2013 All Things Open Conference

Last week was the inaugural All Things Open Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina (USA).

My involvement with this show was somewhat accidental. We were talking with Tom Rabon a few months back about how the Research Triangle Area (which includes Raleigh as well as Chapel Hill and Durham) is something of a hotbed for true open source companies, headed by Red Hat (‘natch). He was thinking we could emphasize this by hosting an open source focused conference in the area, and work toward building some sort of open source “center of excellence” for the region.

Now unfortunately the current North Carolina state government seems hell bent on making the State unattractive for technology businesses as a whole, but there are pockets where the open source culture thrives and the Triangle is one of them. This was noticed by a group out of South Carolina called It-ology whose mission is to promote Information Technology from primary education up through adult professionals, and they see open source as the wave of the future. They decided to hold a conference in the area to see if there was any interest, and when I found out that someone was already working on it I decided to get involved.

The expected attendance was 400 people. Over 800 showed up.

Now note that this was not a free conference, like the wonderful, grassroots LUG-driven events I try to attend. While definitely not as expensive as, say, a Gartner or IDG conference, the fact that so many people were willing to pony up the shekels to come speaks well toward both the conference line up and the organization, headed by Todd Lewis.

I arrived just before 9am and found a huge line of people waiting to register. I chalk that both up to first time conference issues as well as to the unexpected turnout, and for one of the few times in my life I used my clout as a sponsor to get my badge early (grin).

Along the way I ran into Mike Else, the evening’s entertainment, as he performs as Professor Kliq and OpenNMS had paid to sponsor his trip to the show. We entered the crowded, standing room only keynote room and found some places in the back to sit (yes, the “standing room only” part happened after we sat down).

During the opening remarks we were told that IT-ology is looking for a director of operations for the Triangle area, so if you are in to that sort of thing, give them a call. That sounds like something I would love to do, but alas I have bright and golden handcuffs to my current job.

This was followed by some good keynote speeches. One was given by William Hurley, more commonly referred to as simply “whurley“. I first met him back in 2006, but hadn’t seen him in awhile since he created his company Chaotic Moon (and he started rockin’ the C. Everett Koop beard).

He’s his own cult of personality and no one can deny he is a dynamic speaker, but I do want to criticize his use of “F-bombs“. Now don’t get me wrong, I love that word and it is very useful in certain contexts, but this wasn’t one of them. One might have been okay, but this was something of a family oriented show and it detracted from the message (by making some people uncomfortable) versus helping it.

I also took issue with his claim that open source hadn’t changed in the three years he’s been at Chaotic Moon (that company is definitely not open source, having gained fame through the development of iOS apps). He brought up some examples, such as RMS, Mark Shuttleworth and Matt Asay (that last one struck me as odd since he ceased to be relevant a long time ago, if he ever was) and to me we have so moved beyond them, this conference being one example.

The little video he showed of the mind controlled skateboard was cool, though.

I talked with him about the keynote afterward and the fact of the matter is that he is who he is and F-bombs are just part of that. Still, he does get the conversation started and it was great hearing stories about working with Rupert Murdoch and Steve Jobs in the same room.

But it wasn’t the whurley show (sorry to drone on about it but that is just what happens when he is around). I got to see Andrew Oliver and Phillip Rhodes, two local open source entrepreneurs who I’ve kept in touch with over the years. I also went to a talk by Jason Hibbets, the main project lead for opensource.com as well as the author of The Foundation for an Open Source City and another reason why the conference was held in Raleigh.

Most of Wednesday’s talks were business and introductory, whereas Thursday’s talks were more technical. I did one on my experiences running an open source business, which was held over lunch.

That night there were a number of social events. There was a Github drinkup, followed by a speakers dinner, followed by a party sponsored by OpenNMS. Kliq did an amazing set, but there seemed to be a large drop in attendance from the initial Github party and ours. I think that was mainly due to people being local and heading home (I made it back to my, slightly spinning, hotel room around 2am) but part of it may have been the delay in the middle. Next year we should probably not split the events like that, so there is more continuity (versus come to Spy, leave to get dinner, and come back to Spy).

Still, since I was buying the drinks, it worked out (grin).

Overall I had a great time, and the feedback has been uniformly positive. Next year may see a curtailing in the number of conferences I can attend, but All Things Open will be one of them.