FLOS Caribbean: Success! (Part 1)
The Free, Libré and Open Source" (FLOS) Software Conference here in Trinidad and Tobago went off without any obvious hitches, thanks to the administrative staff of the Caribbean Centre for Monetary Studies and the ever present Trinidad and Tobago Linux User Group volunteers. The conference brought together an unprecedented amount of talent and experience for the first time in Trinidad and Tobago, and this was it's greatest success.
The conference was held in the Eric Williams Plaza on the 16th floor. Yet the conference view itself was even better - full of people who were actively participating in discussions with the speakers and between themselves. In fact, eGovOS couldn't have possibly picked a better site for the conference than the organizers did - the DotOrg pavilion on the ground floor was a thriving area with people from the various Trinidad and Tobago government ministries and bank offices in the building.
The speakers were nothing less than excellent, and it's impossible to mention every contributor in a simple article.
Dr. St. Clair King (Ixanos Limited) was a rare treat as he put everything into a local perspective very early in the conference. His comments on the development of the local region's Information Industry allowed attendees to see immediately how Free Software and Open Source affected the future of the region - and even poignantly showed how everyone at the conference itself was a part of that vision. Robin "Roblimo" Miller gave a much broader view in some respects, but he gave very specific examples on how the region could benefit from Free Software and Open Source with precedents which he has seen over time. With Richard Jobity (President of the TTLUG) as Chairperson, discussion related to Free Software and Open Source in context really kicked things off with the energy and flavor that would be maintained throughout the conference by local and foreign speakers combined.
David Sugar (FSF, GNU Bayonne, GNU Alexandria) and Roger Peña Escobio (Informed, Cuba) kicked off the second day in much the same manner with the 'Business, Government, Education and Gender Legal Issues' session. Small businesses and librarians really got a treat on a second day with special sessions for their respective groups. Steve Traugott's talk on "Automating the systems administration function in the enterprise" was a thought provoking session for everyone involved, and was a rare treat as well.
In fact, Steve's comment at the end of the conference echoes on the TTLUG mailing list in words, but also in spirit: "The Trinidad and Tobago Linux User Group is probably the future of IT in Trinidad and Tobago". Hearing that from an outsider - a member of the SVLUG - really fired up the mailing list and community spirit.
The unfortunate part of all of this was the lack of development - hacker - related topics. As one of the last speakers of the conference, I was faced with 45 minutes to speak directly about software development. There were 6 developers in the audience of approximately 40 (the attendees were split into separate tracks), which is symptomatic of a problem that needs to be addressed: More hackers. The TTLUG answer is - "we'll fix that!"
Attendance at the conference was great, and it was amazing to meet some of the people who came to the conference. We had people from all over the Caribbean, a few of whom I had met and had the great pleasure to speak with at length. This was not just a conference for Trinidad and Tobago. This was a conference for the Caribbean and South America. Hallway conversations were amazing, as people doing similar things throughout the region met for the first time. Where there were isolated people before, there is a stronger community now.
The break room on the 16th floor gave a breathtaking view of the Gulf of Paria - in a manner, it was symbolic of this inaugural conference. At this level, it's easy to imagine government officials and ranking banking personnel eating lunch and enjoying this astounding view - yet isolated from the ground, from the people on the street. They do not smell the sea port or feel the heat at street level. They do not taste the dust in their mouths at this level, and all looks well. At the ground floor, things look different - and at the conference, things were no different. There is a serious disconnect between formal and informal communities, and that is the key issue to resolve - both groups need each other, and hopefully both groups understand this.
The DotOrg pavilion was mired by the security of the building, yet rose and surpassed the challenge. The Trinidad and Tobago Linux User Group, the Trinidad and Tobago Computer Society and the Trinidad and Tobago Apple Community were out in force at their booths - and the normal traffic for the building was drawn to these booths as well as the sponsor booths. It was common to see CDs being burned as Pink Tie Linux (use your imagination), Knoppix and the GNU Win II CD sold out. These and the people who handled the administrative issues are the unsung heroes of the conference. The energy on this first floor was amazing, and even more amazingly - it never stopped. In fact, it carried over to a nearby Pizza Hut after the conference until it closed.
As the first conference, nothing was perfect - and it's safe to say that such conferences will never be perfect. There is much more to write about regarding this conference, and there will be much more over the next week. This conference touched off a chain reaction that is immeasurable, and every single person who was a part of it has become part of a stronger and thriving community.
Taran Rampersad is a software developer and consultant based out of Trinidad and Tobago, and was a speaker at the FLOS Caribbean conference, and can be reached at KnowProSE.com. He is still wondering if he's been accepted as a member of the Free Beer Foundation.
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