Finally! FOSDEM has to be the event I most wanted to attend since I was spinning my desktop cube in Ubuntu, jiggling my windows and then closing them in a flash of fire as a teenager (how rad was that, though?). Living on the other side of the pond made it obviously more difficult, but now that I’m based in Europe I couldn’t miss it!
It was the first time I visited Brussels as well. I stayed at a hostel near the Gare du Midi train station. The area is a bit sketchy, which is par for the course for areas near train stations, I guess, but nothing out of the ordinary. Maybe staying somewhere near the city center would’ve been better, but I didn’t mind, especially because I had an early flight to catch on my way back home and the bus that gets to the airport departed from there. The public transport network is more than sufficient and I didn’t have any issues getting to the places I wanted to be, which boiled down to the event, the hostel and the city center. Contactless payments are accepted in buses and in the metro. Walking is also an option when the weather is on your side, which, in my experience, is not something you can always count on.
FOSDEM is hosted at the ULB (Université libre de Bruxelles). It’s around 30-40 minutes by public transport from both Gare du Midi and the city center, IIRC. Getting from one place of the campus to the other can get confusing at first, but you get used to it after some time. I recommend using one of the FOSDEM apps to bookmark the talks you want to go to, as well as to orient yourself.
Yes, it is crowded. Attendance is free, and there’s no need to make any kind of reservation for the talks. To add to that, there’re not many large lecture rooms, at least not as many as one would perhaps want for this type of event. Because of all that, I expected it to be sort of “anarchic”. And it was, but I was told that showing up to a full room was the usual “FOSDEM experience” and I found that to rarely be the case for me. I didn’t have too much issues to get a seat in the talks I was interested in, except for a couple of small lab-like rooms when I showed up just 5 minutes before the talk started. Being there 15-20 minutes before usually did the trick for me, if I wasn’t already hanging out in that devroom from the previous talk.
All in all the vibe took me back to my university days in Germany, which I enjoyed.
I had high expectations for the Observability devroom, and it didn’t disappoint. It was full of interesting talks around OpenTelemetry that left me thinking of ways to implement the things I saw there. I plan to do more research on stories “from the trenches” so I can distill all that and present it as an idea to modernize our stack and optimize costs for our clients.
There’s a lot I missed: modern email, open transport, emulation, WebAssembly… Luckily I have some days off to catch up with the recordings!
I missed there being more talks related to open mapping. Hopefully next year!
Food and events
One needs calories for all this!
I recommend having breakfast before arriving to the campus. Having to wait for your coffee is not fun.
The food trucks at the campus served me well for grabbing a bite while on the go. Food was OK, I didn’t expect it to blow my mind and it didn’t, but at least it was tasty!
I highly recommend taking some time to explore the city center while you’re there, and maybe do some research on food you’d like to try. There’s a lot of international venues as well as the local places for fries and chocolate. I always try to avoid tourist traps so I explore a bit off the beaten path if there’s a place to eat that looks good. Having said that, what I liked the most was the falafel I ate at a place called “My Shawarma”, in the city center. It was delicious.
I like chocolate, but I’m not obsessed over it or interested in getting the most expensive stuff so I bought Côte-d’Or and Galler bars and tablets at Carrefour to try them. They were good but comparable to the 85% tablets I can find locally.
Check the “fringe” page at FOSDEM in advance so you can register to events around those dates if you’re interested in them. I went to the Tailscale happy hour on Saturday and it was great (they also promoted it on their newsletter). It seemed like their plan was to gather a bunch of enthusiasts who love their product, offer them drinks, and then watch as they passionately share their experiences. It totally worked.
What I enjoyed the most about my weekend during FOSDEM is the opportunity to reconnect with my FOSS roots and meet a bunch of great, like-minded people that you don’t get to meet otherwise. I expect to meet them back next year!
As a side note, connecting with people was not trivial, as not everyone was using the same “social network”. Maybe I could set up an ActivityPub instance for myself…