How do you say “desktop environment” in Flemish? FOSDEM 2020 Trip Report

A cake shaped like two gears with a red "20" printed on it.
Photo courtesy of FOSDEM. Licensed CC-BY

FOSDEM is one of the biggest community organized conferences in Europe. Run by a team of dedicated volunteers, the conference has been going for 20 years. It’s one of the biggest yearly events for us at GNOME Foundation and a rare opportunity for the staff to come together.

As a fully remote team, the GNOME Foundation staff all get together twice a year to strategize, plan, and collaborate at GUADEC and at FOSDEM. This is also when the Foundation Board of Directors and Advisory Board have the chance to meet in person.

In the four days leading up to the event, GTK Core Developer Emanuelle Bassi and Matthias Classen hosted a hackfest focused on GKT and the future of accessibility in GNOME. We really appreciate everyone who showed up, and would especially like to thank the blind participants and those with vision issues and expertise as those using the accessibility tools.

A stack of liege waffles on a red plate.
Photo courtesy of osiristhe on Flickr. Licensed CC BY-ND 2.0

Prior to the conference, we had two days of meetings – one for the Board and one for what we affectionately call the “AdBoard.” At both we learned and planned, which we’re looking forward to sharing with you over the upcoming months.

While Executive Director Neil McGovern and Director of Operations Rosanna Yuen met with the Board of Directors, I attended Sustain Summit. I led a session on diversity in open source with a focus on building global movements.

On Friday the entire staff met with the AdBoard. These meetings are focused around what our AdBoard members are up to, what GNOME has done over the past six months, and what we’re looking forward to over the next six months. It is a time for questions and answers, and also a place to find points of collaboration and to help the Foundation understand what is happening for organization stakeholders, where their interests, successes, and pain points lie.

Buildings of Grand Place in Brussels, Belgium.
Photo courtesy of Friar’s Balsam on Flickr. Licensed CC BY 2.0

FOSDEM itself was a whirwind. On the first day we participated in three sessions. Neil participated in a friendly debate over whether the four freedoms and the Open Source Definition are still relevant today. I had a lot of fun arguing in support of the creation and adoption of licenses to advance social issues. I could also be found in the main track talking about the ethics of Internet of Things devices and how they impact communities.

While all of this was going on, the rest of the staff attended sessions, had meetings, and helped with the GNOME booth in the exhibit hall. The GNOME booth was amazingly successful. Caroline Henriksen, Brand Manager, and Melissa Wu, who is coordinating the GNOME Education Challenge, talked about our upcoming plans for Challenge. Program Coordinator Kristi Progri spent her time representing the GNOME Foundation to stakeholders, meeting participants in the project, and forged new connections for the future.

Saturday night we had a fun evening at BAR NAME SOMETHING BOOI for GNOME Beers. Contributors and FOSDEM attendees came to hang out, have a drink, and have a chance to meet one another in person. Meanwhile, I attended Open Source Funding Speed Dating, serving as a judge to help fund up-and-coming free and open source projects.

The Sunday of FOSDEM was full of meetings, more sessions, and, of course, the GNOME booth.The GNOME booth wouldn’t be possible without the awesome volunteers who took on so much of the responsibility of running it. Thank you, Adrien, Anisa, Bastian, Ben, Bilal, and Kat!

On Monday, several of us attended CopyLeft Conf, a conference hosted by our friends at the Software Freedom Conservancy.

As I write this, I am on the plane headed home. Reflecting on the great week I had in Brussels, Belgium, I recognize the role all of you had in making it happen. Your support of the GNOME Foundation makes it possible for us to attend events like this. Without you we wouldn’t be able to bring the Board of Directors together in person. We wouldn’t be representing our project and the value of community built, free and open software. We wouldn’t have been able to host the hackfest that pushed forward GTK development and accessibility planning. We wouldn’t have been able to bring other GNOME contributors to the event, by funding their travel.

Thank you so much! I believe this was my fourth FOSDEM, and my first with GNOME. It was definitely the best yet.