FOSDEM 2024: my experience, some notes and tech tips

247 points2
radicalbyte2 days ago

Went for the second time this year (after being invited by an OSS hero friend I made during COVID) and took my oldest (10) along.

Whilst last year was spent mainly on coffee, drinks and food with friends this year I basically spent the entire weekend with my son in the kids workshop. He loved it and I really enjoyed seeing him interested in coding.

Also spoke to lots of very nice and very diverse people; that whole "strike up a conversation with strangers" thing is what I love about FOSDEM and it's why we'll be back again next year. Everyone is welcome, most of us aren't there to flog something but to have nice chats and maybe catch a session or two.

Thanks to all of the organisers!

Maybe we should have a #hn community place or meet there next year? :-)

stef252 days ago

TIL there's a kids workshop! As from what age do you think it's interesting for them ?

radicalbyte2 days ago

We spent the weekend here basically:

* Microblocks:

* MIT App Inventor:

* Hedy:

Hedy in particular was extremely good: it teaches kids to code in text in Python, building up from what looks like natural text into real code. The session was given by a primary school teacher (who was Dutch, which helped as my lad is Dutch/British and that's his first language).

She had excellent results with dyslexic kids, it turns out the black/white nature of code combined with the detail really helps them. Materially improves spelling.

Age? My son is 10 but there were younger kids there. My daughter is 7 and my son taught her how to use Scratch when he got home. So she's old enough. Although she is bright (skipped a year at school and the work she is doing is two years ahead of that).

616c2 days ago

This is truly inspiring, thanks for sharing your experiences.

stef252 days ago

Lived in Brussels my whole life, some general thoughts

- Yes the trash situation is bad. It is actually due to political infighting. As you may know Brussels has 19 communes, 19 mayors, a whole lot of pencil pushers and 4 differently colored trash bags that each have their own pickup day, so this leads to some ridiculous situations.

- There's much better bars or introductions to beer than Delirium, which is basically for tourists (as are those meters of beer on a plank). There's Moeder Lambik in 2 locations, a whole bunch of bars around Place Flagey and about another dozen at the Parvis of St Gilles.

- Public transport tends to suck unless you're lucky with the stops / lines and the rental bikes / scooters are the best way to get around. That, or walking. It's a pretty small city.

- The city is safe, just be careful around the Gare du Midi esp at night, and pick pockets exist almost everywhere. Don't lose sight of your valuables.

- Belgians are discreet and modest, almost too much. Any lack of enthusiasm and fireworks is for this reason :)

- Winter is drab around here. Humid, gray, cold.

ebiester2 days ago

So, I get that beer samplers are "for tourists," but it is also hard to try a wide variety of beers when on a relatively short trip without them. Also, as someone who also lives in a tourist town, it is much better to herd them all together. Ironically, they end up having more fun because the locals are there to interact with each other, and the tourists are much more likely to inter-mingle.

This is counter to their stated preference, but the actions end up revealing themselves.

NoboruWataya2 days ago

> Also, as someone who also lives in a tourist town, it is much better to herd them all together. Ironically, they end up having more fun because the locals are there to interact with each other, and the tourists are much more likely to inter-mingle.

Reminds me of Temple Bar in Dublin. Anyone from Dublin will always advise you to avoid the place as it is full of overpriced tourist traps, but tourists consistently go there and any I've spoken to always report having a great time. Leave them to it I guess!

thecosmicfrog2 days ago

I tell Dublin tourists they should definitely check out Temple Bar for one night. It's loud, has dozens of pubs and restaurants, is packed with people, and is just generally good craic[1]. I don't go there myself all too often, but it's not like I don't go to Times Square at least once when I visit NYC. I think we forget sometimes that the average tourist is on holiday and pretty happy to just switch off and go with the flow.


pantalaimon2 days ago

The thing about Delirium is that it's where the (unofficial) FOSDEM Beer Event happens¹, so that's where you meet all the other FOSDEM people.

