Keynotes that matter

I absolutely love the O’Reilly OSCON conference. It is one of the few conferences that align technology and passion in a direction that lends itself to meaningful change — both in the technologies themselves, but in how those technologies are applied. Very rarely at a conference are you going to hear about the technical issues parsing local government data sources in one session and the guts of Node.js in the next.

Last year, I came away completely inspired by the voices in the keynotes – particularly Eri Gentry and Ariel Waldman in the regular OSCON keynotes and Steve Yegge in the OSCON Data keynotes. Each focused on real problems, real open source and things that were “stuff that matters” as Tim O’Reilly himself exhorted of the community just a few years ago.

Maybe their keynotes were an ideal alignment for me, the intersection of science, and health, and software, and data. Maybe I’m just a year older and more jaded.

But this year the keynotes are so far nothing like last year. While the keynote that Dave Eaves presented resonated with me, as well as most of Tim O’Reilly’s message — the rest of the keynotes seem like empty sales pitches for the sponsor organization at best.

In summary — “We are [HP | Microsoft | Bluehost] and we love open source, and we love you, and most of all we love ourselves”.

While Mark Shuttleworth at least presented tools and real things that Canonical was actually doing — even that doesn’t seem like it belonged at the level of a keynote.

And that’s at best. At worst, it’s a mirror of the problems endemic to our industry, a celebration of rock-star engineers job-hopping every few years or less to yet another valley company to figure out how to “monetize” data, software, and people, and the companies that embrace it.

Dear keynoters: you are talented speakers and brilliant minds in leadership roles in technology. You are speaking to people who can, have, and will change the world. You have a chance to make a difference on that stage. Use it.