All Things Open 2019

Posted by Ryan Himmelwright on Sat, Nov 9, 2019
Tags linux, community, events
Downtown Raleigh, NC

Two weeks ago, I attended All Things Open (2019) for the second year in a row. ATO is an annual conference that explores and celebrates… well, all things open. Open source, open tech, and open government are all main topics at the conference. Best of all, it’s right here in the triangle (Raleigh NC). Here are some of my overall take-aways from this year.

While the talks are always full of information, the main benefit I receive from attending the conference is leaving with a list of technologies and ideas I want to test out. So, rather than go into boring detail about each talk I went to, I will elaborate on some common topics/themes I experienced and what I am excited to dig into as a result.

(Sorry there aren’t any visuals in this post. I’m still a terrible event participant and didn’t take any pictures)


1) Tech

Let’s get tech out of the way, right up front. Here are some ideas I left the various technical talks with:

I am going to keep using ZFS for my server

It happened again. Over the last few months I’ve entertained the idea of moving off of ZFS on my home server for something like mergerfs + snapraid. Then I went to a Jim Salter ZFS talk, and just like last time… I want to ZFS all the things. So, it looks like I’ll be sticking with it on the server. Also… it might be time for a ZFS tune-up to make sure I have the appropriate options configured correctly…

I want to start building Flatpaks

As a Fedora Silverblue user, I rely heavily on flatpaks for most of my desktop applications these days. While I have only built the “hello world” demo when playing with flatpak in the past, this is something I think I want to dig deeper into. Knowing how to build and tweak flatpaks would be extremely useful. It would enable me to package up software I need to use, but then also contribute my efforts back to the community.

sudo is awesome.

I already knew this, but I always forget how much sudo can do. Like ssh, the possibilities of being well informed about the advanced options of sudo are endless. I think I’m going to dig deeper into some of the settings, and see what I can find.

I need to automate my cloud provisioning

This has been on my list for awhile now, but after seeing so many demonstrations of people using terraform and chef to spin up their cloud environments… I need to start adding some provisioning roles to my ansible playbooks. I think using the Digital Ocean module to spin up/tear down temporary project droplets might be a good start…

2) Mentoring/Teaching

Large Scale Mentoring

One of my favorite talks of the conference was co-done by two kubernetes contributers (from Red Hat and Google). They explained how the kubernetes project tackles the big problem of mentoring… specifically how it can even be done in a several-thousand contributer project that also has hundreds of fly-by contributers.

What I enjoyed most about their mentoring system was how it was organized. First, they went through and defined all the leadership roles, documenting what the role was, and how it is done. Next, they made a mentoring chart for all the defined roles, listing the current person for each role in one column, and the person(s) next-in-line that are training for that role in the next column. I think this is a great system for communities, and I might see if I can take some lessons from this structure and help apply it to some volunteer organizations I work with.

Gamifing Education

Another interesting education talk I went to was about gamifying education. In the past, whenever I encountered topics trying to “gamify” education, they usually involved how to add gaming aspects to current methods of teaching (points for answering questions, leveling up in difficulty, etc). This talk however, focused on actually making games (ex: board games) that just happen to teach children as they play. It went in depth about what to keep in mind while designing such a game, and gave great examples about challenges I wouldn’t normally think of. For instance, the presenter suggested designing the games so that any random items could be used as the game pieces (rocks, beans, spoons). This lowers the barrier of entry so that children in all types of living situations are able to play, and I think it is great advice.

Best of all, the talk concluded with the suggestion to host all game sources/documentation in a public repo on a website like Github. This not only makes the game accessible to people all over the world, but allows the community to improve and expand on it. If there is something confusing in the documentation, another person can clarify and fix it. Open sourcing the game also enables the community to modify and invent new variations, improving it over time. The talk showcased how we can take the best aspects of open source, and use them to hopefully make learning a bit more fun and accessible.

Those who can Do, Should Also Teach

As someone that struggled to focus in traditional lecture-style classes, but thrived in hands-on lab courses, I am always looking for new methods and ways to help others learn. One talk I observed, encouraged the audience to start teaching others as they continue grow their skills. The talk provided many useful tips and approaches for teaching both technical and non-technical “students”.

A big motivation behind this website is that it allows me to share my experiences so others can (hopefully) learn from them. As I sat listening to the talk, I started to brain-storm what I could do to better extend my ability to teach. I first wondered what changes I could make to the website, but then started thinking about even new avenues I could pursue. I haven’t finalized any ideas yet, but it is something I will keep in mind as I start planning my goals for the new year.

3) Communities/Diversity and Inclusion

I first listed “Communities” and “Diversity and Inclusion” as too separate topics. However, as I started to sort talks into the categories, I realized these two overlapped all the time. So I merged them.

Honestly, this topic was so prevalent at ATO, that it’s hard to summarize even a little bit. From learning about the curb cutting effect, to diversifying recruiters and continually switching up who leads meetings, there were all sorts of facts and tips about how to build more diverse teams and even communities.

This topic sparked my curiosity, and I ended up walking away with two new books added to my reading list: The Culture Map by Erin Meyer, and Jono Bacon’s upcoming book, People Powered.

4) Burn-out/Team Dynamics

Last but not least, there were talks about another related topic pair: team dynamics and burn-out. Every talk I went to that focused on either these topics was really well delivered, which was a relief as both topics are very important in the tech industry. To summarize, I’ll list 3 items which I already subscribe to, but came up again and again in the presentations:

  • Multi-tasking isn’t real
  • Stop blaming others
  • A balanced life outside of work is required to be productive at work (eat healthy, exercise, get more sleep, have a hobby)


With my second year at All Things Open finished… would I recommend it? Absolutely. No matter why someone is interested in open source (the tech, the community aspects, sharing with others), there will be something there for them. See you next year!

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