OSCON 2014: A Personal Story

Note: Persons mentioned by name gave advance consent to be in this article.
Note II: This is a narrative. Expect a more objective overview and explanation of OSCON in the near future.
Note III: Quotes are recalled from memory, so some may be partially inaccurate. If you were misquoted here, tweet me @ihtsae.

The Open Source Convention (@oscon on Twitter) is a pretty fantastic convention. 2013 was my first year, when an old mentor of mine suggested that I attend it, but it was far better this year. Not in the least because the Expo Plus Pass was technically free (if you took the time to look in the right places).

Have a look at the Wikipedia article for more information. I wrote the Layout entire section (shameless self-promotion here), so I can just copy-paste that section (which is arguably the most useful):


OSCON has many items of interest for the duration of the conference. Throughout the week in which it is hosted, there are various tutorials and presentations, most of which are conducted in meeting rooms. These topics are focused on the use and development of upcoming and current pieces of open source software, although there are usually a few topics regarding the open source community itself. In the past few years, main topics have been related to cloud computingdistributed computingvirtualization, minimizing downtimebig data, and information technology. Certain sessions are sponsored by companies and are therefore free for all attendees to take part in.

Outside of the sessions, OSCON usually also organizes various parties at which attendees may network and unwind. Many of these parties are sponsored, with some parties even being held at particular companies' facilities throughout the city.

Arguably, the biggest portion of OSCON is the OSCON expo. Here, vendors and other organizations show off their latest innovations, have smaller and shorter tutorials, give away keepsakes ("swag"), and talk to attendees about their products or any questions that attendees may have. Some companies that have had larger booths in the past few years include LinodeRackspaceHPBluehost, and Microsoft.

Finally, tables are usually set outside of the meeting rooms, for attendees to relax and work at. A sponsored "hack zone" is also setup just outside of the Expo Hall, where attendees may utilize fast networking, power strips, and chair-packed round tables to hack, socialize, and take a break at. Through the main hallway, there is usually a large black box of sorts, upon which three surfaces are exposed. Affectionately known by attendees as "The Chalkboard", logos, slogans, names, ideas, and other marks are often scrawled onto by attendees using chalk provided in nearby cans.

Well that was quite a bit. But now you know enough about the conference to get the big idea.

I opted for the Expo Plus pass, so most of the story will be from that point of view.

Day N (Sunday)

Alright. So I had this idea. An idea for a database. I had some theory work done on it, and I wanted to present it. Too bad that I suck at preparing ahead of time.

Well, all weekend I had been trying to find a place that I might be able to present at within the convention. Thankfully, my idea was entertained by one of the main organizers behind OSCON...

So I go to the convention center. I'm going to just watch the Ignite! speeches and possibly find Josh (@joshsimmons on Twitter) to talk about finding a place to present my idea. Right-o, the probability of this going my way ain't looking too well at the moment.

Whatever happens, happens, I guess.

Well, I go into the Ignite! room. It's fairly packed. I listen to a talk or two. Not bad, to be honest.

A few talks in, I decide to go and see if I can find Josh. I walk out of the ballroom and start heading towards the stairs.

Wait a minute. I swear I just saw someone who has a striking resemblance to Josh. I head back and approach the table.

H: You wouldn't by any chance happen to be Josh Simmons, would you?

J: You must be Haneef! Have a seat.

We talked a bit and then figured out that I should do a Birds of a Feather session (BoF). I went down and picked a spot.

After that, we continue talking, when a rather interesting incident from the previous year (my first OSCON - 2013) comes up:

I was walking through the Expo when I came upon one of the Booths. In fact, it happened to be the Cloudant booth. As I had done with each of the previous booths, I chatted to one of the representatives and I must say I felt dismayed and a bit hurt from what she told me. The conversation went roughly like this (Rep, Haneef):

R: Hi! Do you know about Cloudant's DataBase-As-A-Service (DBaaS) offering?

H: Not really...

R: That's okay, many people haven't. What DB do you currently use?

H: Redis.

R: Redis? That's odd. What language are you developing in?

H: C.

R: You can't do real development in C. You should know that.

...and that would be the point at which I left.

Well, anyways, this curious gentleman suddenly pipes up:

She's wrong. There's no reason as to why you can't make a website, or anything for that matter, in C.

That was rather kind of him; we all ended up having quite an interesting conversation. Josh had to head over to the 5K, so we said goodbye and he left.

Meanwhile, after talking to this gentleman, I found out that he actually had a background in compiler writing and design. The C++ compiler. I hate C++, but this was still cool - he understood perfectly why I disliked C++. Apparently, it's not the language that's the problem, but the people who use it.

He worked for Orly Atomics, and apparently they were having a BoF session that night, on the architecture of Orly. I had nothing else to do for the night, so I decided to go and join that BoF.

Much was discussed, so I won't go into that here, but what I will say is that if you're looking for an immutable, fast, graph database and can afford tons of storage, you should have a look at Orly.

After that, it was night already, so I headed home.

Day I (Monday)

The convention is just about kicking off. In other words, most everyone is still asleep.

There were Sponsored Tutorials, which were open to all OSCON attendees. I attended part of Open Cloud Day for starters. More specifically, I attended two talks:

I love how well those two titles aligned up.

Both were excellent talks. It was quite amusing how the talk on Disney started: with a five minute video on Disney and all of their cool stuff. Just in case, ya'know, you've somehow made it this long without ever hearing about Disney. In which case, you must have had an incredibly deprived childhood.

