2017 GNOME Foundation Hackfest

This year, the GNOME Foundation Board decided to do a hackfest to work on financial policies and other work that has been piling up. From what I know, this is the first event of its kind, and I’m proud to be part of the group who made it happen.

As most GNOME Foundation members may know, the Board usually gets together two days before GUADEC starts to meet in-person for one day. I’ve been on the Board for two terms now and each year having just one day of meetings is simply not enough when you’re trying to be a really proactive Board.

So that’s the backdrop for why we decided to do the hackfest in the first place, and after considering everyone’s location and costs for travel, we decided that Berlin would be the perfect place to do it this year.

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The Work Stuff:

Entering the hackfest, there were a few topics front and center that had surfaced and we wanted to cover. Here’s a summary of the topics we covered and where we left each of them.

  • Budget allocation and approval: The GNOME Foundation fiscal cycle is from November to October of each year. One of our top priorities for this hackfest was to approve the budget for 2017-2018. However, we wanted to make sure that the categories and line items made sense. Basically, we wanted to make sure that the reports that we pulled later in the year could help us actually understand what we were spending our money on with enough level of detail.We also discussed how the expenditure for our new Executive Director’s salary will affect this year’s budget. We talked about how much run rate we wanted to have, and what we considered to be our overhead costs of running the organization. We decided that we want to have about 1 year run rate and then we backwards planned our targeted budget based on that.By the end of the hackfest we had restructured the categories to reflect our goals for the upcoming year, and approved the budget. We will be sharing this budget with Foundation members in the upcoming weeks.
  • Travel: We’ve heard a few concerns from the community around travel policies and practices. For example, a lot of people send in price estimates for their travel plans and prices have gone up by the time that they receive an answer on approval. Other concerns have been around not knowing if non-Foundation members can apply for travel sponsorship too.Instead of coming up with solutions of our own that we then impose on the travel committee, we’ve decided to have more of a working relationship with them to problem-solve together. As we progress with this plan, we hope to build more transparency into travel committee processes. Alexandre was nominated as the Board member representative to speak with the Travel committee and he’ll be planning a meeting with them soon.
  • Easier reimbursements: If we want a larger community with lots of local events and representation around the world, we need to create ways for people to know when and how they can access GNOME funds. We’ve started to do that, but the tools we’ve used for reimbursement have made it difficult for some people to participate. For example, reimbursements through Paypal in Peru make it so that people being reimbursed lose almost half of the money we sent them in fees. We heard from our community that we needed a new option for money transfers, and we’re happy to say that we’ve acted on that.TransferWise is now a payment option for those seeking reimbursement from the GNOME Foundation. This means lower fees for the recipient. We hope that this will encourage more people to participate in GNOME activities.
  • Committees: This was one of our hot topics — so much so that it resulted in a new drinking game (with tea and water), where we drank every time one of us mentioned the word “committee” at the hackfest. Basically, we want to have a closer relationship with our committees and we want to start a couple of new ones. We’ve already announced the Sponsorship Committee, which will help us secure funding for our major conferences, and we are thinking of creating one for the Engagement team — so that they can allocate funds for marketing and engagement purposes.As part of this, we also talked about budget authorization levels and how much budget holders could spend without needing approval from the Board. This will give more power to the community and will reduce the amount of time that the Board spends arguing over tiny things in the budget such as how many balloons make sense to pay for at an event.
  • Marketing, engagement, and small events: I’m particularly proud of the progress that we are making on this front. We are starting to more actively recognize the importance of community building, marketing, and engagement. When we asked for the community’s feedback on where they’d like to see more funding, one of the things they brought up was small events at Hackfests and other meetings. So, you hollered and we listened. We’ll be rolling out more funds for small events, guidelines, and resources to help people organize events that can help us build a stronger community.
  • Privacy funds: We’ve had these restricted funds for too long, so one of our priorities was to start acting on spending them for the purpose they were originally meant to be spent. Previous Boards have fluctuated between using the money for internships or hiring contractors. We’ve decided to do internships, and Carlos and Zeeshan met during the hackfest to begin planning, building on what Cosimo started during this the 2016 GUADEC. More updates on this to come, but I think we’re finally going to get some momentum on this. Fingers crossed.
  • Empowering our employees: An interesting thing that came out of the hackfest was the realization that our employees (Neil and Rosanna) are not empowered to actively participate during Board meetings. Since their such an important part of the Foundation, we are looking into ways to change this, so that they can help the current Board, and future Boards, be able to make the best decisions possible. I can’t count how many times Rosanna’s historic knowledge has helped the Board, for example, and it’d be great to formalize a way to ensure that she can have more of a voice within the Foundation.We’ve reached out for legal advice and are looking into how other organizations approach this.