[1] there used to be an official FOSDEM beer event there before COVID, but people just still go there.

zilti1 day ago

Ooh is that why Delirium was so utterly overcrowded, with loud shit music playing? The time I was there about 6 years ago outside of FOSDEM it was quite full but not overcrowded, and at least the loudness of the music was bearable. I assumed it just finally tipped over and turned into a crappy tourist place, but it's just FOSDEM then?

cedws2 days ago

I was surprised how brazen the pickpockets are. One of them approached me at a station (not Gare du Midi) being friendly. I reciprocated having had a few beers at this point. The next moment I feel his hand in my pocket trying to fish my wallet out. Luckily he ran off as soon as I noticed, he wasn't a particularly good pickpocket.

Maybe it only happened because I looked strongly tourist. Thieves and pickpockets are more quick and sly in London. Frankly, every visit I have always felt a bit unsafe in Brussels. Someone I met at FOSDEM last year had their car window smashed in.

fvdessen2 days ago

FYI Moeder Lambic is now as touristic as Delirium since every beer nerd tells people at Delirium to go there instead …

weinzierl2 days ago

- Public transport tends to suck unless you're lucky with the stops / lines and the rental bikes / scooters are the best way to get around. That, or walking. It's a pretty small city.

I found public transport in Brussels pretty decent. Especially the MOBIB card system just works. This is completely different where I live in Germany.

I only had difficulties on the day of my arrival on Thursday because of the farmers protests and that is where an E-Scooter saved me. That you can just pick up a scooter even when you signed up in a different country is fantastic.

Apart from that, I have the hunch that Germany is the only remaining country where people pay cash. That you can pay everything with your card is quite convenient.

teekert2 days ago

The subway was pretty good indeed, combine with some walking and it gets you many places. I for one wasn’t brave enough for the scooters…

mistrial92 days ago

I do not understand the attitude of being location tracked plus details of your transactions, stored by corporations, is "convenient"

CorrectHorseBat1 day ago

>Yes the trash situation is bad

>Public transport tends to suck

Yes, it's clear you have never lived in another city in Belgium ;) The public transportation is by far the best in the country and thrash pick up days couldn't be easier. It's always the same day of the week, every week of the year. It's just that people suck at it in Brussels.

ghaff2 days ago

Second Moeder Lambik. Went to the pre-FOSDEM party at Delirium once. Never again.

And though I've taken the bus from near the Place Royale to the university for FOSDEM, it's very walkable.

throw1567542282 days ago

Sounds a lot like London.

elric2 days ago

My biggest gripe with FOSDEM has been the same for over 20 years: the doors to devrooms should remain firmly closed during a talk. It's so annoying (and disrespectful) when people come and go during talks. The seats and tables are all very noisy, the accoustics tend to be poor. The best way to attend dev room talks is by watching the videos. Sigh. I wish people would just be polite enough to wait outside when a talk is already in progress. Or at least bother to enter quietly.

The criticism of Brussels is warranted. There is a serious lack of public toilets in Belgium in general, but it's worse in Brussels due to the population density and prevalence of poverty. The trash situation is something I've been meaning to write an essay on, but two words to sum it up: political incompetence.

hddherman2 days ago

For what it's worth, I got politely turned away at the PostgreSQL devroom doors when I was about 10 minutes late to a session. Perhaps this is not something that got passed along to all volunteers.

ahartmetz2 days ago

Could have been because the room was full. That's AFAIK the only reason why lecture hall doors are closed at FOSDEM. At least Postgres has a room of more or less appropriate size lately. A couple of years ago, they had some of the most interesting talks in one of the smallest rooms. Impossible to get in without queueing up a talk or two in advance.

sakjur2 days ago

IIRC it’s left to the devroom organizer to keep the doors closed for entering during a talk.

dale_glass2 days ago

It's in good part because the conference is at its limits.

Scheduling is uneven. Talk A ends at 10:50, talk B starts at 10:45. Also getting from the H building to K takes a good while, and interesting talks tend to get full which is an extra reason to try to be early.

