6 Simple Rules (The FOSDEM Survival Guide)

by Paul Adams

Ahhh FOSDEM, the conference I never miss. I only missed the first 2 or 3 and I have been every year since. Here, I present my survival guide for the uninitiated.

FOSDEM is my only must-do event each year; I've been attending for 12 or 13 years now. Over time my motivation for attending has morphed. Along with that, my behaviour has also morphed. These days I do what I can to maximise the amount of interaction with other people and what I get from that.

I have a very simple approach to FOSDEM based on some very simple rules. These are rules that I apply to myself so that I have a good time at FOSDEM. Maybe they work for you. Maybe they don't.

Either way, 6 simple rules for surviving FOSDEM:

Law 1: The Law of Limited Participation

FOSDEM talks are hugely varied in topic: community management, graphs, desktops, databases, legal issues... Talks at FOSDEM are well-informed, not always well-polished, but always high-quality. Not so long ago I used to give the advice, "Go to the talk before the talk you actually want to see." These days, especially in the more popular rooms, you should simply expect that you might not get in at all. Thankfully, most of the content is recorded and/or live streamed.

Talks at FOSDEM get recorded. Don't go to talks.

Law 2: The Law of Engagement

FOSDEM is a place where ideas are developed and shared. Keep your eyes and ears open and you'll get an excellent idea of what the coming year is going to look like for the Free software landscape (in Europe).

If you're not going to the talks (see Law 1) then you really need to work the hallway track. For me, FOSDEM is all about getting the most out of the all-too-brief chats that you get with your fellow attendees.

At least once during the event, talk to someone you don't know about something you know nothing about.

Law 3: The Law of Limited Partying

The Friday night beer event is, let's be honest, an event in its own right. A legendin its own right. The beers flow, the conversation likewise. However, the FOSDEM crowd basically performs a denial of service attack on an entire alleyway and it can take you a very long time to find the beer, or people, that you are looking for.

Brussels is full of great bars where you can meet your friends. Don't go to the beer event.

Law 3a: The Law of Limited Consumption

Drunk: good. Getting so obliterated that you throw up in the corridor of your hostel and cannot function like a human being the next day: bad.

Law 4: The Law of Limited Movement

FOSDEM packs a lot of cool people into an area that is almost-but-not-quite big enough. Lots of people packs the open areas and corridors and the fluid-dynamics can seem... weird.

The thing you need to keep in mind is that most of these people are looking for other people who, in turn, are looking for other people... continue ad nauseum.

If you chase people all the time, you run the risk of never catching up with them. Find yourself a prominent place to park yourself and park yourself. Don't chase.

Law 5: The Law of Limited Public Transport

Brussels is well served by public transport: underground, trams, busses, trains. It has it all. But with all this choice, do you think they optimise for the FOSDEM crowd? Shit no. The trams that lead to ULB can be particularly rammed at the end of the day.

Don't leave between 17:45 and 18:30.

Law 6: The Law of Expanding Waistline

Many people will tell you that the first thing they think of when talking about FOSDEM is beer. Beer. Beer, beer, beer. A chips with mayonnaise. Fairly recently, the joy of high-caffeine drinks also seemed to reach Brussels. More Club Mate than you can shake a stick at (and also hugely overpriced by Berlin standards).

You are really gonna struggle to find a fruit. Or a vegetable. If you look hard enough on-and-around the venue, there is some variety and there is some reasonably healthy food. But it is nowhere near as prominent as the beer, sandwiches and frites.

After most FOSDEM I find myself "suffering" manflu for a day or two. Almost certainly brought on by an intense increase in hug density (hugs per hour) matched with a decrease in vitamin/mineral intake.

Get a decent dinner in Brussels. Don't go to the food trucks between 12:00 and 13:30.