The Future of FUDCons

I believe we should radically change the concept of FUDCon.

(And if you think this post is looking pretty lengthy, the short version is this: ONE EVENT TO RULE THEM ALL.)

I’ve been to a number of conferences in the past few years since joining Fedora.  It’s a grab-bag of “types” – conferences like Southeast Linuxfest, SCALE, and LinuxFest Northwest, which tend to be free or almost-free, and tend to have more of a community feel; larger-scale, more commercially oriented conferences such as LinuxCon and OSCON; and conferences that are organized more around a singular group, project, or common interest — FUDCon is certainly an example, but also things like Community Leadership Summit (common interests/problems), and the OpenStack Design Summit & Conference.

In the latter example, particularly with project-focused conferences, the face-to-face time amongst project members is absolutely valuable.  It’s the place where contributors can get make decisions, do planning, and generally get things done, in a very high-bandwidth fashion. And I think “planning” is really one of the key attractors.  The OpenStack Summit, for example, is held right after release – and is the place to truly trot out ideas, gather around them, make a plan, and start breaking it down into how it will actually get done – over 3 or 4 days.  And it is not a place to “show what I did” – it is truly a “where am I going and how is the work going to get done and how does that intersect with other areas of the project” type of event.

I guess I know a thing or two about FUDCon planning; since organizing the FUDCon in Tempe, I’ve been helping out in some way or another with nearly every FUDCon. And thus, I’m going to present the following observations:

  • We tend to do a lot of “what I did” or “how this thing works” at FUDCons – and not a lot of planning.
  • Hackfests – which gather together specific contributor groups – tend to not always be well-organized, or focused around “let’s finish this thing we are working on.”
  • FUDCons are not scheduled at times which are obvious “planning points.” FUDCon Lawrence, for example, will be several months into the release cycle – not an incredibly amazing time for planning around F19.
  • We put some focus and effort into the U (users) at FUDCons – which, while valuable, does not require having dozens of contributors present, nor does it make the best usage of the face-to-face time that could be used for actual teamwork.
  • 4 FUDCons per year means that, as a worldwide community, we don’t get to get entire teams together.

The latter point is particularly interesting (and has given me a lot of heartburn).  While we tend to have more planning and hackfests at the North American and to some extent, the EMEA FUDCons, the extent of teamwork and planning done in APAC and LATAM tend to be gathered around regional ambassador leadership, and folks working on translations in that region.  Most of the project teams tend to be distributed globally; people want face to face time with their teams, and we simply can’t haul in everyone from everywhere in our current model.

I’m a true believer in planning and execution.  A lot of this probably comes from my work at Intel in strategic marketing — Intel is absolutely relentless in its planning cycle, but the focus on planning and setting goals is what drives innovation forward.  It encourages people to think big, and imaginatively; it helps to lay out a roadmap of milestones and tasks to a goalpost in the future.

And I think the model of bringing together a global community at an appropriate point in a release cycle to gather around planning and execution, rather than showing off what we did in the past and maybe working on things we already have in the works, is one that will drive Fedora forward.

What I would like to see is the following:

