The first three days of DebConf 2014 are over. This is my first DebConf ever, being a long-time Debian user but only recently come into the community as an active contributor, and now seems like a good opportunity to take a few minutes and write about my experience here so far.
First off, I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting DebConf to be or what I was expecting to get out of it. I think for all conferences I've been to, the most valuable thing has been seeing people talk about the projects that matter to them and rediscovering why I use and work on free software. So, certainly that, plus just being around and absorbing as much Debian as possible, which is seriously lacking in my normal circles.
The first two days were full of high-level concept talks for me. This felt like a good way to start the conference, before diving into days and days of projects and technical details. Former DPL Stefano Zacchiroli (@zacchiro) kicked things off by talking about how free software does continue to be more and more widely adopted, but why that may no longer be enough in an increasingly cloud-centered world. To paraphrase one of his main points, if everyone in the world is using completely free operating systems, does that even matter if they just use a web browser to access proprietary web applications? Excellent question.
Next, Biella Coleman (@BiellaColeman) gave a brief glimpse into her research on the history of Anonymous. This was definitely fascinating work, and I'm planning on snagging a copy of her book on the topic when it comes out. The tie-in to Debian and free software was a bit tenuous, but still an interesting talk.
I really enjoyed the personal journey that Christine Spang (@spang) took us on as she described her discovery of other geeks on the internet, the Debian community, and where it all took her. I have to say her story really resonated with me and my own history. It also helped me reflect on the opportunities I have forgone and missed over the course of my comparatively much longer journey to being involved in this community.
There was a discussion about how to improve collaboration between Debian and the FSF. John Sullivan (@johns_FSF) presented his view of the current state of affairs and areas where the two projects have similar goals and could work more closely. Of course there are many different opinions on what successful outcomes would look like and even on what kinds of collaboration make sense. This is something I have followed in the past and am deeply interested in, being both a Debian Developer and a FSF member, so I will likely rewatch the discussion once recordings are available and maybe write more about it someday.
The third day was all about Debian internal organizational things. First I attended a session with the Debian Technical Committee, where the committee discussed their work over the past year, current work, and opened the floor for questions and discussion. The best part of this session for me was just seeing the real people behind the discussions. After that, a discussion of the job of maintenance of the Debian keyring, which is what lets maintainers do their work in Debian and protects the integrity of the software archive. I am no crypto expert, I know just enough to be dangerous, so I learned a lot about what the keyring team does and what improvements they are hoping to make. There was a lot of great feedback and suggestions, in particular documenting best practices or recommended procedures for key creation and handling. This was followed later in the afternoon with a large keysigning party.
I have not done much Debian work during DebConf yet. I was inspired by the FSF discussion to reevaluate my limited use of proprietary software, though, so I am now pleased to report that the only non-free packages I use on Debian are documentation and hardware-related (drivers and firmware). And I have now contributed (questionable value?) this correspondence. Anyway, on with the rest of DebConf; I'll be following this post with another after the conference ends.