Open Source Bridge 2017: My Experience

Photo by @MichelleJLevine

I was so excited when I won a ticket to OSB17 in the raffle at Women Who Code Portland’s 3rd anniversary party. This intimate, friendly conference was a great opportunity to meet like-minded people and thought leaders in the open source community. Over four intensive days, I learned a lot, had fun, and made connections that continued after.

From the moment I walked in, I knew the organizers had devoted a lot of thought and care toward creating an atmosphere of inclusion and comfort. Although the conference was relatively small, attendees were of all colors, ages, genders and orientations. There were color coded lanyards to indicate photography preference (yes, no, ask first), gender neutral bathrooms stocked with supplies, two quiet rooms (which came in handy for this chronic insomniac), and even a sign in the elevator telling you which buttons to push. (It’s a confusing building.) Wifi was limited, but thankfully there were alternatives.

The Hacker Lounge had colorful couches and chairs for hanging out, activity tables for playing/making (Legos, puzzles, zines, buttons, etc.), and the obligatory sticker table. It was a great place to relax and meet people.

Each day began with a keynote address. Nicole Sanchez asked us to join her in tweeting about systemic problems in tech using the hashtag #TechReform. Walé Ogundipé advocated for doing away with habits in the developer community that intimidate beginners. Emily Gorcenski illustrated the perils of Open Data with a case study on how a researcher published the OKCupid data of 70,000 users in his “journal” (blog) to push his racist, sexist, homophobic agenda. Delivered from the pulpit of a former church with a pipe organ backdrop, these rousing “tech sermons” set the tone for the day.

Sessions focused on five tracks: Activism, Culture, Practice, Theory, and Hacks. Choosing among the 5–6 interesting topics at each session was tough. It helped that they were marked by level and many were for beginners like me. I got great practical info on interviewing, debugging, and presenting. I learned about the many ways to contribute to open source and about the business side of open source. I heard about open source tools for activists, how #Resist came about at Meetup, and how activists can stay safe. I was inspired by Open Data Kit, which is allowing organizations all over the world to create forms and collect data in the field in places that lack infrastructure and resources.

My favorite sessions were interactive. Fatigue melted away as we made beautiful harmonies in Geek Choir (an OSB tradition). In the microWorking workshop by Danielle Robinson, we split up into small groups and discussed the challenges of creating and sustaining community when developing open source projects. Danielle raved about Science Hack Day Portland and persuaded us to attend the talk about it, so I did. At that session I learned to extract DNA from saliva using household ingredients. It was pretty amazing and the ickiness added to the fun.

Science Hack Day Portland sounded awesome so when the speakers — Daniela Sadera and Lilly Winfree — said they needed help organizing it, I decided to volunteer. I’m so happy I got to meet these awesome women in science at OSB17. Since then I have been helping to update the website, solicit sponsorships, and publicize the event.

On the third night, we celebrated with delicious (mostly vegan!) food, a chiptune band, and slideshow karaoke. Brave souls improvised talks based on random slide images to sometimes hilarious effect.

The last day was devoted to Unconference sessions on many different topics self-organized by attendees. I learned about A-Frame and WebVR and participated in a discussion on ways to use VR to increase empathy.

Shout out to Women Who Code Portland, Open Source Bridge, and Stumptown Syndicate, for giving me an opportunity to attend this conference! I’m looking forward to returning next year.