  • One event per year.  Starting in North America, and possibly alternating with other regions. Starting in FY14 (that’s March 2013 – Feb. 2014, for those who don’t follow ambassador finances.)
  • Get people from other regions to that event. Not “one or two from other regions”; I’m talking about getting engaged contributors with concrete plans and/or demonstrated history of contributions face to face with their teammates. So that that team can get things done, contributors can be part of the planning, take ownership of tasks, and not feel like they’re leaving out a significant portion of their community.
  • Have it at an appropriate point in a release cycle, where we, as teams or subprojects or groups or whatever you want to call it, can take advantage of the length of time before us to think about what we can accomplish over the next 2 releases, plan out activities and tasks, etc.
  • Perhaps move barcamp to the end, and have pre-scheduled, well-organized, planning/team meetings at the beginning.  Yes, I know this is probably giving some of you fits. Here’s why:
    • Barcamp sessions tend to be more around “I want to share this cool thing” – which is sometimes an idea, but more often around “learn how to use this thing I already implemented.”
    • It would be an awesome time to actually share what teams are planning and have accomplished during their time together.
    • Y’all are beat by day three, which I think is part of why hackfests wane a bit on the last day. Oh, did I mention that I think we should move to a longer event? I’ll do that now.
  • More days together.   Possibly straddling a weekend to reduce the drain on everyone’s “days off work” time, maybe not.  But we’re already travelling – and the costs of airfare tend to be higher than the costs of hotel, particularly when hauling in people from all over the world – let’s make the best of the effort spent getting to the event and make it longer.
  • Consider sharing this event with other project communities – for multiple reasons:
    • Leveraging the buying power of more attendees
    • If we’re already planning something – why not let others benefit from some of the planning we’re doing, and offer their community a way to get together in a similar, planning/doing-focused fashion?
    • It’s a great way to cross-pollinate between upstream/downstream communities – though we’d probably want to make sure we’re not going to lose focus from participants.  (Much like when we have had a FUDCon run parallel to a large-scale more general community conference (that is not focused on planning, but more on how-to’s and usage – where people really want to learn about stuff, but also want to focus on the project in which they contribute.)
    • Attract more sponsorships because of a more diverse audience. Money is nice. It pays for food and things.
  • Make this event be focused on the “do-ers” – and not the users. I mentioned previously in this post that it does not make the best use of our face-to-face bandwidth, and I’m sticking to that — and moreover, I think that trying to plan a parallel “user track” just winds up taking people away from getting things done.   This is not a “we don’t care about the users” statement in any way, so don’t jump down my throat. But I think that mixing up the event tends to leave casual users/potential users/non-contributor users unsure about what to attend, and I haven’t seen any evidence on any large scale that users magically become contributors at a FUDCon.  And there is NO REASON IN THE UNIVERSE why we can’t come up with a type of event that costs significantly less to host, requires fewer numbers of contributors to attend, and is geared solely towards users/potential users/potential contributors, and can be made repeatable in many places. The fact that a FUDCon in Pune can draw in a crowd of 500+ shows that there is absolutely interest.

You’ll probably notice that I just used the word “event” a lot, where I might have used the word FUDCon previously.  (FUDCon, for those of you who have come this far without wondering what that acronym is, stands for Fedora Users and Developers Conference.)

I envision this to truly be an event of the do-ers – people who do things, get things done.  And I’ve mentioned before the funny thing about how the word “do” is right in the middle of the word Fedora.  A new type of event – with a renewed focus and purpose – particularly if it becomes more diverse than just us – needs a new name.

DoCon. :)

And to answer your burning question, because I can reeeeeeeeeeead your miiiiiiiiiiiiiinds: Why, yes! I am aware that this will cost a crapton more money. Bringing in contributors from other regions costs more than if we brought those contributors to a FUDCon in their region – and thus a DoCon, or whatever we might call it,  would cost more than the entire 4-FUDCons yearly budget combined.

Is the cost justifiable? I think it definitely is. Will we accomplish more at one worldwide DoCon than we could at 4 FUDCons? I believe we can. Do we have to start thinking about that now? YES.

We are getting to the mid-way point of F18; FUDCon in Lawrence will be mid-through 19.  I would expect that we would quite possibly initiate this at the beginning of F20. TWENTY, folks.  That is a lot of releases – where we have done truly groundbreaking, innovative work.

We have amazing, talented, engaged contributors in the Fedora Project.  And I believe that focusing on the future of Fedora at an event where we have gathered contributors from around the world – planning where we can go and what we can accomplish over the next 2-4 releases, scoping out tasks, executing to plan, and really, dreaming bigger – will lead us through our early 20′s to become greater than ever.

23 comments

  1. Hey, that’s my brain dump! I tried to propose it in FUDCon threads several times but…

    I really like the idea of one big DoCon acompanied with a smaller local communities FADs + one day users conference showing what have we done. This could be even more expensive than just on DoCon but our users are our users – let’s do not forget them ;-)

  2. This makes a lot of sense to me. I was involved in organizing three of the earliest FUDCons, and while I liked the idea of mixing user and developer content in theory, in practice it was very hard to do both well. Back then we did attempt to schedule the FUDCons to happen immediately following a release, with the major focus being on planning for the next one, and the sense I got was that this worked extremely well.

