All Things Open (ATO) is one of my favorite conferences. This week I had the privilege to be in Raleigh, NC for the third time, and give a talk at the conference for the fourth time. I participated not just ATO, but the Community Leadership Summit. Both events were fantastic. I learned a lot, and also realized that many others have the very same problems as I have. I also had a slight overdose of AI :-)
Why I like ATO?
Normally I prefer small events, like Pass the Salt. Small events are more comfortable, have more discussions, more interactions between participants. Large events are noisy, and if you are an introvert (like me), then it’s hard to engage in meaningful interactions with others.
Why do I like to attend ATO then? Obviously, there is noise, lots of it. But no matter how shy I am, I have tons of good discussions both with sudo/syslog-ng users and with completely random participants.
How is it possible? I guess it can be attributed to many things. First and foremost, Todd Lewis, who founded this event 11 years ago, and has kept running it ever since. He keeps saying “Thank you” to everyone, and he means it. Last time we met was four years ago. When we ran into each other on the corridors, he remembered my name, where I am coming from, which events I participate and about my talk too. And he thanked me for being here at ATO.
The name of the conference includes the word “open”. It does not only refer to open source, but also to being open minded. I talked to dozens of people during ATO, and everyone was fully open minded. I cannot find the website boasting it anymore, but once I read that the Research Triangle is the highest average IQ area of the whole US. I do not know how much of it is true, but I met a lot of bright people here. Everyone I talked to was open to new ideas, and no discussions were side tracked by endless ranting about software licenses, closed source software, or other creations of the devil…
Community Leadership Summit
On the first day I participated a co-located event, the Community Leadership Summit. After the opening thoughts of Jono Bacon, the conference had a rather unconventional format, discussion groups. These sessions are lead by volunteers, who introduce their topic, and also make sure that the discussion is kept on track.
To me the main message was that around the world many community leaders have the very same problems as I experience. And I learned about problems I definitely want to avoid. Just to name a few:
If you invest time and energy into an open source community, it will usally have positive effects after 3-5 years.
Building up trust, and the community based on this trust, is a lenghty process. Destroying this trust is a rapid process…
If you abandon investing in your community, it still might go on for a few years, even grow for a while, but you lose trust and users over time, and it will be difficult to win them back.
There are no metrics to demonstrate, how your open-source software improves the sales of your commercial offering. Even if there are direct connections, sales often tries to hide the evidence.
There are software to measure the health of open source communities by measuring developer activity, support forum activity, etc., but they answer only part of the questions, and any measurement can easily lead to false results (daily user activity jumping 100x could easily mean a technical problem in a new release).
AI, OpenTelemetry and other topics
One of the returning topics at the conference was AI and LLM. It is a huge and contradictory topic, and it was also reflected in the talks. There were many opposing opinions:
AI is not evil, but of course it can be misused.
AI is evil, doomed to fail, but open source AI might be good.
AI is good for math and coding, but not for generic questions.
AI might be good for generic questions, but proven to fail with basic math on the eight largest AI services.
My personal view is a mixture of these: AI might be useful in some cases, but gives useless answers in many cases. It is far from perfect, but getting better. There is a strong need for open source: not just AI software, but also training data. So, all pieces are out in the open to experiment with.
Another topic, which came up both in a dedicated talk, and as part of other topics: OpenTelemetry. When it comes to Kubernetes, but even without it (FreeBSD users were asking for OpenTelemetry support), OpenTelemetry is an emerging new standard embraced by many large and smaller organizations for collecting logs, metrics and traces. Support for OpenTelmetry was added to syslog-ng by Axoflow. It has some rough edges, like difficulty to compile, OS support is really limited, however it is definitely a step into the right direction.
The conference had several social events to help networking. I had many good discussions. Of course my favorite was about syslog-ng. Recently I have seen a lot of activity around syslog-ng in the OpenNMS. I put it on my To-do list to take a closer look. As it turned out, my discussion partner worked on OpenNMS for over eight years!
Unfortunately some of the best talks were not recorded: communication skills for developers and developer advocates, monetizing open source, and talking about open source with your managers. As I have lived and breathed open source for almost 30 years now, much of these were nothing new for me. However, these were very well written talks, and would be fantastic if they could reach a lot larger audience.
My talk was not recorded, however not everything is lost. All topics I talked about at the conference are covered in the sudo blogs at https://www.sudo.ws/posts/
Finally, I want to say “Thank you!” to many people. To Todd Lewis for organizing this event, to the volunteers and sponsors, who made it happen. And of course to all people who came to my talk. I hope you did not just learn something new about sudo, but that you will also implement these in your own environment.