Experiences in the community

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Debutsav 2014 Experiences – Day 0.

Hi all,
This would be not so brief notes on organizing #Debutsav 2014 this time around.

Time and again Debian-India has been accused of being an elitist group of people, hackers as most of us are pretty cocooned in our day-to-day activities and have not taken pains to spread the Debian project as much as we should have. I do think that the criticism is somewhat valid and that is what had prompted the idea of a minidebconf this time around as well.

So, around 3 months back, I, Praveen a few other people were trying to connect with various institutions to hold a minidebconf. There were some rules we had thought of :-

a. Have a new institute or organization with whom we will work.
b. Could be anywhere within India.

This is an ongoing effort as we want to bring a debconf in India by 2017. If we want to organize such a large event we need to have a bigger team in-place which can handle the technical skills, logistics and budgets which are needed for such an event.

In our search,R. Harish, a fellow-student at Amrita Institute and a friend volunteered and shared Amrita University as a potential host institution. I had known about the students of Amrita as being passionate about FOSS due to they coming to the last couple of FOSSmeets which were held so knew it would be a good institution. Add to that Harish shared http://foss.amrita.ac.in/ which fueled the idea of a minidebconf more.

Both me and Praveen were mulling the idea whether we should just have debian-related talks or have a wider open selection of talks. We had asked for people from the debian community if there were any talks they wanted to give/share on this platform which didn’t result in any significant uptake. Then the onus would have been to me and Praveen to talk of Debian all day. This didn’t appeal to both of us as it would be brutal on us as well as the students to bear with us the whole day or two🙂. So it was mutually decided to also include some FOSS talks as well. This didn’t go down well with the debian community as some people felt that the brand ‘minidebconf’ would be corrupted even if our intentions were an honest one. So going back and forth, we decided to drop ‘minidebconf’ and use ‘debutsav’ as a coinage. The name has been used by us before and as is an amalgamation of both ‘Debian’ and ‘Utsav(am)'(festival) we stuck with the name. While Praveen bought the domain and some server space, I concentrated on doing write-ups for the event.

Somehow 2 months went by, we were doing this in whatever free time we were having as well at times, at cost of paid work/consultancy as well as I was afraid we would never be ready at time. In hindsight, this turned out to be true as well and there still were talks and workshops we should have done but didn’t do due to lack of time, planning and resources.

About 2-3 weeks before the event, Amrita bought a nice WordPress theme which did wonders for looking good. While for geeks like us, we were happy with a bland site, we knew to attract people, you need to have a good-looking website (Marketing 101) whether you have good content or no, it comes a late second.

Then it was turn of the social media marketeers, who IMHO needed to spam much more than they did. At least one of them had access to the student organizers (which we had stressed upon as well) and could have made lot more people aware by doing 1 on 1 short interviews of them on social media like FB, twitter, poddery, instagram etc. As this is/was purely a voluntary act, we didn’t feel right to tell them what to do.

As D-Day was approaching, I had the familiar pit of the stomach feeling which consisted of dread, excitement and number of emotions I can’t fully explain. Started the somewhat long journey from Pune to Kayankulam Junction (a tongue-twister of a name as any).

KayanKulam Railway Junction photo

Photo of Kayankulam Junction

Amrita is about 45 mins. a jeep/station-wagon/Tavera ride from Kayankulam Junction. As don’t know Malayalam, was concerned if somebody would be there to receive. While I know there are supposedly buses to Amrita, was not sure if I would be able to find them and also make out the same. 2 people from the Amrita host institution organizing committee showed up and was safely deposited to the Amrita Guest house on 16th ( had gone a day before as wanted to check the labs and see if there is anything they needed my help with.) as well as strategize with fellow speakers to know if there were any changes to schedule they needed. On the back of the mind I was also trepidated with the possibility of a strike happening in Kerala due to some political happening, which thankfully didn’t happen. What did happen was that there were some internal University issues due to which more than 70% of the students who had registered for the event could not turn up. Something like 250 odd students from the University had registered and around 40+ students from outside had registered.

This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we could take everybody along for all the things we had planned within the alloted time. The more number of students there are, the more time it takes and harder it becomes to take everybody along but I’m getting ahead of myself. Anyways, to the credit of students, they didn’t let me enter into the lab. till it was evening, found the labs. were satisfactory to what we wanted to do, they hadn’t done a Debian mirror which I knew would probably bite us in the morning (which it did) the next morning. Anyways, most of the speakers turned up by 16th evening and we were able to do some discussions to know if anybody needed to go somewhere and wanted to end their talks early or something, but thankfully everybody wanted to be there for the full 2 days, some old and some new faces had joined up for the event. Special mention must be made of Priyanka as I had invited her and she had sportingly agreed to come with perhaps a week’s notice wearing two hats, one of scrollback.io and the other of a Mozilla Representative to take the mozilla sessions as they didn’t have one.

We talked till about 1:00 or 2:00 and then wrapped for the night as the Opening Ceremony was due the next day at 10:00 hrs. according to schedule and I wanted to walk around the campus a bit before the Opening Ceremony happened. That’s all for day 0.

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