My guide to FOSDEM – Europe’s biggest open source developer conference

FOSDEM sign - by Elizabeth Krumbach Joseph, used under CC-BY-2.0If you’re in to free/libre open source software, you might have heard mention of an event mysteriously abbreviated “FOSDEM”.

FOSDEM is billed as “Europe’s largest meeting of Free and Open Source Software Developers”. Unlike most other conferences, it’s completely free to attend and has no pre-registration or ticket requirement.

In 2016, FOSDEM will be held on 30-31 January in Brussels, Belgium.

For new attendees, it can seem a bit big and unapproachable. Thanks to Bytemark, I went along for the first time last year and I hope this guide encourages you to take part as well.

Format

FOSDEM is unique as you can literally just walk off the street into the venue and straight into a talk from leading open source developers – without registering in advance. It almost feels like a bunch of smaller conferences all happening at the same time but in the same venue; you’re free to move between them as you wish.

Although it’s described as a meetup for developers, people who attend come from very mixed backgrounds: I didn’t feel at-all out of place as (primarily) a sysadmin. That said, you’ll probably find developers of most of the software projects that you use at FOSDEM, particularly if they are based in Europe.

Scheduling

FOSDEM is held at the end of January on a Saturday and Sunday. There’s usually an (over-subscribed!) beer event on the Friday night, plus the whole city will be full of nerds so it’s not difficult to find people to drink with in one of the many fantastic beer bars of Brussels.

“Devrooms”

The conference schedule is split into devrooms: independent streams of content managed by their respective communities and planned well in advance of the conference.

Each devroom will have an assigned physical location, plus a schedule listed on the app/website. Some devrooms will only run on either Saturday or Sunday, while other larger ones may run for both days.

It’s definitely worth getting the app and checking the schedule in advance to work out what talks you’d like to see.

Some rooms will be constantly oversubscribed, so if there’s a talk you particularly want to see, you might need to wait well before it in the vain hope that some people leave and make space for you. Other rooms might have a green sign on the door indicating you can enter quietly and find yourself a space.

Attendees don’t empty out of rooms between each talk, so if you’re very interested in something it may be worth attending at least the talk before and just staying in the room!

Venue

The conference is currently held at ULB, a university in Brussels. The venue is large, with one main lecture theatre that’s big enough to hold the thousands of attendees, as well as dozens of smaller seminar rooms where smaller sessions are held. The site is spread across a few different buildings.

There’s junk food on site (chip stands etc) plus vending machines and a few other options, including a canteen hidden round the back of one of the buildings that I only discovered on the last day of the event!

Getting to and around Brussels

From the south of England, it’s simple to get to Brussels on the Eurostar. Seat61 has more travel tips and suggestions for other parts of the UK. Bookings open 120 days before departure so put a note in your diary to get the best price.

Once there I’d recommend using the trams to get around town – you can get a tram ticket from the small orange machines near tram stops and they have an English language mode. It’s probably worth getting a “10 trips” ticket when you arrive, as this can be used for more than one person on the same trip.

When you’ve purchased your ticket, get onto any tram and then insert the ticket into the orange machine on the tram, which will be close to the middle doors. Insert it once per person travelling in your group – the machine will click and the ticket will be marked on the back to show the number of journeys used/remaining.

Walking around Brussels is also very easy.

FOSDEM is a great place to learn from some of the best open source developers in Europe and it’s completely free — you just need to get there. I hope this article has helped demystify the event and help set your expectations. If so, I look forward to seeing you in Brussels!