As the conclusion to my 3 weekend conference marathon, including the IISE Western Conference and ITE Student Leadership Summit, I attended the 20th Southern California Linux Expo (SCaLE 20x) in Pasadena, CA. It’s a huge exhibition of various OSS-related vendors and tech-related talks – everything from how to recareer in technology to tutorials on building your own Kubernetes cluster. There’s also several free colocated events like Kubernetes Community Day, Ceph Days SoCal, etc. As you might notice from reading my blog, I’ve been playing with Linux and open source software for quite a few years now; however, I had never been to any event related to Linux or OSS before. So, when I heard about SCaLE, I knew I was going to attend. (The great ticket pricing – $45 for all-access – helped too!)
The conference is actually four days (March 9-12 inclusive), but I was only able to attend Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Here’s a short recap of what I did and what I learned.
Right after class on Friday, I sprinted over to Pasadena on the Gold Line. Luckily the Pasadena Convention Center is about a 10 minute walk away from Del Mar Gold Line station. Unluckily it was pouring rain when my train arrived, so I was quite soaked by the time I arrived at the convention center which was all decorated for SCaLE.
Being a transit nerd, I knew I wanted to see the talk about transition.city, essentially an OSS web app that helps regular people contribute to transit route/headway planning. It allows users to click and paint transit routes across a city while calculating the transit reach (i.e., the region one can travel to with transit within 1 hour) of a given point in the city. It makes the often-nebulous task of routing decisions very accessible to the typical person.
Indeed, transition.city reminded me quite a bit of LA Metro’s interactive budget planning tool called MyBudget that similarly allows users to interactively figure out how to balance the agency’s massive budget. I think citizen engagement with transit agencies’ decisions is very important (after all, most everyone is affected by those decisions!), and improving those decisions’ accessibility through open-source software is certain to be impactful. I would love to see transition.city deployed at scale someday.
Besides that especially interesting talk, I also attended one with GitHub’s directory of policy, where I learned about the great complexity of making sure code and open source is available everywhere. Getting involved with policy – especially technical policy, which we seem to struggle with in the US – is certainly important to me.
Finally, to wrap up the day, I listened to the UpSCALE talks. These talks have an interesting format where each speaker is given exactly 5 minutes to speak, and their slides automatically advance every 15 seconds. Unfortunately, most of the talks felt quite ad-hoc and weren’t as informative as the more formal ones, but it was still entertaining to get a taste of a wide variety of topics in just two hours. I was particularly impressed by the UpSCALE talk about Jellyfin that was actually hosted by a high school student in Southern California. I love to share about self-hosting and I’m glad that there’s other people getting involved in self-hosting as early as high school!
I did register my interest to give a talk next year right after UpSCALE, so maybe you’ll be seeing me soon in Pasadena… 🙂
On Saturday, I spent most of the day in the exhibit hall chatting with vendors and enjoying their free swag (more on that below!)
It was super fun to talk technology with other people who were interested and had the technical knowledge. There were many more Kubernetes-related vendors than I expected (from costing solutions to orchestration software), which is a testament to just how much k8s has proliferated in the last few years. Among the vendors I spoke to, I especially enjoyed chatting with AlmaLinux, GNOME, KDE (represented by SoCalSUSE), Meta, Bayesian, Cal Poly Pomona FAST, ArgoCD/Akuity, and FleetDM. Plus I met a couple other undergraduate students from Cal Poly Pomona and UCLA which was wonderful!
I think Meta was the only MAANG company with a booth, and it was really neat to talk to engineers about their involvement with Asahi Linux, which is bringing Fedora Linux to Apple Silicon. Meta also had a model of their brand new Crater Lake-based OpenCompute blades, which I even got to touch.
After the exhibit hall closed, there was two hours before Game Night with no activities scheduled. I took that time as an opportunity to explore the beautiful Colorado Blvd corridor in Old Pasadena, filled with shops and people. The rain had luckily stopped too.
Someone told me Game Night was really fun but I wasn’t particularly interested and ended up leaving after a little while. Admittedly there was some cool hardware from 80s consoles to the newest VR gear.
I spent most of Sunday hanging out in the exhibit hall and talking to the vendors I had enjoyed speaking with on Saturday. I did attend talks on risk mitigation at Shopify and interview/resume tips for tech careers, both of which were pretty interesting. I’ll definitely be using the tips I learned from the career talk in the future.
One of the flagship events on Sunday was the Open Source Career Day, a series of one-on-one career coaching and resume review sessions. I had registered to attend, but apparently the demand for the resources far outstripped career coach availability, so I sadly didn’t get a coaching spot. This is something to keep in mind for future SCaLEs – register for OSCD early!
Of course, the craziest bit on Sunday was the closing keynote speaker – Ken Thompson! Yes, the Ken Thompson who co-created UNIX. Interestingly, his talk had very little on UNIX, or C, or any of the other groundbreaking things he’s done in computing. Rather, it was about his involvement with music. More interesting to me, Thompson made the revelation that he’s actually a macOS and (more recently) Raspbian user, which came as a big shock to me (and apparently The Register too).
Luckily, SCaLE has published a full recording of that speech, and I think it’s a pretty entertaining watch. You can find it here.
Overall, I really enjoyed my experience at SCaLE 20x this year. I loved connecting and talking technical with vendors, including lead developers on the very OSS projects I’ve deployed in my own lab! I don’t usually get many opportunities to talk Kubernetes or AWS with other technical-minded individuals. I learned a lot about tech careers and how OSS is evolving in the real world through the talks. I discovered ways to be more involved with the vibrant open-source community here in Southern California. And of course, I know I’ll be returning for the SCaLE 21x in 2024.
If I had to change some things, though, I’d love to see more structured opportunities to network with other attendees. The exhibit hall gives everyone lots of time to talk to vendors, but there isn’t a whole lot of time to talk to other people who are merely attending. I’m sure they’re all fascinating, and I would’ve loved to meet more people.
Also, something less related to SCaLE is the lack of convenient mobility options to get from USC to Pasadena. I took public transit every day (usually the Gold Line and Silver Line), which takes over 90 minutes compared to 30 minutes by car! Over an hour of this time is mostly non-productive: driving slowly through Downtown LA’s busy streets on the Silver Line between the 110 ExpressLanes and LA Union Station, and waiting to transfer between the Gold Line and the Silver Line. I think there’s a lot of opportunity to improve this journey, perhaps by implementing timed transfers and/or bus lanes in Downtown LA – though I’m sure the Regional Connector’s opening will help a lot too (enabling me to transfer at Little Tokyo/Arts District between 2 trains, rather than at Union Station between 1 bus and 1 train).
Also, the SCaLE swag was pretty cool – I got tons of t-shirts, stickers, and this self-heating (!) mug that New Relic was giving away:
And check out some of the better photos I took while at SCaLE:
P.S. Shoutout to Jason from Bayesian for comping my Shake Shack lunch – fight on!