Biases busted at FOSS Backstage 2020

April 3, 2020

I went to FOSS Backstage this year. What was planned to be a small conference anyways, became an even smaller event due to the protective measures against COVID-19 in Europe. Some speakers had to opt out, while others presented from remote. It looked like some registered attendees did not show up either, which led to an intimate group of 30-40 people at the event.

What is FOSS Backstage?

With so many different events around in Tech, every conference looks for its own niche. FOSS Backstage found a great one! Hear it from the organizers themselves:

[…] discussion and learning about non-technical aspects of open source development. Topics include open source project leadership best practices, community management, open source project metrics, open source strategy for enterprise, adopting open source collaboration in corporations, legal matters when dealing with open source and many more.

My Favorite Talks from FOSS Backstage 2020

Let me preface this with: All talks at FOSS Backstage 2020 were interesting in their own right! My greatest respect for anybody that gets on stage to share what they have learned in their respective field.

For my highlights I picked the ones where the concepts were the most novel to me, or where I simply found the presentation entertaining. In no particular order, these were my favorite talks.

Why the GPL is great for business

In this comparison of licenses and business models in the Open Source world, Jos Poortvliet from concluded that “the best open-source business model is the subscription model”, taking the acquisition of Red Hat by IBM as proof for this claim.

While parts of this talk were hard to follow, as I don’t have enough prior knowledge about software licensing, this was an extremely interesting talk. I enjoyed the business angle of this talk. For any project to be sustainable, money needs to come from somewhere after all.

Other notes from this talk that need further unpacking (for me):

How to convince your left brain (or manager) to follow the Open Source path that your right brain desires.

Bertrand Delacretaz convinces us of the benefits of contributing to Open Source. His talk is focused on what the individual developer will get out of Open Source for their personal development.

In short, Open Source contributions lead to:

Great teaser to motivate developers to invest time in Open Source development. Also the delivery by Bertrand was fantastic!

Blending Open Source and Corporate Values

The speaker Cornelius Schumacher presented how they are bringing an open-source-like culture into the corporate world. He shared the InnerSource License they created to simplify the source code distribution and collaboration on a code level between the companies in their group.

It was fascinating to see the collaboration problems one has to solve when working in a slightly older business domain, but also in a larger group of companies.

One key recommendation:

Call it InnerSource! That does not sound threatening to business people. – see

A community-driven approach towards open innovation for research communication

In what was the most intellectually stimulating talk of the conference for me, Emmy Tsang presented the challenges of the century-old peer review system in science. She went on to explain how eLife is aiming to improve science publishing, technology and research culture.

Further reading:

My Bias was Busted

While I have found the ideas of Free and open-source software (FOSS) interesting for a long time, the sometimes religiously seeming conversations about it had been a turn-off for me. When registering for this event, I was both curious but also a bit worried if I would be able to connect with the line of thinking at this conference.

My worries were completely unnecessary. I enjoyed the event from beginning to end, found a group of open and caring people, and got to learn many new angles on parts of the software industry that I am not exposed to in my day-to-day work as an Engineering Manager. For me, it was well worth moving out of my comfort zone by attending this event.

Thank you to the conferences organizers for making this such a great event, and so easy for FOSS outsiders like me to get their bias busted :)