Ten Years of "Linux in the GNU/South": an Overview of SELF 2019
Highlights of the 2019 Southeast LinuxFest.
The tenth annual SouthEast LinuxFest (SELF) was held on the weekend of June 14–16 at the Sheraton Charlotte Airport Hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina. Still running strong, SELF serves partially as a replacement for the Atlanta Linux Showcase, a former conference for all things Linux in the southeastern United States. Since 2009, the conference has provided a venue for those living in the southeastern United States to come and listen to talks by speakers who all share a passion for using Linux-based operating systems and free and open-source software (FOSS). Although some of my praises of the conference are not exclusive to SELF, the presence of such a conference in the "GNU/South" has the long-term potential to have a significant effect on the Linux and FOSS community.
Despite facing several challenges along the way, SELF's current success is the result of what is now ten years of hard work by the conference organizers, who currently are led by Jeremy Sands, one of the founding members of the conference. Scanning through the materials for SELF 2019, however, there is no mention that this year's conference marked a decade of "Linux in the GNU/South". It actually wasn't until the conference already was over that I realized this marked SELF's decennial anniversary. I initially asked myself why this wasn't front and center on event advertisements, but looking back on SELF, neglecting questions such as "how long have we been going?" and instead focusing on "what is going on now?" and "where do we go from here?" speaks to the admirable spirit and focus of the conference and its attendees. This focus on the content of SELF rather than SELF itself shows the true passion for the Linux community rather than any particular organization or institution that benefits off the community.
Another element worthy of praise is SELF's "all are welcome" atmosphere. Whether attendees were met with feelings of excitement to return to an event they waited 362 days for or a sense of apprehension as they stepped down the L-shaped hall of conference rooms for the first time, it took little time for the contagious, positive energy to take its effect. People of all ages and all skill levels could be seen intermingling and enthusiastically inviting anybody who was willing into their conversations and activities. The conference talks, which took all kinds of approaches to thinking about and using Linux, proved that everybody is welcome to attend and participate at the event.
These fascinating conference rooms talks and presentations, however, should not be seen as the only reason to attend SELF (or any LinuxFest). The hallways and sitting areas outside the conference rooms are arguably just as enjoyable and informative as the talks themselves. From the attending vendors representing their brands next to the Ask Noah Show streaming table to the countless discussions being had by old and new friends lining the walls and walkways, the ability to connect and socialize with other Linux users is uncanny. Although "it's not the talks you attend, but who you meet from going to them" can be said for attending many conferences, there certainly was something special about the environment created from all of these Linux/FOSS users coming together that other types of conferences just can't replicate. As it is impossible to describe with pen and paper (metaphorically speaking), the only way to understand the greatness of such an event fully is to attend your regional LinuxFest.
I would like to end by emphasizing the importance and significance of events similar to SELF. There is no argument that the internet is the largest platform for promoting and discussing Linux and other FOSS-related topics. Journals, blogs, forums, podcasts, internet radio and videos all provide outlets to create and share information related to the Linux community. This doesn't mean that SELF and similar conferences play any less significant of a role in the Linux/FOSS community. There is a minimal level of success to acknowledge when a conference is able to attract enough attendees to book all available hotel rooms at its host hotel, which Southeast Linux fest managed to accomplish. That level of success and the international audience of attendees show both the hotel and the surrounding community that Linux has significance. This type of public display is all it takes to spark curiosity in some people. This curiosity not only has the potential to bring others to learn about Linux, but it can also eventually motivate them to come and be a part of events like LinuxFest, and have that same experience of friendship and learning in a single environment.
The question of why LinuxFest is important, however, goes beyond a simple public display of an active community. As most are aware, the internet occasionally can represent the Linux community in a negative, less-welcoming light. Southeast LinuxFest and other LinuxFests show that this negative discourse present in some online communities is in no way shape or form, a reflection of the Linux community itself, but more of a reflection of a few bad apples that have chosen to use Linux. I can think of few other communities where I observe "celebrities of the field", such as Noah Cheliah, hurriedly running down the conference hall to come to a stop when a fan of the AskNoah Show and Destination Linux says hi, and not only reciprocate the greeting, but take a few moments to meet and talk to them. Even inside the Linux community, online venues simply do now allow this level of interaction where internet celebrities are able and willing to engage with their fans and even newcomers who may have never heard of them, but are, nonetheless, just as enthusiastic. In other words, go to a LinuxFest. You won't regret it.
Learn more about the history of SouthEast LinuxFest here.
The webpage for the Southeast LinuxFest is here.