Tuesday, August 25, 2009

GCDS Conclusions I

I've taken some time to write down about the event. This is the first post of a serie about the event I pretend to write. It is a personal view, although I know many of these ideas are shared by other local team members, since we have disscussed them before.

I would like to begin thanking GNOME and KDE communities for the recognition done to the local team during the GNOME assembly and the Akademy closure. It was something unexpected and appreciated by all of us. You made us feel really proud and it gave us a lot of good energy to keep pushing the rest of the event. You have gained a whole bunch of new fans in the Canary Islands.

I'm goping to focus now in some aspects not known by most attendees.

One of the key points of our Call fo Host project was the Local Program in spanish. It was divided in two parts: talks and workshops. The topics were not related with free desktops but with general aspects of free software and other tools. Although it was important it wasn't a critical activity for the event initially. I have to say though that both boards gave it a lot of relevance to it throught he organization process and we always felt really supported by them in this particular aspect. This is something we didn't expected either.

At some point a few weeks before the event we had to face an unexpected change of location. We had to redo the task list and many of them had to get lower relevance. The local program was one of them. We had to face other critical problems first.

Despite of this, nine workshops took place (3-4 hours each) and close to 80 people attended (117 in total but some went to more than one). The workshops where announced several days before the event but you couldn't register on any until the registration day (the very first day). We did this to avoid people that weren't involved in the event from attending.

The talks were also a great success. Some of them reached 50 attendees. The average was between 20 and 30. We had about 20 talks so the total number is a good one. Most of the people interested in the local program were students that are getting into free software but we had also some technicians from local private companies and from public administrations. Most of the talks were given by spanish companies or well recognized free software developers from the Canary Islands.

Rodrigo Trujillo, the Director of the Free Software Office of La Laguna University (Tenerife college) was the Local Program coordinator. He did a great job.

But the local impact goes further. The local team made turns so local people could attend to some of the activities during the event. It was really popular among us the several conversations that took place in the press room the first weekend among key participants, the crossdesktop track and, of course, the keynotes, as expected.

Some of the local team members are experienced technicians, but for half of them (or even more), it was the very first time they participated in a community event. Geting involved with GNOME and KDE volunteers was also appreciated. Many of us have learnt many things from them, they helped us a lot and we got along really well. The general atmosphere in the local team was really good during the event, despite the normal pressure.

Four presidents of Spanish regional free software companies associations attended to the event. One of them is the President of the Spanish national federation of free software companies association, ASOLIF. About 8 local free software companies were involved and several more participated in the local program or other activities. This can give you an idea of the relevance of the event for the spanish free software companies. Igalia, an ASOLIF member, was one of the main sponsors and some representatives from spanish public administrations also attended.

The asociation of Canary Islands free soft companies, ESLIC, ASOLIF and La Laguna University, signed a long term collaboration contract during the event, to make projects together. This is the first time this happens at a national level in Spain, and it took place during the event. In Spain, one of the weak points of the education system is that colleges do not collaborate much with private companies, since they get most of theis funds from other public administrations. We want to open a door to change this by using free software and involving development communities. Let's see how the experience goes.

ASOLIF gave a press conference that had a big impact in national press during the event. Another nice press conference took place with both Canary Island colleges, GNOME Hispano and KDE España Presidents. Local media also covereged it. It was the first time the Presidents from both spanish communities did such a thing together. And both Canary Islands colleges were there not just as witnesses but as real actors, one as free software promoter (La Laguna University) and the other one as main organizer (Las Palmas de Gran Canaria University).

I feel the event has been really important for GULIC, the Canary Islands LUG (one of the oldest in Spain). Many of its members lived again during those days the spirit involved in its foundation (aaaahhh... the old days). It was really cool to see "old guys" working together with local young kids. They celebrated an assembly during the event and they voted a new board with the total support of the group. Nice news for the free soft. movement in the Canary Islands.

In the Canary Islands, as in many other places in the world, there is a big rivalry between Tenerife and Gran Canaria, the two main islands. They claim to be the first on everything. Having both colleges from both islands active collaborating is something we've never imagine it would happened when we designed the event. It came to a point where technicians from both colleges were working together to set the network and the computer labs. The Software Libre Office from La Laguna University sent all the technicians they have (six) to help the technicians from the Free software Office and the system administrators from the ULPGC college.

The Cabildo of Lanzarote, another Canary Island, payed the trip and expenses (thanks Kuko Armas, from Canarytek - Grupo CPD for managing this) of five students in computer science to help us during the event. Along with the rest of the local team, we were capable to have everything ready in ULPGC college in just one week. They were definetly inspired by the event spirit. The messege was clear, if GNOME and KDE can do it, why don't we? So we did and is one of those thing we will be able to tell our grandsons.

José Miguel Santos, the IT chief of ULPGC (Gran Canaria University), has been a key person in general and in this point in particular. I hope this marks the beginning of something that break rules in the Canary Islands. It is also a strong messege to other colleges in Spain. They are meant to collaborate with each other much more than they do now.

But above all these results and some more I will tell in following posts, young local developers got new messeges they sometimes hear but never before experienced. They know now that developing software can be exciting, that they are capable to do it, GNOME and KDE are willing to accept them and real innovation is not a dream for them anymore. It is a reachable goal if you work hard, not because we tell them but because they have seen it, and lived it.

Above 60 people formed the local team during the event (plus GNOME and KDE volunteers, college workers, auditorium and music palace workers, etc). It has been an unforgetable experience for all of us.

Somebody asked me during the event:
  • If you could go back, would you do it again? Absolutely.

It is the general feeling of the local team.

A community event like the Gran Canaria Desktop Summit is the most powerful marketing tool the free software movement have, even more than the product coded itself. I think we still have to learn how to use it more efficiently but it is something that can make a difference if it is done in a compatible way with the traditional goals.

Nothing to attract good customers like showing the kitchen and the chef cooking.

Bringing young developers, even if they are not contributors yet, college students, small free software companies and public administrations representatives to GUADEC and Akademy can feed GNOME and KDE like no other single action. Both communities are mature enough to make steps forward in this direction without losing the esence of what these events are. We have tried to prove it is possible. Of course this was nothing more than a small experiment, but a succesful one, in my opinion, despite all the difficulties we have faced.

Do you agree?
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