My experience of Flock 2017

Flock, the annual Fedora contributor’s conference, is now over. It took place in Cape Cod this year (near Boston, MA), and it was great once again.

It started with a keynote by our project leader Matt, who insisted on Fedora’s place in the diffusion of innovation. We are targeting the inovators and the early adopters, right until the « chasm » (or « tipping point ») before the early majority adoption. This means 2 things:

  • on one side, we must not be so bleeding edge that we would only reach the innovators
  • on the other side, we must keep innovating constantly, otherwise we’re not relevant to our targeted people anymore.

As a consequence, we must not be afraid to break things sometimes, if that’s serving the purpose of innovation.

A lot of the talks and workshops were about two aspects of the distribution that are under heavy development right now:

  • modularity: the possibility of having different layers of the distribution moving at different speed, for exemple an almost static base system with a frequently updated web stack on top of it.
  • continuous integration: the possibility of automatically running distro-wide tests as soon as a change is introduced in a package, to detect breakage early rather than in an alpha or beta phase.

Seeing where the distribution is going is always interesting, not only in itself but also because it reveals where my contributions would be most useful.

As always, Flock is an opportunity for me to meet and talk to the people I work with all year long, to share opinions and have hallway talks on where our different projects are going (I had very interesting discussions with Jeremy Cline about fedmsg, for example), and to learn the new tools that all the cool kids are using and may make my workflow easier and more productive.

It’s also a great opportunity to help friends on things I can do, and to share knowledge. This year was the first one when I didn’t give a talk about HyperKitty, I guess that means it’s now mainstream 🙂

Instead, I gave a workshop on Fedora Hubs, our collaboration center for the Fedora community. If you don’t know what Fedora Hubs is, I suggest you check out Mizmo’s blogpost and Hubs’ project page. The purpose of the workshop was to teach attendees how to write a basic but useful widget in Fedora Hubs. I wrote all the workshop as an online tutorial, for multiple reasons:

  • People can go through it at their own pace
  • My time is freed up to walk between the trainees, answer their questions and help them directly
  • Attendees can go back to it after Flock if they need to or if they haven’t completed it in time
  • It can be re-used outside of Flock (for exemple, by you right now 😉 )

I believe it’s a better way to teach people (see Khan Academy founder’s talk on TED): the teacher’s time is better used answering questions and having direct interactions with attendees, rather than at doing non-interactive things like talking.

There were about 10 people in the workshop, and 4 of them completed the tutorial in time, which is pretty good considering the conditions (other talks and workshops going on at the same time, bandwidth problems, etc.)

Also, I’m getting more and more interested in the teaching / mentoring aspect of software engineering. I like to do it, and I get good feedback when I do. That’s clearly a path to explore for me, although it’s still a bit stressful (but that’s usually a good sign, it means I’m taking it seriously). I don’t want to switch to that entirely, but having some more on my workplate would be nice, I think. The Outreachy program is very appealing to me, it would align perfectly with my other social commitments. I remember there’s also an NGO that offers software training for refugees in Paris, I’ll investigate that too.

 

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