As mentioned, this is just a short summary of the many things we discussed and worked on during the 3 day hackfest. By the end we were exhausted, but we definitely made some great progress. We hope to make hackfests like this a regular event of the future.

The last thing I’ll say is that, apparently, whiteboard markers can be wiped off of plastic with lots of chemicals and patience. If only we had realized that we were writing on plastic sooner. I guess we’re only pretty smart when it comes to some types of board stuff.

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The Social Stuff

We decided to rent an Airbnb to make it less expensive and to promote bonding, and everyone was able to join except for Zeeshan. He was busy apartment hunting in Berlin since he just started working at Kinvolk. The apartment was great, except that the WiFi situation was pretty spotty.

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The first night we were in town we had dinner with Lennart and Kai. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture of that first dinner because I was dead tired. However, I did take pictures of our dinner outings the following days.

One of the social highlights of our trip was going to C-Base, the old hackerspace in Berlin. We ordered pizza (which despite some Italians’ protests about the quality of pizza in Berlin, it was actually not too bad), and we had some beers. I also learned about Ingress because C-Base had a cool map that showed which places belonged to each team.

We also happened to be in town for the Berlin Festival of Lights, which was awesome. Here are some pictures from that.

Yes, I bought a light-up flower crown. Yes, it was fabulous.

Thank Yous 

I wanted to include a few shout-outs:

  • Cosimo & Alexandre: thanks for helping us plan the travel logistics around the hackfest.
  • Kinvolk: thanks for being such gracious hosts! Your office is awesome and you guys are da bomb.
  • Zeeshan: thanks for being such a good sport about having us around even though it was his first week starting a new job.
  • Julian & Tobias: thanks for coming to all of the GNOME social events and hanging out with us.
  • Tom & Carlos: thanks for being my moral support as I prepared for my keynote speech at GNOME.Asia!

… And a huge thanks to the GNOME Foundation for sponsoring my travel to Berlin!

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GNOME.Asia 2017 | Chongqing, China

This year was my first time at GNOME.Asia, and it just so happened to be the conference’s 10th year celebration. I feel very lucky to have been to the GNOME Foundation’s 20th birthday party at GUADEC, and then this outstanding celebration at GNOME.Asia.

I want to thank the conference organizers and volunteers for their hard work in hosting this event and for the many thoughtful touches they included to make this conference truly special. I also want to thank them for inviting me to give a keynote speech — I feel very honored to have been given such an opportunity.

The Conference

My first impression of GNOME.Asia was: wow this conference is so hot that it’s on fire! (Almost literally) 🙂

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It was so cool to see how the organizing team included traditional Chinese [fire] dancers in the opening ceremony to help make the conference feel extra special and give it a local flavor.

A few minutes after the welcome speeches, I was invited up on stage to give my first-ever keynote speech in front of about 300 people called “The future of GNOME is You.” In it, I encouraged newcomers to join GNOME by telling them more about GNOME’s history, the people and organizations that are part of it, my own story in becoming a member, and the ways that we’ve tried to make it easy for more people to contribute.

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At the end of my speech, I took a speaker selfie to document the event.

During the break following my speech, a few students came up to me interested in learning more about the opportunities that I had spoken about. I was especially excited that a few women came up to me asking about ways I’d mentioned they could contribute. There was also a lot of interest from students about Google Summer of Code. In the future, we may want to prepare some brochures with information on that, or provide better ways for students to connect with people who have participated in the program before.

Before going to China I had downloaded WeChat, and when the students came up to me during the break, I was really glad I had it. Telegram, IRC, etc are all blocked in China — so asking newcomers to join those was not really a good option. When people approached me, I instead added them on WeChat:

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(Feel free to add me)

This gave me the opportunity of  connecting with them and following up later. For example, I later posted about newcomers events that were happening at the conference, such as Kat’s workshop on the second day, and a few of the people I connected to ended up joining as a result. Win!

The Social Events

One of the best things about GNOME is that we know how to have fun! This conference was no exception.

The first night, we had hot pot. I learned that Szechuan peppers were not spicy in a hot sense, but rather spicy in a spice sense. And they numb your mouth. Needless to say, I discovered that I’m not a fan of the pepper. But I really loved the hot pot experience!!