Unfortunately it's not a really solvable problem short of maybe making the conference a day longer.

ghaff2 days ago

I haven't been for a while but latterly I came to the conclusion that you picked a devroom for a day/half-day that you were interested in the talks/people and hung there. Or you spend the half-day networking/socializing. It's mostly an exercise in frustration to flit from room to room for specific talks.

awaythrow9992 days ago

> The trash situation is something I've been meaning to write an essay on,

Did a quick search because I recall an old article by The Economist dating to between 2000-2005 already complaining of people in suites leaving their dogs to shit on the sidewalks without concern. I sadly can't find it but there is plenty of content that teils me things haven't changed.

bboreham2 days ago

My biggest gripe at FOSDEM is the folks who strike up a conversation while seated in the room, during a talk.

To be fair this happens at KubeCon too.

Symbiote2 days ago

I haven't been to FOSDEM, but at any other conference I'd turn to them and "sssh!"

It is generally understood.

mattbee2 days ago

My first too; I enjoyed it but if I wasn't meeting up with old friends, I wouldn't have bothered.

Coming from the UK, the city trash and cycling standards seem fine :) There is a darned hill in the way of everything in Brussels, but I brought my bike helmet and buzzed around on hire scooters.

I agree with another poster here, the ventilation in some rooms will just be intolerable for some people. Sometimes windows are opened and you can sit near them, sometimes not. Quite often you will have walked across campus and squeezed onto the floor at the back of a busy room to sweat, straining to hear someone mumble.

The atmosphere around the grubby 60s uni & grey weather is non-existent. But the live streaming is apparently excellent. You don't need to travel to see the talks, and it's easier to quit out of a bad one :)

It's a logistical marvel in some ways, but also a total white boys club, the most homogeneous conference I've ever been to.

elric2 days ago

> but also a total white boys club, the most homogeneous conference I've ever been to

Is it? It's one of the most trans-inclusive conferences I've been to. There's a lot more women at recent editions as well. I suspect the audience was a reasonably fair representation of the IT crowd in Belgium and surrounding countries. There's something to be said for the lack of diversity in IT in Belgium, but you can't really blame FOSDEM for that.

catwell2 days ago

It depends a lot on the rooms you go too as well, it's a reflection of the various communities (in Europe mostly, although quite a few people come from overseas too).

radicalbyte2 days ago

He must have been somewhere else. Saw and spoke to plenty of non-CIS-males in and around K (where the big cantine is with coffee). A majority looked white/male of course but that is a function of the industry and demographics of Western Europe.

It's by far the most diverse conference I've been to.. but I've only been the Microsoft events and CES where the most diverse you got was being a white CIS dude wearing jeans instead of a suit.

dale_glass2 days ago

> My first too; I enjoyed it but if I wasn't meeting up with old friends, I wouldn't have bothered.

It gets better on repeat visits. The first one is daunting, it's a very busy conference with lots of running around and often not making it into a full room.

Once you figure out what's where and the general flow of the place it's a much smoother experience.

My current strategy is to mostly ignore the big keynotes. You can always watch the video afterwards. To me the most important things are the talks where I expect to have questions to ask, and the stands. If you can't ask a question after the talk you can often still talk to the speaker in the hallway.

With a bit of practice and a plan you can have very cool conversations with some very interesting people, and sometimes people organize an after-FOSDEM dinner or similar type event.

cbeach2 days ago

> a total white boys club, the most homogeneous conference I've ever been to.

Sorry you feel that way.

Personally, diversity of people's thought interests me more than diversity of their superficial birth characteristics.

I recall meeting great people and talking about all manner of things when I last attended FOSDEM.

