Approximately 750 to 1,000 developers, system administrators and others who are interested in Linux or open source software will crash Charlotte this weekend for the fourth annual Southeast LinuxFest. The three-day conference, which will be held at the Blake Hotel in uptown Charlotte, features technology heavyweights such as Richard Hipp, who authored the influential database management SQLite and Ryan Gordon, who is famous for porting games such as Unreal Tournament to Linux platforms. Additionally, well-known technology companies will be looking for new talent. Specifically, Google is looking to fill job openings at its Lenoir, NC and Goose Creek, SC data centers. Anybody in the region who is interested in technology or open-source software should be paying attention to this event and when most of the sessions are free, it’s hard not to get pulled in.
Southeast LinuxFest’s president Jeremy Sands doesn’t want people to think the conference is just about Linux specifically. “Even though it’s a LinuxFest, do not confuse that with being a Linux-only conference, he says. “It’s the entire open source ecosystem, Linux just happens to be at the center of it.” That means topics such as information security or database administration will be discussed – anything that is related to the open source ecosystem is fair game. According to Sands, the conference is the third-largest community-run Linux and open source conference in North America, behind LA-based SCALE and the Ohio LinuxFest. SCALE draws thousands of attendees and Sands’ vision for the event is to make it comparable to SCALE’s quality and scope, just on the East Coast.
Sands and others open source devotees in the region started the conference because they didn’t want to have travel hundreds of miles to attend a decent open source event. There used to be the Atlanta Linux Expo in the 90s but it moved to San Francisco in 2000. Then began a 9-year dry spell in which there wasn’t anything around.
So Sands and company organized the first Southeast LinuxFest at Clemson in 2009. They expected 100 to 150 people but instead got swarmed by 500. The fire marshal told them to never come back. So they moved the conference to Spartanburg the next year. But then they realized that the conference needed to be close to a major air hub because many of their speakers and sponsors in addition to some attendees were coming in cross-country and internationally. The only two places in the region that were major air hubs were Atlanta and Charlotte.
As the conference looked to move to either Atlanta and Charlotte, the Blake Hotel in uptown Charlotte bid for the event. Several years ago, the Blake Hotel didn’t look like an ideal place to host a conference, as it was undergoing a significant renovation. “If you walked into their building at the time, the place was in shambles,” Sands recalls. “If there was a wall, odds are somebody was ripping out of it and putting new stuff on it.” Because it didn’t look that appealing at the time, the hotel needed to make a competitive bid and did, convincing conference organizers to try it out. By the time the first conference in Charlotte rolled around, the hotel had fulfilled most of its promises and the conference is now in the latter half of a two-year contract with Blake. Sands says that it looks like the conference will likely remain in Charlotte for the foreseeable future because of the footprint of its attendees and air transport needs. While it may be possible for the conference to skip around to places like Atlanta, Birmingham and Raleigh, Sands says the conference will be in Charlotte most years than not.
The business model is akin to how open source software is funded. The conference is free to attend, but attendees can support the conference through volunteering and donations. The conference offered a supporter registration option in which attendees could pay $65 for lunch during the conference, a T-shirt and drink tickets. The registration option recently closed, but is an example of how members of the open source community support the conference. Sands says most of the costs are covered by sponsors, which keeps the event on good financial footing.
All in all, Sands says attendees should be sociable and not think the conference is just about consuming lectures. While talks such as “Please Stop Sucking at Building Stuff” will be interesting, attendees will find that much of the value comes from interacting with one another. It’s all about networking and hacking together. Sands says its not uncommon to see people hacking away at 2 or 3 in the morning on Sunday. “Hang around for the parties,” Sand says. With Olde Mecklenburg Copper on tap, a Google-sponsored party on Saturday night and nerdcore rappers MC Frontalot and ThoughtCriminals performing, it sounds like these open source guys know how to have fun.
Does the Southeast LinuxFest sound like your cup of tea? You can still register to attend.