My DebConf11 summary and its after effects

October 22, 2011 – 3:59 pm by Adnan Hodzic

Even though some three months have passed since DebConf11 has successfully ended, I still wanted to give you just a glimpse on how some parts were played through the eyes of a lunatic (read: organizer). Of course, blog post can’t come close near of explaining anything but at least it should give some insight and hopefully some pointers to the future DebConf organizers.

If you don’t feel like reading this much text you can listen to last episode of “This Week In Debian” podcast and after it just head to “Beginning of the end” part.

DebConf11

First of all I’d like to apologize if I offended or hurt anyone in this whole process as it wasn’t my intention and during DebConf organization this is nothing irregular, for you to get hurt or you hurting somebody else. One thing that got stuck with me this whole time is when Martín Ferrari approached me after I did bid proposal of Bosnia/Herzegovina for DebConf11 back on DebConf9 and told me “you have no idea what you just got yourself into” I played cool and said something along the line “of coure I do” and boy did I lie.

During DebConf organization you’re bound to make some of your decisions instantaneously in which you’ll lose something, the most you can do is assess what’s the thing you can “cut the cord” on, even though if that “thing” or a “person” for that matter might have meant something to you. You’ll lose things, relationships, friendships, contacts … at the times sense of humor and maybe even common logic. Some of it comes back to you, some the very next day and for some it may take longer. Some of it was lost irreversibly, but even in that case it wasn’t lost and could even be traced to some other cause.

One thing that I’m thankful for is that I didn’t lose, not lose but even get distanced from those close to me, and that I didn’t lose guy who was with me in this from very first day, my right hand, my “partner in crime” Velimir (“aroundthfur”). It’s not even losing I’m talking about here, because even by losing you’re gaining something and this is part of your everyday life, it’s just that your life time frame kinda gets stuck on “fast forward” button. So once the ride’s over you may feel bit dizzy asking yourself what just happened.

During this time I was also contacted by Google recruiter regrading software engineer internship but to make a long story short I didn’t make it due to my heavy involvement and my lack of time (read: fail). But I don’t find this as losing either, first time I was contacted by them, next time they’ll be contacted by me maybe even for different position this time (project manager? Smile ). Even this DebConf wasn’t our first bid we lost DebConf7 bid to Edinburgh, but it is perseverance that got us here. The moral I’m trying to tell here is if you have a goal never back down from it.

What I found to be our biggest problem and what I personally found as most painstaking in all of this was having and reporting to so many different sides and different groups while trying to keep them in same communication channel. Even my right hand (Velimir) was apart from me (Vienna), then place where two of us are coming from is not the place where DebConf is getting organized in. As in the end we ended up having all the parties separated and pulling to their own side, from Government of Republika Srpska to NGO to Debian to local team and to those who remained as “undeclared”. Option of “cutting the cord” in this case was missing as these were the components that DebCon11 was made of.

Of course this meant you’ll be missing workforce and there were days you’d wake up driving >= 200 km/h (literally) with one hand on the wheel, other on the phone and your other right hand (Velimir) holding your RedBull. But you wouldn’t do this just because you had to and there was no one else to do it, you’d do it because you’re responsible for the sake of the project and won’t be just sitting there because by some unwritten hierarchy rules you’re supposed to sit and “supervise” things. I’d advise you do the same thing when you see there’s no one else to do something, even if it means making coffee for one of the teams.

I’m not trying to scare you away from organizing your own DebConf, on the contrary after all I’ve been through in past two years if someone asked me would I do it if I knew it was like this, without a doubt my answer would still be “fsck yea”. All the previous DebConf organizers told me about all of this, but why didn’t I give up? For the same reason you won’t give up and for the same reason why we believe in the same goal.

If anything this is one of the stories you’ll want to tell your kids about so ”When I was your age I used to sleep naked in the snow” would turn to “When I was your age I organized DebConf in …” Maybe this blog post wasn’t even necessary and some things weren’t supposed to be said, I guess sometimes I just can’t shut up Smile For those who were on DebConf11 I hope you enjoyed and had a great time, otherwise I’m saying all of this in vein. As organizer all you see is problems and you miss most of the confrence, but by what I know there are 11 candidate bids for DebConf13 and for me hearing that tells me the results of our efforts.