  3. This makes a lot of sense to me. With so many FUDCons, it’s always easy for me to say “oh, I’ll skip this one and maybe catch the next one” and then repeat the process for the next FUDCon. A single, be-all-end-all might be more motivation for me to corral the finances and time off.

  4. This sounds great to me. The first few FUDCons at BU were more like this in some ways, with more structure and with sessions dedicated to figuring out the future. I think they worked very well. I do like keeping some barcamp aspect too, though.

  5. Well, I have some things to say to this.

    1.- The idea to have more organized meetings/sessions woud be nice if at least there is one per team (design/packages/translate/etc) which is one of the things that we *need*

    2.- Having only one event per year will reduce drastically the real meetings we have. It’s a good asumption to thing ( Hey, since we have one event (and like always, USA) why don’t we bring everyone? and we all know that, while we push in each region a travel cost for 5 people, that will be the ewuivalent to take only 1. Would be nice to have a nice unique event, but is not the future of Fedora, it would be a different thing.

    3.- Now, if you onlt talk about getting the people who has a demonstrated history, that will reduce drastically your list of potential attendees since Regional FUDcon are the start up for many new contributors that find easier to pay 600usd per trip than 1600usd.

    I find interesting the idea to have a main event, but is easy to get seduced by big events when reality is that, FUDcon is the place where people locally (and some people we are able to bring from different distances) discuss and make each one of their regions grow in order to have a better Community.

    Anyway, what if instead thinking on making a bigger event, why don’t we focus on try to improove what we already have? Calling an event a *DoCon* gives the wrong message that FUDcon’s aren’t *a place to do*, so I would suggest a different name too

    1. I’ll expand on this in a different post, but:

      1: I’m not talking about bringing in 1 or 2 or 5 people from a region. I’m talking about major increases to the budget.

      2: I’m not sure what you mean about it reducing the real meetings we have.

      3: I though I stated fairly clearly that it was folks with demonstrated histories, as well as newer contributors, who have concrete plans for a FUDCon.

      4: Calling it a Do-Con is not set in stone. But here’s the thing: FUDCon has traditional traits associated with it that make feel like it has to be done a certain way – which is why I think we should just retire that concept altogether, and look for a new approach. We can absolutely think about doing a worldwide event, ensure that we have subsidies for people who might have otherwise afforded to attend their own event but would need assistance for international travel, and still do regional events like FADs for regional planning and outreach, or have a different way for doing regional buildup. But I strongly think we need to gather people from everywhere, IN ONE PLACE, to do the worldwide project planning that we need to do to be successful.

      5: And yes, USA. I’d even be willing to think about EMEA for a second round, and other regions in the future – but at the end of the day, that is where the majority of people are, and is the precise reason why we have tons of people from out of the region apply to come to those FUDCons, vs. attending other FUDCons. It is not a matter of slighting other regions – it’s pure math, we can either bring in a LOT of people to North America, or need an even larger dollar amount to take people elsewhere.

      I’ll make a longer post about these points later today.

  6. Totally agree on every single point with you, Robyn.

    FUDCon NA (for historical reasons) clearly has the biggest engineering potential while the others are mostly about ambassadors and maybe users.

  7. tatica :

    so, this is purely a “number” issue more than a “community” approach? Got the message

    Sigh. You’re interpreting this incorrectly.

    When I say number I mean: To get the folks in our community, whoever it needs to be, to a worldwide event, that involves everyone in our community, I am going to have to obtain a large chunk of change. I want to bring in the largest number of contributors possible, from everywhere, to one location. If the highest concentration of folks is in one area, it makes the most financial sense to bring folks to that area, not to bring 2x as many folks elsewhere.

    As I stated: this is not a slight on other regions. There is no reason why we can’t continue doing regional get-togethers, etc. as we have always done. This is about bringing people together, so that we can plan together, the future of the ENTIRE project and distribution.

  8. I think this is a very counterproductive plan. It is just not reasonable to expect your volunteer contributors to fly to the other end of the world just to attend a Fedora conference, even if you pay for the costs. Having more local events invariably draws in more people than one big one.

