This May, I attended my first international conference: PGCon 2014. Though the schedule spanned from May 20th to May 23rd, I came primarily for the talks. Then there was the Unconference on the 24th. I’d never heard of such a thing, but it was billed as a good way to network and find out what community members want from PostgreSQL. After attending the Unconference, I must admit I’m exceptionally glad it exists; it’s something I believe every strong Open Source project needs.

Why do I say that, having only been to one of them? It’s actually fairly simple. Around 10AM Saturday, everyone piled into the large lecture hall and had a seat. There were significantly fewer attendees, but most of the core committers remained for the festivities. We were promised pizza and PostgreSQL, and that’s all anyone needed. Josh Berkus started the festivities by announcing the rules and polling for ideas. The final schedule was pretty interesting in itself, but I was more enamored by the process and the response it elicited.

I’m no stranger to the community, and the mailing lists are almost overwhelmingly active. But these conversations, nearly all of them, are focused on assistance and hacker background noise. The thing that stood out to me during the Unconference planning was its organic nature. It wasn’t just that we chose the event schedule democratically. It wasn’t the wide range of topics. It wasn’t even the fact core members were there to listen. It was the engagement.

These people were excited and enjoying talking about PostgreSQL in a way I’ve never witnessed, and I’ve spoken at Postgres Open twice so far. I’ve seen several talks, been on both sides of the podium, and no previous experience even comes close. We were all having fun brainstorming about PostgreSQL and its future. For one day, it wasn’t about pre-cooked presentations chosen via committee, but about what “the community” wanted to discuss.

When it came time for the talks themselves, this atmosphere persisted. We agreed and disagreed, we had long and concise arguments for and against ideas, clarified our positions, and generally converged toward a loose consensus. And it was glorious. I know we were recording the sessions, so if you have the time when the videos are available, I urge you to watch just one so you can see the beauty and flow of our conversations.

I feel so strongly about this that I believe PGCon needs to start a day earlier. One unfortunate element about the Unconference is that it happens on a Saturday, when everyone wants to leave and return to their families. Worse, there is a marathon on Sunday, meaning it is difficult or even impossible to secure a hotel room for the Saturday event. People tend to follow the path of least resistance, so if there is a problem getting lodging, they won’t go.

And that’s a shame. Having a core of interested and engaged community members not only improves the reputation of PostgreSQL, but its advocacy as well. If people feel they can contribute without having to code, they’ll be more likely to do so. If those contributions, no matter how small, are acknowledged, their progenitors will stick around. I believe this is the grass-roots effort that makes PostgreSQL the future of the database world, and whoever came up with the Unconference deserves every accolade I can exclaim.

We need more of this. PostgreSQL has one of the most open communities I’ve had the pleasure of participating in, and that kind of momentum can’t really be forced. I hope every future PostgreSQL conference in every country has one of these, so everyone with the motivation can take part in the process.

Finally, find your nearest PostgreSQL User Group, and join the community. You’ll be glad you did.

PGCon 2014 Unconference: A Community
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4 thoughts on “PGCon 2014 Unconference: A Community

  • For me, the closing session at last year’s Unconference was a pivotal moment – though I couldn’t contribute anything much more than consuming pizza, it was fascinating to be there while great things were being hashed out by legendary names. In fact the whole conference was pretty awesome – it was the first time I’d actually met anyone from the wider community, despite being involved at least tangentially for many years, and it felt like meeting old friends.

    I do agree that PGCon could be pushed forward a day to better accommodate the unconference; apart from clashing with the marathon, it means those of use travelling back across the International Date Line end up having to sacrifice most of our Monday to travel.

    Nevertheless, great conference, my thanks to all the organizers.

    1. Yeah. The idea to push the conference forward a day came from Josh Berkus. I ran into him waiting for his cab on Sunday morning and we spoke for a bit. I didn’t even know that was an option, so I didn’t consider they could do such a thing. Still though, if both of us had an epiphany due to the Unconference, it’s not a stretch to say other have as well. It would benefit the community if they gave it the chance it deserves.

      I’d hate the Unconference to become a Fox show scheduled for late Friday or Saturday night, doomed to oblivion before ever really getting started. 😉

      1. I’m sure you’ve seen my comments about that elsewhere as well, but for coverage – moving it a day earlier now makes it a requirement for travelers from Europe to take out two weekends of their calendar instead of just one. The current schedule is actually perfect for travel from that end of the world.

        If it gets moved like that, then at least I will have to prioritize which parts of the conference I’d go to, as I won’t make it to all of it. Not a hard decision though – it’d be no clustering summit and no chance of giving a tutorial.

        Bottom line is – since the world is round and we have many timezones, it’s probably impossible to actually be convenient for everybody…

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