Maybe next time try interacting more - learning about people's character and experience - rather than judging those people on their skin colour at first glance?

zilti1 day ago

Thank you, spot-on.

bowsamic2 days ago

There’s no way you’ve been here for 12 years and think this comment is appropriate for this forum

DANmode14 hours ago

What are you talking about?

zilti1 day ago

Is it that bad now here, too?

bowsamic1 day ago
raybb2 days ago

Your post inspired me to finally write about my FOSDEM experience this year. In summary, it was a little hard connecting to people without already knowing someone there but I still had a nice time in general and learned about some nice stuff like Open Food Facts, PassBolt, and Looking forward to going again next year. If I'm lucky maybe even give a talk about something, I've really been enjoying coolify this year and maybe the creator would welcome a guest speaker sharing it :)

dale_glass2 days ago

Nice, but that blog software is obnoxious.

Who ever thought that while reading the first post on the site and not yet done, I'd actually appreciate being scrolled back to the top, and getting a popup asking to subscribe to a newsletter?

Even if I wanted to, I'd refuse out of principle.

raybb1 day ago

wow that popup in the middle of the article and scrolling is obnoxious. I have never seen it since it doesn't show it to me when logged in.

I poked around and it doesn't appear I can disable that popup without disabling the whole newsletter feature. I don't care so much about people subscribing but my less techy friends seem to like the newsletter mode.

I messaged the support to ask about this. Other than that I've been pretty happy with them given that I don't want to selfhost my blog right now.

Anyway, thanks for letting me know.

summm2 days ago

This! And, the RSS feed isn't referenced in the header, so my reader wouldn't automatically recognize it. At least the icon is clearly visible.

raybb1 day ago

I also messaged support about this. Hopefully they address it.

Thanks for pointing it out.

nickstinemates2 days ago

FOSDEM is amazing for hanging out with old friends and the vibe is excellent. Lots of conversations to be had.

FOSDEM is not a place to hack on new ideas with people or to learn by watching talks. That's best left for the streams.

Overall the main benefit is networking and beer.

juliangmp2 days ago

Was my first FOSDEM too and I'm definetly planning to attend next year as well! One thing I didn't like was how crowded some of the rooms were. I wanted to watch some talks in the rust devroom but it was so crowded I pretty much gave up watching the talks live and spent my time behind the codeberg stand. Luckily theres recordings of the talks online ^^

mid-kid2 days ago

If you're room hopping you're essentially going to have to give up on entering some rooms at all. Some people have the strategy of sitting in a less crowded room and then switching to a stream from a crowded room whenever they feel like, but the success of that kind of depends on the infrastructure.

AndyMcConachie2 days ago

It needs a new venue. My first FOSDEM was immediately before COIVD-19 broke out and it was the last time I travelled for 2 years straight. If someone would have had COVID at that conference probably lots of OSS devs would have died.

FOSDEM doesn't fit in its venue anymore, which is great in a way. It's been incredibly successful, but now it's time to find a bigger venue.

atq21192 days ago

Perhaps. But then again, its reason for success and its charm comes from being given access to the University for free because it's being run by a university-associated team. Messing with that would almost certainly destroy the character of the conference.

ghaff2 days ago

Yeah, it sort of is what it is both in terms of venue size and time of year. At the end of the day you find an attendance strategy that works best for you and work around the worst of the crowding. (Or just watch some videos.)

Personally, it's quite a bit less tempting to attend than it was when there were a number of more-or-less time adjacent European events I had some interest in.

EdiX2 days ago

> FOSDEM doesn't fit in its venue anymore, which is great in a way. It's been incredibly successful, but now it's time to find a bigger venue.

The ULB campus is pretty big, finding a bigger venue is going to be complicated.

zoobab2 days ago

Compared to CCC, i miss night sessions and hacking tables.

eniac1112 days ago

Exactly. There are almost 30 rooms with live talks. Only universities might fit an event from this size.

jen202 days ago

I wonder if Brussels Expo might. Perhaps the EU might help offset the cost (I assume the university is free to use).

s3krit2 days ago

I got FOSDEM flu from FOSDEM 2020 and sometimes wondered if it was COVID-19. Absolutely horrendous flu, and a few of my friends also got it. This was obviously pre all the testing that would become commonplace in the coming months. Who knows.