    And you say that the US is where “most people are”? To my knowledge, most people are actually in Brno. The Developer Conference in Brno is well-attended (by the “do-ers”, at least) every year (I’ve been there each time, and I’ve always seen full lecture rooms), and this year it was a particular success. (I sure hope that DevConf is NOT going to be affected by your centralization plan!) But what matters more than where most people are is where SOME people are. You aren’t going to get everyone together with physical meetings, it’s just not realistic. Some contributors WILL have other commitments keeping them from just catching a plane to some random place in the world. Important decisions should be made on the mailing lists and/or IRC.

  9. FUDCon is different in every regions and I can agree on that part, mainly the difference are here:

    1. People Fama and EMA version of the fudcons are more technical and probably more Do conference, because of people attending are not many users (key components of the concept of FUDcon as described on the wiki ) are more community people that show their tech stuff and work in an opportunity to work in person. Mainly like a several FADs joined together.

    2. Latam and APAC FUDCon bring more Users and ambassadors as not many Do people can go to it. Latam and Apac FUDCons have more travel expenses/per person than any other region, down sizing the people that meet to contribute. Normally smaller on budget with less opportunity, to bring people to share know how and contribute.

    So lets start by changing the name of the conference from FUDCon to FEDCon (Fedora Developers Conference), while I can understand the value of a Fedora Developers Conference, the question I had is how equal will be for all Fedora Contributor to go to a Developers Conference, if equal opportunity is present to bring everyone to the FEDCon, I can agree with it.

    But the value of the user component on the FUDCon as it is now is going to be lose. We have to think about that part, specially where many users can become part of the community as contributors.

  10. I really like the idea of a do-con. I also noticed at FUDcons, there isn’t nearly as much doing as I would rather see at an event.

    In order to get the do-ers to the event, then, it’s pretty important to consider the location of the event with respect to where the do-ers actually are. If it’s a 6+ hour plane ride for a substantial portion of the do-ers, a good number of them who would have otherwise been able to make it won’t be there and the general productivity will suffer.

    I think repeat venues should also be considered. We learn enough about a venue – all the issues you could never predict, some of the cool things you have to be there to discover (like the place where there’s food us vegetarian weirdos can actually eat) – and then that knowledge is wasted and useless because we never go there again. There’s an efficiency to be had in choosing a – or a selection of – venues that are known entities, who we have solid contacts for and people on the ground for, that we know the ins and outs of. The Red Hat Summit may well be a good example of this. It’s also reassuring for those skittish about travel – especially international visitors – to be in a familiar place.

    And of course, if you want international travellers to not have to cost an exorbitant amount, it helps to be located near an international airport, preferably one that’s a hub with public transportation.

    For whatever it’s worth.

  11. If FudCON pune has so many attendees, its obvious there is so much interest in that place. Moving to Single FudCON is going to kill the interest around pune for sure. Why keep CONs at places where no one is going to attend?
    Did anyone see Debconf12,Nicaragua? There were hardly 20 people. Doing CONs at random places where no one’s going to attend even if its once a year event is clearly not the right way. Finding the area of more interest like Pune etc and having it more routinely is the way to go!

  12. DoCons are not like FADs only longer?

    There are two problems with FUDCons:
    - they DO feel different to each other, like the North American one being the “real” one where the things are decided, while the others more like a bone thrown to contributors from different regions to not feel ignored completely. So far I attended only European events and read about NA and Asian and the image *is* different, “first class” versus “second class”.
    - the community is spread all over the word, I don’t think is possible to gather a significant number of contributors to one single place (i believe the sum of contributors participating in all local FUDCons during a year may be over 500 people). You’ll have to split the contributors in “FUDCon worthy” and “not FUDCon worthy”, the same “first class” and “second class”.

    There is also a benefit of FUDCons as FUDcons: developers tend to go more and more in their own bubble (corporate, regional, cultural etc.) and lose contact with both users and other developers (with different corporate, regional, cultural background). In theory a FUDCon should help with that, in practice it does not really happen, for example at the European FUDCon you will see famous “guest stars” and community people, but I never saw a desktop developer from the head office.

  13. I think Maria’s comments raise a very significant issue.

    I can see a lot of value in having a more work-focused conference, although I’m not sure there is an ideal time, teams simply aren’t synchronous.

