At the 2011 Ohio LinuxFest, I gave a presentation entitled "Real World Job Skills the Free Software Way." In it, I detailed a number of ways in which free software improves not only one's hard technical skills, but also the softer social skills that are so often absent from professional development discussions. I focused on three hard skills -- programming, documentation, and packaging -- and three soft skills -- communication, mentoring, and professional networking -- and gave practical examples of how using free software and participating in free software projects can demonstrably improve one's image to potential employers.
One of the most interesting moments in my presentation occurred early when I asked for a show of hands of who had a GitHub or SourceForge or similar code sharing account. Most of the hands in the room went up. I then asked for a show of hands of who provided links to those accounts on their resumes. Only one hand remained up.
"Why not provide a link to your code on your resume?" I asked. I was, honestly, surprised that no one was doing it. Here's an excellent way to show to potential employers "This is my work", where that work includes not only code contributions but commit messages, bug fixes, community engagement, and much more. Such a link allows a potential employer to see what you're doing, and gives a great starting point for a variety of interview questions. This applies as much to sysadmins as programmers: automation scripts and time-saving solutions that you may have created go a long way to demonstrating your value to potential employers.
After my prepared remarks, I asked for comments from the audience. In particular, two people were currently hiring for new positions, so I wanted to hear from them as to what specific things they looked for in potential candidates. This proved illuminating, and largely mirrored the items in my presentation. Then one attendee asked, essentially, "I do PHP stuff on my own at home. How can I really put that on my resume in a way that makes sense to a potential employer?"
My on-the-spot answer was okay, but not great. I encouraged the fellow to get involved with a project so that he could then also list his participation in that project along with his PHP experience. Rather than just goofing around with PHP on his own, he'd be using PHP within the framework of a real free software project, and enjoying all of the ancillary benefits that come from such participation. This takes time, though, which may not help someone looking for a job right now.
What I should have said was this: you should list PHP on your resume somewhere, and expand upon it in your cover letter with an explanation of your passion for learning new things, an explanation of your problem solving methodologies, and a direct statement that you'd like to apply your passion to the benefit of this would-be employer. You're unlikely to get a full-time PHP programming position based solely on personal use of PHP, for example, but listing the things you've learned on your own on your resume should prove instructive to potential employers when evaluating you against other candidates for the position. Taking the extra step to articulate these things in your cover letter is even better.
I quite enjoyed giving this presentation, and I'd love to find an opportunity to do it again!
Another Ohio LinuxFest has come to a close. It was, I think, as successful as ever. We did a lot right, and as usual we learned a lot about what to do next year to make it even better. We had, I think, around 1,100 people registered to attend, and we had about 950 confirmed check-ins. We know there were a couple dozen people walking around who hadn't bothered to check in, so we're pretty confident that we broke 1,000 attendees again this year.
As I've done for the last couple of years, I coordinated the check-in desk. Unlike the past couple of years, the conference started at 8 AM, so I had to be there and ready to go by 7 AM. A couple of volunteers arrived right about the same time as I did, and our first attendees were ready to check in right at 7 AM! We were able to process the check-ins, but we didn't have any of the goodie bags, band passes, or t-shirts! Thankfully Mike Meffie arrived about 10 after 7 with all that stuff, and the check-in process soon got into full swing. We had three or four folks procesing the check-ins (including Owen, who I dragged down with me and then conscripted into helping. He was extremely enthusiastic about the matter), so I spent most of the early morning at the t-shirt desk, distributing shirts to attendees who had purchased the Supporter Package. As I expected, the check-in desk remained steadily busy until well after the morning sessions started. And as usual, I had a great time meeting people, and making sure that the check-in process went as smoothly as possible.
The layout of the show was very different this year. In years past, the check-in desk was at the head of the hallway in which the sponsor exhibits were located, and in this hall were doorways into the various rooms in which the sessions were held. This year, the check-in desk was in a hallway all by itself. Around the corner was another hallway filled with sponsor exhibits, and up an escalator were more sponsor exhibits and the ballrooms in which the sessions were held. The net effect of this layout was that the show didn't feel nearly as crowded as in the past. There were certainly plenty of people milling about in all three locations, but there was always room to move and breathe.
