FOSS.IN/2007: The first list (and why it is so hard)

If you have been following the FOSS.IN/2007 saga, you know that we chose to do a CfP Restart rather than compromise on the objectives of the event.

The CfP finally closed on October 20th, and we have been spending the past week weeding through 300 talk submissions, choosing talks that were closest to what we wanted for FOSS.IN.

I could say that it was a breeze, all the talks just fell into place, and all we needed to do was eeny, meeny, miny, moe to select a bunch of talks.

Sadly, this was not the case.

I can safely say that this was by far the hardest thing Team FOSS.IN have ever done in 7 years that we have been running this event.

One problem was the absolutely incredible push-back we faced.

FOSS.IN is about contribution to Free and Open Source Software. It is not about evangelism, it is not about using technologies, it is not about being cool. We have a goal that we set ourselves years ago – to encourage, cajole and even bully Indian developers into contributing to FOSS, instead of just being consumers.

Why is this so important to us? Here is our “internal mission statement”:

We believe (and the industry agrees) that people who are involved with FOSS tend to have a much better understanding of technology, simply because they can – instead of having to work with often obscure and closed APIs, FOSS developers can drill down to the very core of things, and understand every aspect of the technology they are working with, often improving on it.

FOSS contributors also quickly learn how to be part of a large, distributed, global development team, using communication tools to maximum benefit.

But most of all, FOSS contributors experience something few closed source developers can: they experience a feeling of ownership and belonging. No matter how small their contribution may be, they know that it made a difference.

The biggest beneficiaries of this will be not just existing professional developers, but also students, who will get a head-start on previous generations of developers and technologists, by standing on the shoulders of giants. And not just admiring them from a distance, but actually interacting with them.

FOSS.IN is about making this happen.

Of course, this is not what the vast majority of talk submitters wanted. What *they* wanted was to stand on stage, expound the benefits of FOSS, maybe even give a shallow little introduction to some FOSS application or technology, then pride themselves for “having done their bit to promote FOSS”.

A vast majority of the talks submitted to FOSS.IN this year were talks like these. And we rejected them all – more than 200 of them. This year, we were taking a hard stand – either a talk matched the objectives of the event, or we simply wouldn’t select it – no matter who submitted it.

Naturally, this led to HUGE ego clashes. More than one well known FOSS personality decided to go “holier than thou” on us. Though we can never reveal names, I can tell you that if you ever found out the names of some of the speakers whose talks we rejected, you would faint.

By the 8th of October, when the CfP was to close, we realised that we had not gotten even *close* to what we wanted. So we had two choices – call the event off, or take an unbelievable risk: we restarted the CfP, clearly telling people why.

And *this* time we not only started getting the kind of talks we were hoping to see – we started getting talk submissions from people whom we had expected to see at FOSS.IN. Imagine waking up in the morning after a long night of rejecting talks, blearily staring at the latest crop of submissions, and seeing talks submitted by Rusty Russell!

Or realising a few minutes later (coffee helped) that along with Harald Welte and James Morris, we had almost the entire original Netfilter/iptables team at FOSS.IN!

And then beginning to see names like Ulrich Drepper (glibc), Mitchell Baker (Mozilla), Sam Hocevar (Debian Project Leader) and Thomas Gleixner (Linux Realtime-Preempt Patches) appear on the submission list. Not just that, but suddenly, we were beginning to see many prominent *Indian* contributors submit talks!

After we closed the CfP, we still had to work with almost every submitter to finetune their talk to completely address the needs of FOSS.IN. Each talk in the Main Conference had to necessarily address our 25-25-50 formula – 25% “About”, 25% “Using” and 50% “Contributing”. The idea was to present talks that will allow our audiences to understand the project, and learn how they can participate in it.

Last night, we finally looked at the list and said “this is it – it can’t get better than this”.

And so, here is the first list of talks.

There are still plenty of things that will change over the next week. Some talks/speakers will be added, some removed, and none of the keynotes or panel discussions or BoFs are in this list yet. But it should give you a fairly good idea what talks we are going to have, and who is speaking.

In 7 years, we have not had a speaker lineup like this, and we aren’t done yet.

Stay tuned.