Even with the recent explosion of the open source movement, there are still many misconceptions and questions surrounding open source software. Can you finance open source? Is open source sustainable? How do you enforce healthy, efficient processes in open source projects?

open source bridge logoFor almost a decade, the Open Source Bridge (OSB) conference, held annually in Portland, Ore., has provided a platform for developers and open source advocates to discuss these kinds of questions and propose solutions. It’s also a great chance to participate in the vibrant open source community that has formed around this special conference.

As New Relic was an official sponsor of this year’s OSB conference, I volunteered at the event—along with a contingent of New Relic colleagues—and I wanted to share some of the valuable insights we gained.

A developer event for everyone

OSB is uniquely accessible and affordable, which encourages a greater breadth of diversity in the conference’s attendees. Julie Pagano, a senior software engineer at New Relic, points out that, particularly for people who are underrepresented in tech, it is a “less stressful” experience because “you will find people like you, no matter who you are.” Noelle Daley, a software engineer at New Relic, comes to OSB because of this diversity of talks and people. OSB is “one of the most inclusive conferences I have ever been to,” she says.

Additionally, because it is a polyglot conference that covers many different languages, libraries, and technologies, OSB has something to offer developers of all experience levels. Most of the technical talks are easy to absorb even for new programmers, and OSB itself is a friendly environment to network in and find support.

Daphne Watson, another software engineering intern at New Relic, attended OSB as a way to learn more about open source projects and meet people in the open source community. Daphne says she came away with new knowledge and the opportunity to engage technically with topics she’s passionate about, such as education and healthcare.

New Relic Senior Software Engineer Ian Dees says that this year’s conference provided some “extremely timely advice on making sure my teammates and I continue to learn and grow as engineers.” Ian found many of the talks useful in preventing burnout and keeping his team from “losing our big goals amongst our daily work.” Two talks he found especially relevant were Sustainable Career Development: Advancing While Still Having Free Time and Dodge Disasters and March to Triumph as a Mentor. OSB “always recharges my creative batteries,” Ian says.

Talking economics, accessibility

Open source technology—and the community that supports it—has grown and changed significantly over the years. In her keynote talk Free Culture in an Expensive World, independent researcher and developer Shauna Gordon-McKeon investigated how this process has been influenced by what has traditionally been one of open source’s biggest issues: profitability. Shauna presented case studies of companies and organizations that have come up with innovative economic models for their open source software. These models range from donations and crowdsourcing to selling services and affiliate advertising for free products. She stressed that these models alone are not enough, but together have made a significant impact on growing open source and making it sustainable.

In her keynote speech on day two of the conference, Julia Nguyen, founder of mental health community site if-me.org, presented Exploring Mental Illness With Open Source, in which she discussed how open source relates to accessibility, specifically in respect to mental health. Free, available software creates the opportunity to engage in technology for those who may not otherwise be exposed to it.

The value of building community

What makes OSB so valuable is its ability to encompass and benefit a diverse range of people. Equally important, OSB is a platform for discussing open source problems and crowdsourcing effective solutions. According to Julie Pagano, OSB “talks about the community, which is often overlooked, and is a much harder problem to solve.” Ian Dees adds, “Open Source Bridge is a perfect mix of the technical and the personal. Each year, we learn about specific technologies, and also about how to work together as people.”

If you weren’t able to attend this year’s event, here are some photos from the day:

OSB new relic crew

The New Relic crew welcomes attendees. From left to right: VP of Engineering Belinda Runkle, Lead Software Engineer Jason Clark, and engineering intern Daphne Watson.

OSB tshirts

What’s a conference without T-shirts?

unconference schedule

In keeping with the “free and open” theme of the conference, attendees were invited to give their own talks or lead workshops.

3d printer

Attendees got the chance to experiment with 3D printing and create trinkets such as rings, dragon keychains, vases, and iconic childhood cartoon creatures.

make a zine table

For attendees with something to say, the “make a zine” table was a place to channel creative energy.

blue star donuts

Fresh-baked specialties from a famous local donut shop kept the conference buzzing.

caito soldering

Here I am, soldering a MintyBoost charger in one of the project areas.

knitting guy

It’s not all technology. Attendees stayed warm with nerd-friendly hats by Lucas Grzybowski (stixnstrings on Etsy).

See you all at next year’s OSB!


Caito is a Software Engineer on the Account Experience (AX) team. Caito is returning to a childhood passion of building and breaking things after various roles in construction, management, and healthcare. Caito is currently pursuing her master's in software engineering at Harvard University. View posts by .

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