I didn't attend any sessions this year, because I was at the check-in desk through most of the day. I did, however, get to talk to a handful of attendees about their impressions of the show. Everyone I spoke to was extremely satisfied, and very happy to be there. A couple of folks had attended almost every OLF, and expressed real happiness that the show has been able to maintain its quality and usefulness through the years. I also spoke to a couple of first-time attendees who simply gushed at how excited they were to be attending. One fellow remarked that some folks in Florida are trying to establish a LinuxFest in their own neck of the woods, and their metric for success is "to be like OhioLinux". That was a really powerful acknolwedgement for all the hard work that goes into planning and preparing the show every year. I wish the Florida crew the best of luck, and if there's anything I can do to help, I hope they contact me!
The evening keynote presentation was by Jono Bacon, the Ubuntu Community Manager for Canonical. His remarks were extremely insightful. He spoke about community, and about the sense of "belonging": what it means, how we can accomplish it, and the benefits to be had. He identified several things about the larger Free Software community that we should all keep in mind, the most powerful to me being his comments about the gift economy: people who contribute to free software projects are providing gifts, and we need to always be thoughtful of and thankful for those gifts. It's all too easy, when looking at someone's contribution, to say "That patch sucks". The slippery slope is that it then becomes all too easy to say "You suck", which is disasterous to any community. Just like you wouldn't say "That sweater sucks!" when your great aunt gives you a horrible sweater for Christmas, so too should we exercise more tact and politeness when dealing with free software contributions.
After the keynote, we grabbed a quick bite to eat and then ventured back for the conference after-party. I didn't stay at the party long last year, but this year we stayed very late. Dual Core performed again this year, and I actually paid attention to their performance: even though I don't really get into the nerdcore rap, I really admire their enthusiasm and dedication. They were clearly having a lot of fun, and the audience was responding very favorably. I particularly liked the rap about the OLPC One Laptop Per Child -- anyone who can rap about that earns my respect!
After Dual Core, Jono led a dance-off between representatives of various distributions. KUbuntu, Arch Liunx, and Foresight Linux were joined by a representative of CreativeCommons to take turns dancing. I didn't catch what the actual rules were, if any, nor what the actual goal was. The first round was fun, and silly, and everyone had a good laugh with the dancers. At the start of the second song, the KUbuntu guy took things to a new level when he peeled off his shirt. The CreativeCommons guy one-upped him by unbuttoning his own shirt and performing a bit of a teasing dance. Everything went crazy when the Foresight Linux guy came out, tore off his shirt, and used it as a boa for a variety of lewd maneuvers. The audience was laughing and hooting, and loving every minute of the spectable. I left when a chair was brought onto the dance floor, presumably for some Flashdance style antics.
With God-knows-what going on inside the main party room, I joined Owen and Mike for a quick round of Zombie Fluxx. We were quickly joined by Max, and then by Ed and his wife, and finally by Matt and his girlfriend.
Mike, Owen, and I had played a few rounds of Zombie Fluxx earlier in the day during some lulls in the schedule, and I enjoyed it well enough: the Creeper mechanic adds a fun twist to an already fun game, and the opportunity for making outrageous zombie jokes are numerous. Playing with such a large group (and helped along by alcohol, no doubt) took the game to an entirely new level. Max played one hand that lasted nearly 10 minutes, resulting in his victory for that game. We were all, literally, laughing hysterically throughout his entire hand. Things quickly got more and more silly. Everyone enjoyed the rule that required us to groan like zombies whenever we played a zombie card.
When I realized that I had been awake and active for nearly 20 straight hours, I suggested it was time to call it a day. Owen was hungry, though, and demanded White Castle hamburgers. Never one to say no to sliders, I easily coerced Mike to join us so that I could force him to try the delicious chicken rings: imagine an onion ring, but replace the onion with processed chicken meat. It's delicious. Mike tried to claim that they were merely "okay", but there was no ignoring how fast he was shoveling them into his mouth!
So all in all, it was a tremendously successful Ohio LinuxFest! It was great to see some familiar faces I only see at this event, and it was great to meet new folks passionate about Linux and Free Software. Beth Lynn, Greg, Meffie and Paul all did a superb job planning and executing this year's event. If you're interested in helping out next year, please contact the team!
