FLOSS event offerings have exploded in the last few years. You can find everything from very elite, invitation-only pricey events to small, local meetings that are open to everybody. Almost every company that migrates from being an Open Source consumer to a contributor becomes a conference sponsor, which is positive.
Out there, are the key Open Source communities that constitute the roots of this movement. Even in the cases where they are no longer under the spotlight, some communities still keep the essence of what has made Open Source unique and successful; in some cases for over 20 years, ensuring they have the greatest chances to stand for 20 more.
Events organised by these key communities are all about people, about community, about technology and innovation. Yes, there is space for marketing and business, but that is not where the focus lies or what participants look for. These conferences are not fancy, they do not get much media attention, they do not attract big sponsorship, nor a thousand participants.
But at the same time, they do not have ridiculous keynotes, booths of companies showing the same things over and over again, insubstantial talks about products with little innovation or preachers about how awesome their CLA based community they are building is. Conferences in which most participants are there simply to work. The kind of conferences you attend with little passion to after a while.
There is a group of companies out there that understand how important community focused conferences are. Companies that realise that these events are not just a key activity for those communities that organise them, but also for the participants as individuals and Open Source as a whole.
In many cases, these companies do not have a direct interest in what a specific community does, but they support them anyway, because they listen to their employees and support their passion, or simply as way of being fair, giving a little in return for the immense value they get out of the Open Source community. It is not charity, it is justice.
But in most cases, for these companies it is also about business, the hard kind of business, the sustainable one.
Professional growth requires you to think out of the box; to challenge your ideas; to listen to others’ opinions; to learn from the mistakes of your masters; to choose who to follow with care, and to put yourself in front of an audience, justify your decision and its consequences for others. In summary, to learn, with honesty and a critical spirit.
By supporting these events and encouraging your employees to attend, no matter if they are contributors or not, you are helping them grow while, at the same time, you are helping those key communities to keep on rolling. As a consequence, you are helping yourself too as an organization.
Three benefits for the price of one, and a cheap price.
I work for one of those companies, Codethink. We are strong in embedded, specially in Automotive. There are plenty of industry events we could invest our money in, getting an immediate value when done right. And we do invest in some. But these community-driven events are still a key part of our strategy. It is good for the business, because it is very good for our people.
In 2017 alone, Codethink has sponsored and/or helped in the organisation of FOSDEM, GUADEC, DebConf, several PyCon events, OpenStack meetups.. . On top of that, Codethink has a policy whereby each employee gets financial support and days off to attend such events. We are not the only company with this kind of strategies. There should be many more though. Obviously for an 80 people company, this is a serious investment. But after 10 years Codethink has demonstrated that this support is not a way of sharing profit, but a core business action.
My colleagues, as well as myself, learn, grow, share, refute, discuss and interact with some of the most talented developers (professionals) in the world at these events, taking advantage of an environment that no enterprise event can match. We recharge our batteries, open our eyes, ask ourselves key questions about our work and our careers, about our managers and colleagues, and about our own company. We learn what others do and how they do it, comparing the possibilities their companies provide them to ours. We interact with young developers, reflect on ourselves some years back, getting a different perspective of ourselves and our careers, etc. We grow as individuals and as professionals, so Codethink grows as organization.
It is like a cold shower in the morning. You do not know how good it is until you get dressed.
Obviously Codethink is far from perfect. There is plenty of room for improving these actions and the return we all get out of them, but overall it pays off, no question about it.
So next time you think about your sponsorship strategy and the participation of your colleagues in Open Source conferences, think about community driven events and give them a try. Ask your employees which are the good ones if you do not know them. They will tell you. Even better, attend with them. It will help you to understand the revolution Open Source represents at a completely different level, as well as the profound impact these events have over those who attend.
Like being a parent, you have to live it in order to get it. And Codethink gets it.