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OSSNA 2024.

Published 02 June 2024 at Yours, Kewbish. 2,573 words. Subscribe via RSS.


Last week, I posted a summary of my first talk: a session about understanding open-source collaboration patterns at Open Source Summit North America 2024. I was able to share my work with OSS folks, meet up in-person with some people I’d only met online, and take in all the buzz in the brand new Seattle Convention Centre. If you’d prefer to watch my talk rather than read the previous post for context, here it is!

This post is a collection of little anecdotes from the day-of as well as my reflections on the overall experience. I'll briefly cover some tips on preparing for a talk in a separate post to come.


Even though the conference was three days and I would’ve had a ticket to all three, I unfortunately had a final at 8:30AM the day of my talk (the first day of the conference) and another at 7PM the day after. When I applied to speak, I was banking on the fact that my courses were upper level and smaller than the intro / 100-level courses that usually have their exams scheduled for the first few days of finals. But I was unlucky: the first day of the conference was also the first day of exam period, and I had two finals back-to-back. I was initially debating if I’d even be able to make it to give my talk, but thankfully I was able to reschedule my talk for a later time so I’d theoretically be able to book it from Vancouver, right after my first exam, to Seattle. And later, in another stroke of luck, I went to the professor for the first exam and successfully begged to be able to sit my exam during the final for another course they were teaching. I was incredibly surprised that there were no questions asked on his part, but I certainly wasn’t complaining.

With my first exam cleared out of the way, I’d be able to leave Vancouver in the morning of my talk and make it to Seattle by lunchtime. My parents were tagging along to sightsee in downtown Seattle, so we bundled into the car early on the 16th and headed out. On the drive there, I was trying to silently run through my talk script, but something about sitting shotgun and staring out at the highway passing by isn’t very conducive for focus. I was aiming to run through the talk at least a few more times there. The drive was ~3h and my talk was ~30min, so I could have reasonably got through it 5-6 times, but I got through it about twice, in fits and starts. At this point, I was starting to feel uneasy and underprepared, but we were soon reaching downtown Seattle and I had to go back to navigating off the highway.

When I got dropped off at the venue, I was in awe. We were in the brand-new, Summit building of the Seattle Convention Centre, so there were plenty of tall ceilings, natural light, and cute seating areas. Everything was sparkling clean and impeccably professional, which perhaps I haven’t come to expect given my typical university surroundings. It was nice feeling starry-eyed with the sunlight streaming in through the floor-to-ceiling windows, running around gawking at all the amenities, decor, and spaces. One of my favourite places in the center was this garden patio decorated with little fairy lights, outdoor wooden seating, little tree-lined pathways, and a view out into the center of downtown. It looked like something out of an IKEA late-summer-nights catalog, and I spent some time rehearsing my talk there as well as enjoying the free breakfast my second day.

Figure 1. The garden patio.

Figure 1. The garden patio.

I also really liked this seating area by the stairs: there’s something about the impossibly high ceilings, comfy atmosphere, and just the sun that made it feel very cozy. If I sound like I’m appreciating the sun a lot, it’s because we 1) weren’t getting this type of sun in Vancouver and 2) in UBC there are few spaces that capture the light so well. The warm tones of the wood and the sun made even the shadowier sections look inviting.

Figure 2. The stairs seating area.

Figure 2. The stairs seating area.

When I arrived, I spent some time walking around the sponsor showcase. I’d never been to a conference before and was surprised at the level of detail and theming that went into some of these flagship booths. AWS’s booth was themed like a 90s diner, complete with the bar stools and a retro menu remixing AWS services and tools into burgers. There was even a little window where someone was manning a cookie giveaway (only after you’d listened to their spiel, of course). The Gitbook stand had a barista, and the Microsoft booth had one of the largest flatscreens I’d ever seen. There were old arcade game cabinets and carnival-style games: I saw a massive Jenga set and gingerly took a piece out for the fun of it. I was accosted by someone shoving an iPad in my face and promising me a Starbucks gift card for filling out a survey on how I perceived their company’s open source strategy (which I indeed did, if not more out of confusion than anything else).

Initially, I was seeking internship leads, but I quickly realized most of the folks were there to sell the product and would just redirect me to the careers page. Alas, I’d wasted ten printed copies of my resume for nothing. In preparation for the event, I’d also bought a NFC Ring so I’d be able to share my website and contact information in a unique and hopefully memorable way. No one asked me for my information at the event, so I didn’t have the chance to show off my very sleek titanium business card ring1.

After killing time for a bit, I met up with the program manager for one of the experiences that’s changed my life. (I’m being vague in case they don’t want to be identified) I’d only ever met them online, and they introduced me to some of their colleagues at the event. I also met the former Director of Open Source at the company that hosted said impactful event, which was pretty fun. I didn’t do too much networking besides this, though, which is something I perhaps regret not taking advantage of.

One thing the PgM mentioned to me was that conference food is always not great — they’d gone out for dimsum for a work lunch instead of taking the catering. I found this to be unfortunately kind of true. For lunch, we had sandwiches + pasta salad + fruit + a cookie + a drink, but everything was pre-boxed. To be fair, it was very filling and wasn’t bad, but I’m automatically biased against untoasted sandwiches, especially cold ones. I think given the choice, I’d have preferred dimsum too2.

After lunch, I spent a few hours walking around in circles around the garden patio rehearsing my talk (and fidgeting with the light-up spinners I’d grabbed from the sponsor showcase). My talk went alright. I covered the content in a previous post, but it was great seeing it resonate with people and I do genuinely feel that they got something from it. There weren’t a lot of people, since I was the last talk session and people were either tapped out, heading to external events, or grabbing cocktails upstairs at happy hour. I got good questions, though, and sparked some follow-up discussion points for future research. Talking to a mostly empty room is just as terrifying as a full one! I think I fumbled a lot in the beginning but found my stride halfway through. I forgot to repeat the questions into the mic, I missed some of my points, and I didn’t get to share with as many people as I’d hoped, but I really enjoyed the experience and found it very fulfilling.