The 2007 Ohio LinuxFest was great, as expected. Registration numbers were a little lower than last year, and the number of folks who actually checked in was demonstrably smaller than those actually present: just under 1 thousand people checked in, but we had at least half as many more actually walking around the conference.
I worked the check-in desk most of the day. A handful of volunteers -- including my dad -- provided check-in assistance with me. Check-ins were smooth and uneventful for everyone. The vendor booths were well trafficked, and there were a lot of freebies being given away this year. All of the people I spoke with said that the presentations were at least as good as they expected, so I think overall we did a fine job organizing the event.
The only session I attended was Chris J. Davis' Great Code Come From Great Community. Chris provided a quick overview of the various project management models used by most Open Source projects, and concluded that the meritocracy model represented the best choice in terms of community involvement, positive leadership, and overall project health. His presentation was, by design, considerably shorter than the time allotted to him. Chris used the remaining time to engage the audience in a discussion about the concepts he presented, and he asked both Owen and I to join him at the front of the room to help answer questions. The questions asked were very good, and I think the audience was very receptive to the benefits of the meritocracy model.
I spent most of the day at the check-in table, while the others spent most of the day at the Habari table, in the Dot Org section of the vendor tables. From my seat at the check-in table, I saw a steady stream of people asking questions at the Habari table, and from what I learned from Sean, Chris and Owen, most people were pretty interested in it. A few people were looking for new tools in reaction to dissatisfaction with whatever they were currently using; and a few people were passionately against blogging in general. We gave out all of the shirts Owen brought with him, as well as many of the cards Owen produced. I admit that on Saturday morning I wasn't entirely sure that many people would stop by to learn about our project. All in all, the table was a great way to generate interest in Habari!
Of course, OLF was just one part of the weekend! Friday afternoon Sean and his wife joined me for lunch, and a quick tour of the OSU campus. Late Friday night I took Owen and Chris to Club Diversity for a round of chocolate martinis. We had the traditional OLF lunch on Saturday at Bucca di Beppo (although we did not get the Pope Room), and we had dinner after the fest at Barley's. We spent about an hour at the Google-sponsored party after the close of OLF, but we were driven away by the nerdcore rap of Dual Core. The rap itself wasn't bad, it just wasn't at all the kind of thing we were expecting. I invited Sean, his wife, Chris and Owen to retire to my house, were we stayed up late chatting and playing a little Wii.
It was wonderful to meet Sean and his wife, and it was a treat to see Chris and Owen again. I'm energized to continue to work on Habari, and I'm hopeful that some of the folks we met this weekend will pop up on our mailing lists!
As summer draws to a close, it's time once again for the Ohio LinuxFest, the midwest's best free conference for GNU/Linux and open source enthusiasts. Now in its fifth year, OLF offers terrific presentations on a variety of subjects, a comfortable, casual atmosphere, and plenty of opportunity to meet other GNU/Linux users. Keynote speakers this year are Bradley Kuhn, former executive director of the Free Software Foundation, and Max Spevack, Fedora Project Leader and chair of the Fedora Project Board.
A great new addition to OLF this year is OLFU, a full day of tutorials and training on the Friday before the OLF conference. If you'd like some more formal training for GNU/Linux, or would like the opportunity for discounted professional training and certification from LPI or LOPSA, then OLFU is for you!
What started out as a small little conference for central Ohio GNU/Linux enthusiasts has grown to be one of the premier events in the midwest. This year Google is sponsoring the party after the conference. Drew Curtis of Fark will provide some entertainment before the final keynote. And I think we'll have a surprise or two -- though it's unlikely we'll have live penguins like we did in 2006.
I'll be running the registration desk again, so if you're attending you have no excuse not to say hi to me! I'll also probably spend a little time at the FreeGeek Columbus booth, as well as the Habari booth. Chris, Owen and Rich are all going to attend again; and Sean is coming down from Chicago! Chris is speaking at OLF this year, and I'm very excited to hear his presentation.
As always, admission to OLF is free. If you're going to be there, drop me a note ahead of time, or introduce yourself when you check in!