A Whole New World
Being a new developer at Boundless, freshly out of university with my degree in Computer Science, I haven’t had much practical experience yet. While I have a decent understanding of programming and awareness of popular languages and frameworks, I am still building my knowledge of geospatial software while working at Boundless on GeoServer. Also, open source communities were something I knew about, but I had never been a part of one.
So, with FOSS4G NA 2015, I was really diving into a whole new world. I didn’t know what to expect out of an open source conference, or if it would prove friendly to newbies.
Here is what I found.
Something that impressed me at the conference was the diversity. I found a wide range of people from varying backgrounds and levels of experience. Some were highly academic and studying sciences, while others were masterful cartographers. Then there were quite a few developers like myself who really weren’t veterans of geospatial. Notably, there were a sizable portion of women were at the conference, many of whom were presenters.
The topics were diverse too. The first day had some beginner-friendly sessions, including introductions to GeoServer and QGIS. Then there were “theme days”, a concept I thought was awesome: Tuesday was PostgreSQL day, Wednesday was Big Data day, and Thursday was Web Mapping day. Other talks were going on, but I found the theme talks were especially popular. Plenty of beginner material was presented along with more advanced topics, so there was something for everyone.
Further, EclipseCon was hosted jointly with FOSS4G NA this year, providing even more diversity of people and backgrounds. Everyone who registered for one conference could attend sessions at the other. This allowed an interesting overlap of developers and scientists to mix and talk to each other. Seeing how people from different fields work differently can provide interesting insights and expand our knowledge.
Learning GIS and Software Development
Above all, my goal going into FOSS4G was to learn. A few sessions stood out in particular as great resources to me.
On the geospatial side, the list is too long to put everything here, but I’ll highlight the ones I found the most helpful and useful. For those interested in scripting with Python, the Intro to Spatial Data Analysis in Python by Jenny Palomino provided a lot of background on the many available libraries and frameworks for working with spatial data. Paul Ramsey’s PostGIS Feature Frenzy was great for introducing the power of PostGIS. There was also a whole educational “training academy” which was presented by Philip Davis in Building a Sustainable Open Source Training Academy Using QGIS. Finally, the Birds of a Feather session for GeoServer had the Boundless team as well as Andrea Aime from GeoSolutions there to answer questions and help people with GeoServer.
From the Eclipse side of things, I thought Shay Shmeltzer’s presentation on iOS Development with Eclipse and Java was particularly interesting, especially because a lot of people assumed that wasn’t possible! Another fascinating presentation was Think Before You Code by Lizzi Slivinski which promoted a good discussion about user experience (UX) and design in general. Finally, Katy DeCorah provided guidelines and considerations for writing in her presentation, Writing For Everyone.
Code Sprints and Hackathons
For the developers, there were plenty of opportunities to write some code and receive help from experienced members of the community. Tuesday night had a room dedicated for a hackathon, where I was able to meet with Andrea Aime to do some much needed bug fixing for GeoServer. Also, Boundless hosted an additional code sprint on Friday. Torben Barsballe, another new developer at Boundless working on GeoServer, and I got some help from Andrea to get started with CITE tests. The time went by really fast, but we got quite a bit done for only having a few hours. Thanks to the organizers for providing us a hackathon space, and to Boundless for the space for an additional code sprint.
FOSS4G really broadened my perspective. There are a lot of exciting things going on, especially with advances in web mapping and a greater desire to move to the cloud and process big data. It aligns well with what we’ve been working on for GeoServer and making sure it’s ready to scale up and out to meet client needs.
I think the best part about FOSS4G was that it felt welcoming. People were very open and friendly. Experts were happy to talk and share what they know, even with newbies. All the knowledge felt available for anyone who wished to pursue it. Regardless of who you are or where you stand, FOSS4G is a great experience.
Thank you to everyone who organized this year’s FOSS4G NA, and a big thanks to Boundless for sponsoring the event and giving me the opportunity to attend. Looking forward to next year.