People, Personalities, and Planners: Who's behind your FOSS events?

This week I am kicking off the People, Personalities, and Planner's: Who's behind your FOSS events?

One way of getting involved in the Ubuntu Community is by attending events. Most of the events throughout 2010 will have some element of the Ubuntu Community involved in them. There will be Ubuntu Community members speaking at main events or specialty events such as Women in Open Source, and/or Ubucon's, some will be planners, others will be staffing an Ubuntu LoCo Booth, and others will be lending their support by attending these events. Let's face it, without people attending there would really be no need for the the event now would there? Attending an event is contributing as well - don't forget that! I can't help but think of people who say, "If I had never gone to <insert Open Source Event> I would not be doing what I am doing today!" It's an important step and one never knows where those steps will lead to.

How does one go from attending an Open Source event to being involved in the event and the Open Source Community? I found myself wondering just that after an event in 2009. Who plans these events? How did they get started? What lead them into Open Source? I decided I'd see if I could find out.

There are so many Open Source related events happening in 2010- I wanted to do more than just invite you to attend them; I wanted you get to know the personalities behind each event. It's easy to forget the human element - the planners who give of their time, talent, and treasure on a herculean scale. Where they find the energy and hours in a day to pull off these events I can't say - I think they work on event planner time in which they can accomplish things on levels and in ways that would make the mere mortal head spin - but they love doing what they do - that is planning events for the masses like you and me to attend.

This week I am taking a look at SCaLE 8x, which according to the website is - The premier Open Source conference in the U.S., now in its 8th year, has content for everyone! If you're looking to learn, choose talks from a developer's track, a beginner track, or one of the three general interest tracks. If you're interested in chatting with the exhibitors , feel free to wander the Expo floor, with over 80 booths of open source folks eager to talk to you.

Today's Personality Behind SCaLE 8x - Hriday "Bala" Balachandran

Amber Graner: Can you tell us a little about you and your role with SCaLE? How long you have worked on this event?

Hriday Balachandran: I've worked on SCaLE since the second edition, in 2003. I was the Program Chair then and then the Registration Chair. The roles are the same though, and it's my responsibility to handle all the registration budgets - badges, tote bags, stuffings, cash from attendees etc. On the days of SCaLE, I'm in charge of marshaling the volunteers, and assigning them their various tasks.

AG: Since most event planners in the FOSS community are volunteers, what is your day job?

HB: I work at the University of Southern California (Yes, I'm a Trojan) as a Senior Systems Administrator.

AG: How did you get involved in FOSS? What was your first Linux distribution and when? What do you use now and why?

HB: I first got involved in FOSS because I couldn't afford Windows 95 on my first computer in India. I bought MS-DOS, which was old by then, and deeply unsatisfying. There was a magazine back then called PC-Quest, which distributed CD's with the magazine - kind of a pioneer in India in those days, and one month they had Redhat Linux 5.2. That was my first distro.

Currently, I use Ubuntu. I like the simplicity of Ubuntu, and the power of Debian under the hood.

AG: If someone wanted to get involved with SCaLE, how would that go about volunteering? What areas do you need the most help in?

HB: If someone wants to volunteer for SCaLE, they should email us. Our email id's are on our site - We have several areas that people can help us in. There's publicity, and art, and marketing, and advocacy. Most people are busy though, and they help out by coming to the show and volunteering on the day of.

AG: What are some of the challenges you face when planning SCaLE and how did you over come them?

HB: I think the biggest challenge is finance. Every committee wants to do that little extra, and it costs money. So I think the cog in our wheel is the sponsorship committee. More often than not, we have to cut back on certain things. For example, last year, we weren't able to give out free T-shirts, like we had in previous years, as we simply didn't have the money for it. Another big challenge we face is time and distance. All of us have day jobs, and not all of us are based in Los Angeles. Coordinating everyone's time is a big challenge.

AG: How do you see the future of SCaLE? What numbers do you hope to sustain?

HB: I think SCaLE is at a very good place right now. The numbers have stabilized over the years, but we think that is good. We would like to have a good mix of newbies and experienced users of FOSS. Over the years, we have noticed lots more students and children come to our event. That can only be a good thing.

AG: SCaLE has diversity day, can you tell us why that is important and what as an event planner, and person in open source have you learned from those events?

HB: I think you are referring WIOS and OSSIE. Women in Open Source and Open Source Software in Education are two focus areas where we felt that it was important to highlight the projects being worked on. There's a lot to gain from improving software tools for education in K-12, and similarly, we feel that women are intimidated by the whole open source movement, perceiving it to be a male bastion, and WIOS is a platform to change that perception.

AG: Is there anything about SCaLE that I haven't asked that you would like to tell me about?

HB: To us, SCaLE is not a conference. We want it to be a movement. It's not just about Linux or Free and Open Source Software. It's also about how a group of individuals can spare some time from their busy schedule, and put together an event. We love the grassroots feel, and we try very hard to preserve it by mixing up the show floor by having billion dollar companies sit right next to a local LUG.

Not everyone can write amazing code. I'd love to code like Torvalds, but I can't. I use FOSS though, and SCaLE is a way for me to give back to the community.

AG: Bala, thank you so much for taking the time out of your schedule to answer these questions and to let people get to know a little more about you and SCaLE 8x.

If you have suggestions about upcoming events and the people behind those events email me: amber [a t] ubuntu-user [d o t] com.


Follow along as Ubuntu enthusiast and Community organizer Amber Graner helps put the "You" in Ubuntu.

Amber Graner is an active Ubuntu community member and organizer who encourages everyone around her to participate, support, and learn about Ubuntu and Open Source. With a smile and a sense of humor, Amber reminds people that there is a place for everyone in the Ubuntu community – regardless of technical skill level (or lack thereof). She is constantly looking for people, places, and events within the Ubuntu community that help inspire Ubuntu users to participate actively within the Ubuntu community. Email Amber at amber AT ubuntu-user DOT com.


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