The talk on Scaling Applications was given by this cool dude Steve P. I met him last year at the RedHat OpenShift booth at the Expo - come to think of it, I think he might be the only one I met both years.

Anyways, towards the end of the talk there was a Q&A session, part of which was focused on the lack of available people to be hired to do all of this cloud related work in the industry (I'm oversimplifying, of course). Right. Humor time. I put my hand up, after which I was called on:

H: If there's not enough people available to hire, why not just pay the smart high-schoolers enough to drop out?

S: For those of you who didn't hear, he asked [repeats question]. Said by the only high schooler in the crowd.

[Audience Laughs]

S: He's right, although there's no reason why we can't retrain folks older than high schoolers either. He'll be in the back handing out his resume after the talk.

[Audience Laughs]

Well. That was certainly fun. Anyways, after the two talks, I left and decided to go see what else was happening.

I went around and talked to some people until lunch time. I had only gotten an Expo Pass, so I went out for lunch.

ProTip: There are a fair number of quick, decent, reasonably priced restaurants within walking distance of the convention center:

Afterwards, I went and saw an interesting interactive presentation on something that seemed relatively new to me, Apache CloudStack. The talk, Hands-on CloudStack Ecosystem Tutorial was rather interesting and definitely worth the time. Also, free book FTW.

Wrapping up the day, the Expo Hall opened. Nothing worth mentioning happened, since it was open for one hour, and everyone already seemed to be suuuper tired.

There was also the Elements Party and the Puppet Labs party, both of which I attended. One thing worth mentioning was that the Puppet Labs staff were really nice and happy to have a chat or answer questions.

While at the party, a Racker (the name for someone working at Rackspace) that I had met earlier introduced me to some other Rackers, including Alex Juarez.

Alex discussed my idea of sfDB5 with me, from the high level down to some of the internals. The insight provided there was tremendous - he brought up some extremely useful points that I had failed to even consider:

  • Use cgroups to run multiple instances of sfDB5 on multi-socket systems
    • Solves the issue of slow thread data sync across sockets.
  • Document the network protocol that I use for sfDB5 as I construct it, also version it.
    • Allows for interoperability
    • Makes it easier to write drivers, especially for multiple languages
    • Means that diving into the implementation of sfDB5 is easier
  • When writing usage examples, show how to build data structures such that running backups are easily doable.
    • Since most DBs have some sort of backup functionality and/or use a different data model, it may not be intuitive for many developers.
    • Allows businesses to sleep more peacefully without having to worry too much about a massive physcial machine failure in their running production cluster.

... and many more. That has actually been extremely useful as I work on sfDB5, so I'd like to give a special shout out to Alex.

Day II (Tuesday)

The Expo Hall was open during Tuesday. Suffice to say, I was in there for the majority of the day, meeting interesting people, swapping stories and ideas, and getting free awesome SWAG.

Towards the end of the day, I had my BoF. Although only one person showed up, that person seemed to be quite interested in my project and actually had quite a strong usecase for it.

Amazingly, discussing the details of how sfDB5 could be used at his company for some of of their low latency, high speed work took up most of the time after I finished presenting to him.

Good things come in different ways. Or, amusingly enough, as he said himself as we were leaving the room,

"People can be assholes at times. But all you really need for a success is one useful person."

Day III (Wednesday)

In all fairness, not much happened. I got to speak again, this time at the Expo as it was winding down, with Alex and later Steve.

I think two pieces of SWAG from the Expo deserve special mention:

  • Most Awesome: RedHat was promoting Project Atomic with some really cool medical grade reformable plastic. Quite an original idea, and as soon as I find something to make, I'll post about it (give me ideas @ihtsae on Twitter).
  • Most Useful: Rackspace was promoting their Private Cloud offering powered by OpenStack with this two port USB car charger. Pretty useful since this is one of the first free chargers I've gotten from OSCON that gives out clean 5V.

That was more or less it for me at OSCON (Expo Plus Pass).


Yeah. If you have any questions or comments, leave them below or tweet me @ihtsae.

Many people would start thanking O'Reilly and the sponsors and whatnot here. But really, it's the people who come to the conference who make it what it is.

Personally, I had a blast this year. So thanks to all the people that I had the opportunity of interacting with and all of the hard workers behind the scene from O'Reilly.

Trivia (BONUS)

  • We finally have a name for the oblong black box that we scribble on: The Chalkboard.
  • The WiFi was more or less down for good portions of the conference because some people don't understand what please DL materials the night before means.
  • There was a nap room. It was dark and surprisingly quiet, given its location.
  • Mozilla brought Voodoo Doughnuts in the mornings once or twice. Thanks guys!
  • Twitter brought loads and loads of Twitter cookies with frosting (was it supposed to be a pun on the cookies they stick in our browsers or something?) and was handing them out. Thanks guys!
  • I found out some fun stuff about some companies:
    • Twitter employees are known as "Tweeps".
    • Rackspace employees are known as "Rackers".
    • RedHat gives out red fedoras to their employees.
  • Someone from GitHub introduced me to someone else, who happened to be a Cassandra contributor. He was surprisingly warm to my idea of sfDB5 because apparently, "I just want the best possible solution to exist." Cool.
  • OpenStack turned 4.
  • I got bored after the conference and wrote up the entire Layout section of the OSCON Wikipedia Page.