DebConf11 after effects

I could write a whole novel about this, but to keep it as short as possible, for last two years as a side project I was working on an idea of Government or some of its institutions migrating to Linux. At first I was somewhat loud about it, then after Microsoft heard about it and after they tried stopping the idea by trying to scare me by trying to interfere with my private life; as that didn’t work its lobbyist came even near of obstructing the whole conference within the Government. For the sake of the conference, I convinced the Government that by supporting DebConf it doesn’t mean they need to move to Linux and publicly stopped talking about it. I also convinced them that our only goal was to have successful conference and promote alternative options and open ideas. I wasn’t lying as I saw this as new opportunity of them concluding on their own why they should or shouldn’t not move, the better conference was the more chances of success we had.

That’s why I tried pushing as many representatives from various companies as in this case we would use reverse psychology where basically no one or few know what Linux or Debian for that matter is, but everybody knows who Google is, so if you have participants from i.e: Google or Austrian E-Health care system talking about how they are using your technology is better way to explain what’s it all about really. Eventually Microsoft even had their first ever conference in Bosnia/Herzegovina and you wanna take a wild guess where it was held? Smile

In the end we had a great conference, after the conference we were the ones that were approached by some big local companies interested in future co-operation and in the end a meeting with Mark Shuttleworth and President along with the core of Government was scheduled. Topic? Migration to Linux. For me personally this meeting went better then I could possibly even picture it, many topics were discussed and basically it was up to us/me to make a draft of the project plan and submit proposal to the Government. There was still some lobbying but it seemed as it all disappeared, runway was clear and open for the lift off.

Necessary contacts with potential future partners were made and before any meetings were scheduled I announced I’ll be taking a short break. I missed this years vacation, for matter of a fact I missed going to a vacation for last two years. I decided going to Dubrovnik for few days, just to recollect my thoughts, recompile my kernel and switch to lower gear as I was stuck in 6th gear for way too long.

Beginning of the end

Being on this “vacation”, even if it was only for few days this gave me an opportunity to look at it all from a different prospective, different angle and that’s when it came to me. I realized that even before I was finished with one project without even realizing I was already involved with another one, one that would take much more time and one that might leave me wondering ~5 years later with question what if? After all if I get involved with something I’m not going to back out, it’s either failure is not an option or I won’t start doing it at all. Even if it brought me everything I wanted, how would you know if that’s what you wanted if you haven’t thought about it first?

Having DebConf for the first time in this region already showed some (positive) results, but for seeing the actual results it may take a bit longer. We sowed the seeds now the best thing we can do is leave them as it is and see if anything grows out. Of course I could lean over them and protect them from any natural or any other type of hazards, this would also mean when I’m not around it wouldn’t know how to protect itself on its own. Besides all, interfering with natures way of doing things is rarely a good option. I consider myself to still be relatively young and threatening my well being over safe keeping some seeds and watching over if they grow into something or not doesn’t really seem that attractive to me. Maybe one day I’ll decide to leave this land, maybe I won’t even get to see if anything grows out after all. Maybe some day someone will find this fruit, recognize its worth and claim it as its own, maybe over time everybody forgets everything and even that this land once was a fertile ground. Maybe, maybe not.

I’m still a student, I was supposed to graduate last year but I took less classes last year so I wouldn’t snap under all the pressure. That’s why this year I have less classes and am supposed to graduate in May, that’s less then a year until then and I just want to devote some time to myself, figure out what I want with me life, learn the things I want to learn, do the things I want to do. I want to turn back to working on Eclipse, I have some good plans for Eclipse and Android developers, lately I’ve been slacking off way too much but I think I have a good excuse Smile In the end, all I know is that I still want to change the world, whether it’s doing that inside of Google or in my own company, or some third place; or I’ll just be laughing at this statement only time will show.

I’m hoping that now with all of this out of me I can finally finish the “DebConf11 chapter” of my life.

  • Jimmy Kaplowitz

    Hey Adnan, a lot of this resonates with me having gone through some of the same stress, burnout, interpersonal relationship damage, etc in the DebConf10 cycle. You’ve thought this through quite well and come to some good conclusions.

    Those are impressive consequences regarding Linux in Bosnia & Herzegovina, but I think you’re doing the right thing in adjusting your priorities going forward to take care
    of yourself first after working hard for years on DebConf11.

    I look forward to seeing where you go with your life!

  • http://www.foolcontrol.org Adnan Hodzic

    Thanks Jimmy, you were my moral support during this whole time and I’m truly thankful for that Smile

    Conclusions are what’s important and I think I made some good ones when it comes to me and this story. All I know is that for too long I was doing things without thinking about myself, now it’s time to take care of myself. 

    I too am eagerly looking forward in seeing where life takes me!

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