BaudouinVH2 days ago

I live in Brussels. I can only agree about the trash pick-up. The biking situation has vastly improved in the last years but is still far from perfect. You can reach FOSDEM using a tram or - not mentioned in the article - by bus 71 (busiest public transport line in Brussels, expect some company).

pantalaimon2 days ago

I found the trick was to take the metro line 5 to Delta and then take Bus 71 from there, much less crowded - I could get a seat every day.

solarkraft2 days ago

To me this FOSDEM (my first one) was nice, but nowhere near the level of spectacle I'm used to from Chaos Events (I didn't expect it, but maybe a bit more would've been nice). It felt a bit dull - mostly people wandering around in narrow hallways, with talks hidden away in small rooms. There weren't many fun gizmos or nice places to make the experience ... comfortable. Every once in a while someone would play on the piano, which was nice.

Of course the people were great. Lots of nice conversations to be had. This is why I'll probably return for the next one.

A lot of the fun I had happened during Byte Night, where, during a break from partying, I stumbled upon a buch of people doing a Typescript CTF, which evolved into quite a few nice conversations.

I was pretty tired on day 2.

jldugger2 days ago

The amount of video that comes out of FOSDEM is amazing. The schedule says there's like 800 events, over the course of two days. One has time to sample perhaps 5 percent of the talks, so I don't feel _too_ bad about never attending.

noobermin2 days ago

So i have a strange request. I'm a computational scientist but I've always wanted to attend fosdem as some of the tools we use are open source. For those a little outside of computer science proper or tech in general, what do you use to justify to funding agencies or the like (advisor) to attend fosdem if you do?

dale_glass2 days ago

I'd argue that it's very useful for making contacts.

The talks are online, but FOSDEM is full of interesting people. Some of those people aren't very available online. Some you don't even know they exist. Some organize an after-FOSDEM dinner like the Perl people do. You can ask around questions like "Is anyone from X here?" and probably get a positive answer even if they don't have anything in the schedule.

FOSDEM also has BOF (Birds of a Feather, basically a bunch of people in a room having a chat about something) that can be set up on an improvised manner. And of course you can just agree to eat or drink something with them.

So it can be extremely useful to attend in person especially if you come with a plan.

I've gone to dinner with people, had a KDE member help debug stuff on my laptop, and done experimentation on Open Source VR with another project's members, for instance.

That can be extremely useful, and for the price of travel and hotel (FOSDEM itself is free), that's an extremely good deal.

pantalaimon2 days ago

Well train tickets back and forth were ~100€ in total and an AirBnB for two nights was also ~100€, so I just paid for it myself.

The conference itself is free (as in Beer).

dtx12 days ago

Two Times in a row i got home from fosdem absolutely sick. It's always cold, rainy, the campus is an order of magnitude to small for the amount of people in attendance and the lecture rooms windows aren't opened long enough to deal with all the People Smells that accumulate. If you go there, were a Mask at all times and desinfect your hands frequently or you will end up sick. Oh, and drinks are cheapest from the vending machines because they are from the university, not from the commercial vendors.

stef252 days ago

Cold & rain doesn't cause illness, def too many people :)

solarkraft2 days ago

I've been on a sickness streak for a large part of the last year - and for a change I was fine after this event :)

evrimoztamur2 days ago

Yep, just got mine sinking in after a week. In retrospect, going to a nearly 10k attendee event without a mask was not a smart idea...

cube22222 days ago

Was on FOSDEM first time this year, working the OpenTofu booth, and it was great fun!

I was surprised how big the conference is, and how diverse the attendees were, and it was great to meet and talk to maintainers of many pervasive open-source projects.

It was also nice to hear so many people tell us they've already moved to OpenTofu :)

eniac1112 days ago

Hi from the Video team 8-)

saghul2 days ago

I've been going to FOSDEM since 2011 and you folks impress me every year! Outstanding work!

ahartmetz2 days ago

IIRC, video often had trouble like incomprehensible audio due to way too quiet or overdriven recording at the time (i.e. 2011). But for some years now, it has usually been perfect indeed :)

secure2 days ago

The 3? (4?) video recordings I watched from FOSDEM 2024 all had bad audio :( sounded overdriven to me

dale_glass2 days ago

Good work! I remember that when I first started attending many things weren't recorded. Now I think everything is complete, which is a huge boon with the amount of interesting talks I can't make it to.

zoobab2 days ago

Back at fosdem 2002, I remember taking old pentiums boxes and putting a firewire DV card in there, and sending the raw DV frames over the network to another central box.

jmmv2 days ago

Neat and really, really comprehensive article. Now I miss not having attended.

