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What’s up with Open Source Technology in 2016


I've recently had the opportunity to give talks at two open source conferences. At both events my topic was the tools and strategies the OpenStack® project's Infrastructure team uses to collaborate online.

The first conference was the 14th Annual Southern California Linux Expo (SCALE 14x) in Pasadena, California in January. I also spoke at (LCA2016) in Geelong, Australia in February.


SCALE14x Conference Center, photo by Elizabeth K. Joseph (CC BY 2.0)SCALE14x Conference Center, photo by Elizabeth K. Joseph (CC BY 2.0)

I hadn't been to either of these conferences since 2014, so it was interesting to see how they’ve evolved over the intervening 23 months

When I began attending open source conferences regularly several years ago, the talks were very focused on individual programs. Many of the talks dealt with specific software applications. How the applications worked with the broader infrastructure and other applications was generally not considered. Even the systems engineering talks at these conferences tended to offer high-level views of deploying a single piece of open source software.

But as the industry and conferences have matured—and as DevOps has become more important—I’ve noticed a distinct change in the themes that emerge when the open source software community gets together. Sure, there are still interesting discussions about individual open source technologies, but many of the most popular sessions in Geelong and Pasadena fell into one of the following categories:

  • DevOps, including a whole DevOps Day event on Friday at SCALE 14x
  • Systems administration and cloud, both of which had their own mini-conferences at LCA2016
  • Containers
  • The human factor in software development

DevOps, Systems Administration, and Cloud

After years of treating individual pieces of software separately, it’s clear from the DevOps talks I attended at these conferences that teams are now regarding software with the broader infrastructure in mind.

For example, Mark Shuttleworth of Canonical gave a keynote at SCALE 14x in which he discussed how engineers can no longer depend upon "apt-get" to install individual pieces of software for their infrastructure, and instead need tooling that supports interdependencies between servers and applications.

Similarly, a pair of Netflix engineers shared how today's site reliability engineers no longer log into individual machines, but instead orchestrate fleets of interdependent servers.

Elizabeth K. Joseph presenting at LCA2016, photo by Masayuki Igawa (CC BY 2.0)Elizabeth K. Joseph presenting at LCA2016, photo by Masayuki Igawa (CC BY 2.0)


With traditional systems (bare metal, and even virtual machines), it can be difficult for developers to test miniature deployments of their software that have service dependencies.

It is now possible to utilize a development environment that can make this easier, in which developers run a series of containers that mimic a production environment, but locally and on a much smaller scale.

The ability to run these simple per-process containers that depend upon each other was a very popular topic—there were talks about Docker, Kubernetes, Apache Mesos, and LXD.

The Human Element

Stepping back from the strictly technical, another trend at these conferences is the need to bring the human element into open source development. Both conferences had talks that covered mentorship, onboarding for open source projects, and the need to recruit new, nontraditional contributors.

The open source community has evolved beyond just highly technical contributors who are submitting code. There is a genuine push to make sure we value, support, and embrace the talents of documentation writers, translators, event organizers, and everyone else who brings so much value to our projects.

One of the most fascinating talks of LCA2016 for me was one by Wikimedia software engineer Moriel Schottlender, who opened our eyes to the challenges of right-to-left (RTL) language readers, and the importance of supporting the 800 million RTL language readers in the world today with the software we develop.

A keynote by Genevieve Bell at LCA2016 called on developers to consider the human component of the software we're creating. We should routinely pause to make sure we're properly serving our customers and users by respecting their preferences and how they want to use software in their lives.

As a systems engineer who is also interested in making the world a better place, I was proud to see the open source community wrestle with both the technical and human challenges we face in our industry.

I applaud the efforts of the conference organizers for being able to bring together the best our open source communities have to offer.

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About the Author


Elizabeth K. Joseph is a Senior Systems Software Engineer working on the OpenStack Infrastructure team.

Jan 30-31, 2018
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