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Recollections of FOSDEM 2018

Tue Feb 6 15:30:20 2018

Notes from the Perl Table

This year at FOSDEM there was a significant change in the Perl presence, there was no large camel at the table.1 There were cries of 'no', 'where is it?' and 'I only stopped by to see the camel, it is the only reason I come to your stand'2. I had to tell them the truth. The camel was on holiday, on a cruise with lots of rock stars and maybe a mad pair of Netherlandians. Of course, far more people came to ask about Liz and Wendy.3

FOSDEM is a great event if only for the significant number of people and diverse range of projects that it represents. There is always a buzz about the place and a feeling that your next conversation may change to way you think, understand or will do something in the future. If you have any interest in software, open rights, digital freedoms, infrastructure, code, political change then you are going to find a handful of people in your first few minutes of being there. It is an essential place for Perl to have a presence and each year thanks to the efforts of many people we manage that.

The Perl table at FOSDEM 2018

The Perl table at FOSDEM 2018

Volunteers

So let's first talk about the volunteers. This year Wendy and Claudio, as always, organised the paperwork and presence of Perl at FOSDEM. they ensured we had two tables (the only project aside from the organisers to have more than one), had a dev room, had speakers and had a lot of swag to give away or sell.

Manning the table for the weekend were a number of other volunteers, and thanks to all those who came and offered their help but were not needed due to the huge number of you who did. To begin I was there to act as a sort of replacement Wendy,4 so I managed the booth for both days. Tom (@tbsliver) was at FOSDEM to ensure the devroom had videos done and to backup videos to ensure we had something in case of an issue. On the booth during the two days were, JJ Merelo, Jeff Goff, Brian Duggan and Claudio Ramirez. Also helping were: Steffan, Mark (Overmeer) and Melinda.

An extra-special mention should be given to two of the people who manned the booth: Patrick from the Netherlands Perl Mongers and Perl 6 Community who constantly helped out and was very polite to everyone and to Sue Spence who helped organise the evening events and provided soap and Coffee (which was a huge hit) for us to sell. I also want to thank Erik and Dirk for making sure that the paperwork and products got to me. They shipped all the boxes to the venue and then arrived to take them all away again. If I missed anyone from this list then I offer my apologies as it is hard to recollect everyone who was there and what they did to help.5

Thanks to everyone who asked if I needed a break or took the time to come and make me take a break. There were moments in the day where if I had to explain about a Tuit or answer a question on the difference between Perl 5 and Perl 6 that I might have gone a little mad. The input of a fellow community member and a genuine concern that I was getting rest really helped me make it through both days and remain positive :).

Who came and what went?

In terms of swag we gave away a lot of leaflets, tuits, stickers, badges and booklets. I know that hundreds of these were put out and went quickly. How much impact this will have we cannot judge but it at least puts us in a visual location. The new Introduction to Perl 6 went down extremely well and prompted quite a few people to come and ask questions.

At one point on the Saturday everywhere was as crowded as this!

At one point on the Saturday everywhere was as crowded as this!

We sold a number of items over the two days. I think this year, more than ever it was impacted by their being no direct digital download and no way to pay electronically. I am aware of some of the aversion to using both of these and the overheads to organise but I feel that we must look into providing this in the future if we are to maximise the advocacy.

In regards to the types of books we sold and the questions at the table there seemed to be more interest in and around Perl 6 than Perl 5 or Perl in general. Please note that this is just a statement based on personal experience and is not intended to be an opinion or to indicate anything, just a report.6

It was useful to have both Perl 6 and Perl 5 Developers on hand at the booth to give an answer to those who were curious or inquisitive. It felt as if there was far less animosity than in previous years. There is never a great deal but Perl has an interesting perception filter in the other communities and we usually end up with more than one person who wants to troll or declare their dislike. This year there were virtually none, and in fact we had far more people who were saying they had used it and missed it, or were moving back to it. I even spoke to people who were converting from other languages or moving their systems to Perl.7