I attended for the first (and only so far) time back in 2020, right before COVID, and took some notes as well ( A lot of the advice I wrote matches what the author shares here, so I'd say the article resonated with me :)

Definitely a fun place to attend. If you do open source once in a while, it's invigorating to visit!

gunalx16 hours ago

My first fossdem in person as well. I think the biggest mistake was to devote to mouch time to talks, and not enough to pepole.

Really great atmosphere.

kaladin_12 days ago

Nice overview! You successfully ignited the desire to attend one in me.

zoobab2 days ago

"Brussels is allegedly very nice, however I’m not a big fan of the way trash is handled"

Politicians also invented orange bags, full of smelly compost. Hopefully FOSDEM is not organized in August.

The HSBXL party was the last one (la "der des der"), they gonna destroy the building. They ran out of beers at midnight, organizors had to rush to the nearby pakistanis shop to buy the stock of beers :-)

Diris2 days ago

FOSDEM was my first conference, and I'm glad I attended. I wish I had talked with more people and better planned my day, but there's always next year!

floor_2 days ago

RIP n-gate's commentary.

ari182 days ago


Jakesbeb2 days ago


chx2 days ago

Extremely, extremely bitter note: how much all the diversity&inclusion is all talk and no show was on clear display when FOSDEM didn't have a mask mandate.

tgsovlerkhgsel1 day ago

Many people are completely sick of the precautions, in a world where if you want to live an even remotely reasonable social life you will get infected over and over: The cost of the countermeasures is seen as significantly worse than the cost of not taking them.

At this point, imposing a mask mandate would likely exclude many more people than it would include. To my knowledge, no tech events have banned masks, so anyone who wants or needs to avoid this risk has the option by wearing a well-fitted mask or respirator. Insisting that everyone else does is ridiculous.

zilti1 day ago

The list of things that supposedly are required for "diversity & inclusion" gets more ridiculous by the day

swed4202 days ago

Definitely concerning to see how many have given up on avoiding a virus whose reinfections continue to disable and kill daily.

Seems like boozing takes precedence over all else at this event.

Edit for the unaware:

samatman2 days ago

COVID will be around for the rest of my life.

I could choose to spend my remaining years wearing a mask, or choose to accept the risk. Those are the options. I choose the latter.

chx23 hours ago

The problem is if you are covid infected and not wearing a mask that creates a greater risk to the people around you even if they are wearing a mask.

The choice to put others at risk shouldn't be yours.

belorn14 hours ago

People who who have cold symptoms should not participate in conferences at all. It just that everyone almost to no exception will ignore that and still go since they have already invested so much time and money going to Brussels.

It the same problem with airports. Every person who is there with cold symptoms have decided that traveling that day is worth more than the risk of spreading illness to others.

The big innovation during the covid pandemic was not masks, it was the cultural shift of people staying inside when they had cold symptoms. Sadly we are now returning back where it is totally fine to again have cold symptoms in public. That is the choice that shouldn't be theirs to make.

swed4202 days ago

If you personally are well informed on the extent of the risks of endless reinfections, then you're in a minority but I agree that ought to be your choice to make, ideally.

But most people don't even know that N95s offer excellent personal protection, and most people are surprised when they see how long the list of interconnected risks is.

COVID-19 and Immune Dysregulation

COVID Effects on the Brain

Sadly, capital doesn't want people informed because that's bad for our archaic consumption-first economy, so capitalist media reports accordingly.

tgsovlerkhgsel1 day ago
chx2 days ago

The Gauntlet readers unite!