June 26, 2024

This year I was given the opportunity to travel to Ottawa for the BSDCan conference, and associated FreeBSD developer’s summit. This was my first time attending the conference, after several years of involvement in FreeBSD. My experience, summarized here, was quite amazing!

I am based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the east coast of Canada. I’ve been to Ottawa several times and it is a relatively short distance to travel, especially compared to those coming from overseas. When my departure day came it was storming, and so takeoff was delayed a few hours. As I boarded the plane I spotted Joe Mingrone, who is local to me and happened to be sharing my flight. An hour and a half later we were on the ground, and met up at the gate. We were further delayed by some baggage issues, but eventually I made it to the uOttawa dorm where I would be staying for the next few days. Despite the small road-bumps, I had arrived safely at BSDCan!

Wednesday began early, with the FreeBSD developers gathering for the developers’ summit. I arrived in the lecture hall to find people scattered across the room, quietly chatting or already working away on their laptops. It was a moment of total unpretentiousness. I found a seat in a row about two-thirds back, and felt very much that I was transported back to my own university classes. I settled in, grabbed my badge from the front desk, and said hello to Allan Jude, who I had spoken with many times over video, but never face-to-face.

The sessions quickly began with talks from the FreeBSD Foundation and the Core team. I said hello to a few more people and contented myself to take it all in, until it was time for lunch. After that, I found a spot on my own in the hallway and worked on polishing my slides for my own talk that I would give during the last slot of the afternoon.

I was presenting an update on FreeBSD’s support for the RISC-V CPU architecture, an area I have been actively working on, in some capacity, for around five years now. My presentation was a mix of a few elements: I gave an overview of current RISC-V hardware and FreeBSD’s support status, a bit of a summary of the work I’ve done, and most of all tried to capture the current roadblocks/difficulties around supporting this platform. My main goal going into this talk was not to overthink it. I am generally quite comfortable with public speaking, and was happy that I was getting the chance to share my perspective with my fellow developers. In the end it was far from perfect; some of my slides could have been a bit more detailed, and I rushed through the first section of my slides at breakneck speed. I had to catch myself, take a breath, and slow down. Still, I have learned not to seek perfection for things like this, and as a result I got good feedback on my presentation once it was done. Someone said they enjoyed how “honest” I was, which made me laugh because I was really informal and vented a few frustrations, but ultimately I consider this a major compliment!

With my talk done and behind me, I could relax and settle in for the rest of the conference…

Thursday was productive, with more great sessions in the developers summit, including discussions around the release engineering process the 15.0 planning meeting. In the evening I went off on my own for a while to walk around downtown, enjoying some quiet time in the beautiful weather.

Friday was the start of the BSDCan conference proper, and it was indeed busier. The day went by quickly. I enjoyed the talk given by Hiroki Sato, on USB debug capabilities for FreeBSD. This feature will be highly useful for remote kernel debugging on machines when access to a serial console is difficult or impossible. Sato-san very graciously gifted me the USB A-to-A cable needed to test this feature, so I hope to assist somewhat in the testing and integration of his work.

Saturday was much of the same. My energy was still high enough that I was able to take in information from the talks. Delirium started to hit me in the late afternoon, around the time of the closing session and auction. That can’t be mere coincidence…

I took an hour to rest, shower, and get ready before heading to the closing social. I had a great evening chatting with everyone and enjoying the drinks and snacks!

My flight home was uneventful, and by Sunday night I was back home in my own bed.

I came away from this conference feeling reinvigorated. After several years of working on my own, interacting with people mainly over email and IRC, it was incredibly meaningful to meet so many of my colleagues face-to-face for the first time. I have learned that I am people-oriented, and these types of interactions really feed my soul. Honestly I was surprised by how good I felt coming out of this trip. I feel a renewed connection with the community, and a strengthened sense of purpose when it comes to my work and involvement in FreeBSD.

The somber coda to this fantastic week came when I checked my email the following Tuesday: Mike Karels had passed away on his way to the airport. This was shocking news, as I had seen him around the whole week and the night before. We only spoke briefly, but we did get that introduction. He is missed by many in this community, I am sure. To Mike and his family: I wish you peace.

I want to say thank you to the people I connected to during the week! Including, but not limited to: Joe Mingrone, John Baldwin, Alex Pshenichkin, Diane Bruce, Katie McMillan, Emil Tsalapatis, Johnathan Vasquez, Ed Maste, Deb Goodkin, Kirk McKusick, Pierre Pronchery, Olivier Certner, Abhi Das, Afaq Shad, and those I am forgetting! Special shout-out to Mark Johnston for being an easy roommate, helpful colleague, and compassionate friend.

A big thank you to the BSDCan volunteers and organizers for making this conference happen. Finally, thank you to the FreeBSD Foundation for sponsoring my travel, I am very grateful for the opportunity!

– Contributed by Mitchell Horne