    However, the math for such a conference really does force such a meeting to NA or EU, and that sends a very bad message.

    One of the wonderful things about Fedora is that everyone’s contribution is welcomed, no matter where they happen to reside. The globality of the contributions does raise some logistical issues, but each team works around them in a way that works for that team. Each team benefits from the wide variety of skills and backgrounds. Contributions from Manila are no less valuable than contributions from Raleigh.

    The issue does seem to be somewhat exacerbated when it comes to LATAM. There, the focus seems to be more on Ambassadors, a critical contribution I think many in other corners of the project don’t fully appreciate. Although there seem to be other corners of the world with a similar alignment.

    No matter that the math forces a single large conference into a few locations, the message is still that other geographies are somehow less valued. Even if you accept the math, and intellectually know it is the right answer, I suspect the feeling in your gut is the same.

    And I see another, somewhat less obvious, effect. Much of the energy of FUDcons come from Ambassadors, and especially from local ambassadors wanting to show off their geography. I fear after a few years these larger conferences would dwindle without the fire that keeps them going.

    And I’m not entirely convinced that the travel cost is a big win. NA is a big place, pretty much entirely without rail service. Travel any distance is almost exclusively by air, and deals on domestic airfare are harder to come by than deals on overseas flights. It is often cheaper to travel to Paris than to LA. It would be interesting to compare travel costs for different locations. I suspect places like Chicago or Memphis would be a big win; places where we don’t seem to have huge number of contributors to host an event. In the U.S. at least it seems like FUDcons are held at places hard to get to, and probably expensive.

    (sorry, I just keep prattling on…)

    I do like the idea of more focus on doing, and perhaps extending the con to allow for more of that. Perhaps some sort of “toe in the water” would be a safer approach.

    What if we identified one of our FUDcons to be an extended FUDcon, driven of course by whoever is willing to do the work. To make your idea work, there are a lot of details to cover:
    - Timing has to be right
    - Much, much more planning is needed, so a sizeable planning team needs to propose their con to be “the one”
    - Connectivity seems to always be a problem at FUDcons. We need more robust connections at the venue and at the hotel(s), an ideally, excellent phone services too, so offsite team members can participate.
    - Ideally, a single hotel, preferably connected to the venue, needs to be able to house all the participants.
    - At least a couple of teams need to stand up with well thought out work plans for the con. Key members of those teams need to be available for the date/location.

    If we could get such a plan in place, and it is asking a lot, then we would tilt the travel budget to that con, not 100%, but significantly.

    Now, it isn’t “Fedora” saying that AU isn’t important, but rather that Caracas was able to pull together a team to pull it off. If the big event isn’t in my geography, it isn’t “their” fault, it’s “mine” for not being able/willing to pull it off.

  14. Imagine FUD conference changed to Do conference to talk about the beefy miracle. As great as Fedora is, you need a marketing expert. I do not know if one can easily persuade her boss to go to any of these conferences.

  15. The problem I see with this approach is that people that begin in the Fedora community might fell left of…

    For example, when I was starting my contribution as an Ambassador and Packager into Fedora in 2008, it was still too early to ask for travel expenses to be paid. I was not able to justify my contribution versus another contributor.

    I was really happy to see that the next FUDCon (2009) would be held in Toronto! I could go there all by myself with another local Ambassador. This event was really the start point of my contribution in Fedora. Getting together with many people that share the same objective as me was really nice and motivating.

    If the event was always one big event situated in big USA (or EMEA) market, I could never have done that by myself. Maybe I would have continue contributing to Fedora, but maybe not.

    Having many FUDCon a year have it’s disadvantage, but, it will always have the advantages of bringing in new people into the Fedora ship.

  16. I can apreciate the benefit of a bigger event like been able to atract mainstream people and sponsors.

    One of the thing that congregating a bunch of people from different parts gave to the project is motivation. Will one big event will stimulate people from all over the world all year round?

    What are the changes in current and new activities to compensate the flaws that will bring having one big event? I am concern if we make a bigger event (DoCon or whatever name will be) with double of the budget of all FUDCons together, where the budget will come from to make regional events.

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