Last weekend—April 23 and 24—was LinuxFest Northwest (LFNW) in Bellingham, Washington. And it was a truly excellent event.
The amazing thing about LFNW is how very community-centric it is—yet still manages to draw in 2,000 attendees over the course of the two-day event.
And, when I say “community-centric,” I really mean it. The exhibit hall, which is often one of the largest areas of many conferences, is small. Really small. Two short rows of booths with a scattering of booths around the edge of the room.
Those booths represented everything from the Free Software Foundation to user groups to a local Women in Tech group. There were a few big companies here and there, to be sure. But most booths seemed to be run by either non-profits or small groups of enthusiasts. (Booths is a weird word. Booths. Boooooths.)
And, let me tell you, it was absolutely delightful.
I'm not against big, sprawling expo halls with their well-designed, flashy booths from big tech companies. I'm really not. Truth be told, I rather enjoy roaming the expo hall at big conferences. But having a simpler, more homemade feel is refreshing; it makes for a nice change of pace.
There were high-school kids building robots, and the Fedora booth had most of its space dedicated to playing video games (on a big screen, powered by Fedora, naturally). openSUSE didn't even have a normal booth. We (I'm a member of the openSUSE board) had a “lounge” —an area with couches adorned with green, plush chameleons.
It was relaxed. It was casual. It was a friendly gathering of Linux and open source enthusiasts. And yet, somehow there were 2,000 people there—with session tracks on DevOps, Postgres, Free Software legal issues and a whole host of enterprise-y and cloud-y topics.
It was almost as if people from the “enterprise” computing world met up with people from the “I'm going to build a MAME box with a Raspberry Pi and a whole lot of electrical tape” world and decided to have a picnic.
Oh, and get this: They recorded every session (slides and audio combined into video) and posted them to YouTube before they were finished cleaning up after the conference. It’s an impressive feat that you rarely see even in some of the best tech conferences. And all from a volunteer-run, free-to-attend conference. Just awesome.
This was my ninth year at LFNW (if memory serves). And, I tell you what. I'm already looking forward to next year.