportunity of being in the same physical place with so many other Fedora contributors added that context for me. And who knows, maybe this realization from Flock saved me from hitting a wall at some point in the future. But now, I am confident and ready to continue with another year, and beyond, of Fedora contributions.

Thanks for having me

I am incredibly thankful and grateful to be a part of the Fedora community. The opportunity to attend a conference like Flock with sponsorship in a country I’ve never been to before was an incredible experience. Without a doubt, it’s something that will stay with me for a long time. There are so many people I have to thank for helping open a door or offer pointers and tips for getting involved. There’s the Fedora Magazine team, the CommOps team and its original founder, the Marketing team, the Ambassadors (both globally and locally), the Diversity Team… to list names would both be incredibly time-consuming and unfair (because I’m beyond sure I would forget some name of someone who did have an impact on me getting involved).

I would like to give special thanks and appreciation for the companionship and friendliness of Amita, Bee, Jona, and Giannis during Flock. We probably spent a large part of our time at the conference together and I have a deep appreciation for the opportunity to get to you know you all personally, not just as fellow contributors but as true friends. I anticipate the next time we can all be together in the same space again!

To Kraków for Flock with Bee, Amita, Jona, and Giannis
On a bus to the Kraków city center with Bee, Amita, Jona, and Giannis (left to right).

Looking ahead

2016 is past halfway complete and we’re on track towards a speedy arrival of 2017. But there is a lot to do before we get there. Flock has helped give the opportunity for the community and all of its teams to find their direction and aim for the next few months and to work towards that. I am refreshed, reinvigorated, and ready for another year of noting all the #info, answering the calls for #help, and taking on #action items to build and grow the Fedora Project forward.

See you in channel, on the mailing lists, or wherever our paths will collide next… as I’m sure they will.

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