Yes, we tried brains and blood. 🙊

The next night was the 20th birthday party event for GNOME, and the organizing team rented a boat for us. We were able to enjoy the city’s lights in style.


One of our sponsors also donated a lot of liquor for the event, which made it even more fun. I was honored with a special edition bottle to take back with me, but since I didn’t have space in my luggage, Sri helped take it back to the US since the plan is to enjoy it during LAS 🙂

Last but not least, we enjoyed a great day of touring Chongqing on our last day there. We split up into smaller groups and made our way through a Chinese market, then hiked up a mountain to see the difference between old Chongqing and new Chongqing, and finally had dinner at a restaurant that served a special spring chicken soup!

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GNOME.Asia in Chongqing was absolutely phenomenal, and I’m sure everyone who attended it will remember it forever more. Thank you again to all of those who made it happen!

Key Takeaways

Here are some key takeaways from the conference!

Newcomers events are key.

Since a lot of people who attend GNOME.Asia are not regular contributors to GNOME, it is important that we have newcomers events to help them begin contributing. After the first day, there was a lot of interest in the areas of coding and translations.

Kat put on a great workshop to help people get started with contributions; however, the workshop was planned while other speeches were happening and it was not widely announced. In the future, it would be great to see more of a focus on newcomers events at GNOME.Asia. Also, it would be great to make sure that some of the translation team attend, especially some of the language maintainers for the area where GNOME.Asia will be held.

BoFs should be planned.

From what I understand, GNOME.Asia is a shorter conference than GUADEC, and primarily held over a weekend. This means that the schedule has to be largely compressed. That being the case, I think it’s still important to try to have some time for BoFs so that it can evolve from just being a conference for newcomers, to one that brings more regular contributors to the table.

It would be great to see GNOME.Asia turn into a place for GNOME users and contributors, just like GUADEC is, and in order for this to happen, we need to designate some time for BoFs so people can get some work done. Having BoFs will help with global integration, and I see it as something crucial to the future of GNOME.

Having fun is important.

GNOME is people. In order to form lasting relationships that carry on into the online / virtual world, we need to have fun when we are together in person. I think that this is one of GNOME’s strengths, and certainly something that the GNOME.Asia organizing team did really well this year!

Establishing lasting communication channels is crucial.

This point seems obvious, but isn’t. We can’t be rigid in our communication channels and expect everyone to join IRC, or even Telegram. In China, for example, all of that is blocked. We need to have both global channels (IRC), and local channels (WeChat), so that people can join and be engaged at both local and global levels.

At GNOME.Asia this year, many of us connected first with people through WeChat and then got them to join the global channels over the next few weeks. As a result, the global engagement team has already begun to coordinate more with some of the event planners of this year’s GNOME.Asia. I’m personally looking forward to collaborating more with the GNOME.Asia team and helping to expand our activity globally!

Special Thank You’s

First of all, thank you to Max Huang, Emily Chen, and Wen Qixiang for providing the opportunity for me to keynote at GNOME.Asia!

I also want to give a special thank you to my friend Tom Pollock who helped me with my keynote speech in Berlin. I was quite nervous, as it was my first keynote ever, and his help and support made all the difference. THANK YOU, TOM!! ❤

Matthias Clasen, Julian Sparber, and Tobias Bernard also helped with their moral support before and during my speech. Julian and Tobias let me practice with them, and Matthias cheered me on before, during, and after my speech. Thank you!!!

I made many new friends at GNOME.Asia, but I wanted to give a special thank you to Anna for giving me my new Chinese name: 睿茜. It’s a name that sounds like part of my name, “ritzi,” and means something along the lines of “wise/clever princess” 🙂 I also want to thank Heather for taking such good care of us while we were there!

To Kat, thank you for braving the store with me when I wasn’t feeling well! It really helped, and I deeply appreciate it.

Last but not least, thank you to the GNOME Foundation for sponsoring my trip to GNOME.Asia! If you, dear reader, are interested in learning more about travel sponsorship, please take a look at: https://wiki.gnome.org/Travel/

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Hello, world!

I did it. I finally created a blog. Oh, and lucky you. You’re my first reader!

Actually, I have no way of guaranteeing that you’re my first reader.

But, I still want you to feel special. Because you are.

“Ok, so what’s the point of this blog?,” you ask? It’s basically meant to serve as a medium for me to share my journey with you. Pretty standard stuff.

Unfortunately, I’ve never been very good at journaling, so I’m pretty sure that my blog posts will be sporadic at best. Sorry in advance. I hope you’ll still find at least some of these blog posts interesting and useful.

<3, N