As usual on both evenings of the weekend a group of fifty or so community fellows got together and had dinner. I had wanted to go myself this year but on the Saturday I developed quite a nasty head cold so went back to the hotel room with some medication. This allowed me to be rested (if not having slept enough) for the next day when I would be stood all day. The Sunday was a quiet day this year at FOSDEM. Maybe the schedule had more people staying in the hallways and rooms, or queuing to ensure they got a seat, or maybe after two nights of socialising and a long day of learning people were out of their respective cutlery. For me this was a bonus as it meant I wasn't swamped by people and could allow the developers to go to the Dev Room if they wanted to. However I was still hugely grateful to those who came to man the stall instead of seeing talks and to Sue who made sure I got a break for lunch.

...and Finally...

Some thoughts for next year would be to organise the tables a little more as people tend to mix everything up and a little organisation would help - @tbsliver and I have some plans for this. Also we will look at making digital copies of books available to buy, and maybe take card payments using a mobile processor such as Paypal or Stripe.

I personally would also loved to see more introduction booklets to Perl, Perl 5, Perl 6, Mojolicious, Dancer et al. I think these would help clarify our message and I am going to ask you all to join in with that.

My final thoughts are that we managed to represent Perl very well once again. This was due in a huge part to all the efforts of the volunteers. We have a great number of dedicated people in our community who do a lot to ensure we look so good. We survived without our well-loved, and irreplacable, force of nature to actually be there, but Oh Gods8 did we miss Wendy and that camel ;)

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  1. Also the number of people who did a double take when they realised that the books on the banners behind the stand, were actually photos encroached on the hilarious or the ridiculous. ↩

  2. Yeah, thanks for that you make us feel so wanted :) ↩

  3. Of course I berated those slackers, Liz and Wendy, for taking a camel to the Bahamas and not me. ↩

  4. Of course I didn't actually replace her and no one can. There are some people who make a lasting impression as they sweep you up in their amazing world. Wendy is a force of nature, she sweeps the whole damned world up. I am not a reflection of that, but I was happy to shout 'welcome to Perl' to anyone who needed me to.  ↩

  5. One of the things that Tom and I discussed on the train back from Brussels was the organisation of the event and booth. Although it is pretty much true that we can man the event with a series of volunteers willing to give up a couple of hours there is also the need for an overarching connection. In other words you need one or two people in both devroom and booth who are there for the entire event and know the whole shape of the plan so that they can ensure that things run smoothly. This doesn't detract from the skill and effort of anyone who volunteers, it is more an understanding that all that effort requires firm direction. This is what we should admire about Liz, Wendy and Claudio who have spent years making us look good by providing such central core. We discussed the fact that maybe we should start writing written processes amongst the orgas, a list that says what is needed and how so that another individual can take up the mantle of overall controller and see the event through. ↩

  6. Note that this is not intended to indicate any preferences, value or interest. There are a number of factors that will have contributed to this phenomena. I simply want people to be aware of the events of the day so they can draw their own conclusions and hopefully formulate the best positive response. In my opinion the Perl projects themselves don't get enough attention and I would have loved to be handing out an Introduction to Mojolicious booklet and similar (Dancer, Catalyst anyone else?). ↩

  7. Again the quantity and level this represents is debatable. If you were moving back to Perl or porting to Perl then it would be natural to seek out the Perl stand and tell them so we have a bias towards that type of conversation much as we have a bias to those wishing to show their dislike. Without traffic analysis (flow of people and their habits such as time spent at the booth etc.) it is hard to judge these things. I once again can only give a slice of empirical information from the vagaries of my recollection. ↩

  8. Nope it's just a phrase and not proof that they exist or my particular stance on that. It is shorter than 'Oh God, gods, deities, cherubs, demons, devils, Satan, Stan, artifacts, representations, iconography, philosophy, random constructs of atomic material interacting, phased overlap of waves collapsing in quantum space...' you get the point. ↩