I walked out post-talk feeling energized, relieved, and ready to nab as much swag as possible from the happy hour upstairs. With my heavy backpacks (besides my personal one, the PgM gave me another one with some swag), I triumphantly made my way up the escalators while Dua Lipa was blaring on the speakers. On my ride up, the mix of catchy pop – I think it was Don’t Start Now – and much less stress, not to mention the beautiful afternoon sun, made me feel like I was on top of the world. The boost of confidence made me briefly consider trying to sneak a beer from the drink cart (purely for the comedy, I don’t drink), but System 2 clicked in and I got a mock margarita instead.

Newly hydrated, I hit the sponsor showcase in search of swag. I’d already gotten this custom OSSNA 2024 picnic blanket at checkin, so I’d been lugging that as well as both my personal bag and a gifted backpack around the whole day. But after the happy hour, my backpack, both my pockets, and even the bag I was using to carry the gifted backpack were full with random knickknacks. I got a red RedHat hat. I got multiple fidget spinners (some of which lit up and flashed). I got a yoyo for my dad. I got a tote bag. I got a totebag to hold the totebag. I put one of my backpacks into the totebag that was holding the other totebag. I stopped for some appetizers and was eating outside the main hall, when I noticed an abandoned white cardboard cube. Out of curiosity, I snuck a look at it, and it turned out to be a GitHub mug. I returned it to the booth and asked if I could keep it, and learned that they’d been giving away as a sweepstakes prize, which unfortunately I didn’t win any of. A shame — those Lego flower sets would have been cool. At the end of the day, my arms were killing me. I saw someone with one of those grocery shopping wheelie carts full to the brim with tshirts and merch, and I was kicking myself that I hadn’t thought of that. I went to Cheesecake Factory for dinner with my parents (a childhood favourite) and was showing off my swag. They were already impressed with what I’d had in my bag before I’d even started emptying my pockets, which were full of stickers, small toys, and a stuffed chameleon (thanks SUSE!). I was lucky we were driving back and had plenty of room in the car for the extra backpack — I can’t imagine having to fly back with limited luggage.

The next day, I got up bright and early to make the free breakfast, which was better than the lunch but was still lacking toasted bagels. After breakfast, I stuck around for Linus Torvald’s keynote talk — I didn’t really take away much from it because I was a little busy fangirling. To this day, I still couldn’t tell if the conversation was scripted or not, but it was really cool seeing one of the key figures in open source in real life and not just as some revered email handle. I did some French flashcards after the keynote, since my exam was in less than twelve hours, while I was waiting for the showcase to open up again. Didn’t you have an exam to get to, you ask? This was very true, but my dad had seen someone with a Zephyr kite the day before and he was dead set on coming home with one. Thus, I was sent into the showcase right when it opened to listen to the spiel in exchange for a kite. When I got back into the car and we set out, my dad asked, very melancholically, why I didn’t get two.


Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to move my second exam, so right after his keynote, we headed back to Vancouver. We made it with a few hours to spare before my second final, but I hadn’t really slept well so wasn’t able to cram much. I made myself a shot of matcha, spedran a little more Anki, and prayed that the studying I’d put in throughout the rest of the term would come in handy then.

Here are some brief lessons learned:

  • Leave more time for attending other talks, instead of stressing about your own. Plan out the talks you’ll attend in advance and look for topics far outside of your comfort zone, since conferences are a good way to find yourself in close proximity to experts in diverse fields.
  • Your talk will be okay, even if you feel that you underprepared. This might be a uniquely me thing — I’ve been realizing I can be more cursory (for my definition of cursory) than I expect and still surprise myself.
  • Obviously, prepare earlier. Ask for feedback earlier, so you can go through multiple rounds of it and don’t feel so overwhelmed by pages of notes in the days leading up to the conference. This also gives you the opportunity to be more comfortable during the first time you rehearse for feedback, so you can focus on content comments instead of criticism about missing your cues or whatnot.
  • Look for scholarships or reimbursements from the conference, your school, or your/external companies to cover costs. I was able to drive down to Seattle, avoiding flight costs, but the Linux Foundation also has grants available that covered my hotel costs. I was able to also get a scholarship from my university to cover the gas and miscellaneous fees.
  • Ask professors for help when it’s needed. You’re not alone, and even if it feels embarrassing to be frantically trying to prep days ahead of the talk, they can offer a more mature, experienced outlook.
  • Strategize how you’ll get swag. Keep your backpack as empty as possible. Try to bring a tote bag and figure out how to binpack your swag based on your weight and swag size limits.

Giving a talk is something I’d certainly do again! I’ve already applied for a few other CFPs with this same talk or other interesting things I’d like to speak about. It’s given me an opportunity to learn how to present myself and my work and start establishing myself as some sort of respectable resource while also meeting others and exploring a new venue/city.

Thank you again to the Linux Foundation for making this incredible trip and talk possible. Many thanks also to my parents for taking time off to drive me and support me day-of. And of course, thanks to my math prof for letting me move my exam and make it to give the talk that’s left me feeling so energized, bold, and excited.

  1. I did forsee this, though, and to be honest I kind of just wanted the ring. I have plans for it in the future! ↩︎

  2. Or Din Tai Fung, which I hear a lot about online and was just a few blocks away. My parents had been wanting to go, but they got lost — they’d found the block but didn’t look up to see the sign, and it was raining and they were hungry, so they went someplace else. They really should have used Google Maps and just asked me for an umbrella, since they were giving so many free ones away at the convention center. ↩︎

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