LibreOffice in Brno: Dragons, Friends, and Homebrew Wine

[This post is a re-upload as the original was accidentally deleted! -R]

The plan was simple: Fly from Portland to Chicago to Munich to Brno. I had at least half an hour during each layover, and I’d checked my bags all the way through, so I didn’t have to worry about mucking about with luggage claims mid-voyage. I should’ve been more suspicious when I didn’t get a boarding pass for the last leg of my flight, instead getting a boarding-pass-sized paper with a simple “see agent at gate” printed on the front. It seemed very unofficial.

Several hours later and one detour through Vienna, I was on a bus heading for Brno. Oh, the joys of international travel!

Although the trip to Brno was a little rocky at times, the city was amazing! It was a great place for the conference, the walking tour showing off the city’s “Dragon” was very appreciated, and the Czech people were very friendly, even when we shared no common language. I want to thank all the organizers and the Faculty of Information Technology (FIT) for hosting us!

I wish I’d had more time to explore the venue, but the days were so jam-packed, I never quite found the time. The original buildings are part of a 14th century Cartesian monastery, while the presentation rooms were all in a very modern glass building. There were intricate and varied buildings and facades all over Brno, with some very ancient looking houses and roofs just down the street from the FIT. Some spandexed cyclists with modern road bikes were taking a break at a nearby cafe, and I spied a penny farthing in their support van. Brno was certainly full of surprises!

With all the sessions during the day, it was difficult to get a chance to talk with more than a few people. The afterparty event at Charlie’s Square (a Charlie Chaplain brewery-pub) was a great time to catch up with contributors in several different teams. I think that some of the contributors who don’t speak English — or at least who don’t think they speak it well — often stay silent during some of our electronic meetings in Google Hangouts, on IRC, or on the phone. In person, it’s much easier to see who’s actively participating in a conversation and who is staying quiet or is confused, and then to address that person face-to-face, encouraging them to engage with the group.

The Hackfest night was a great opportunity for the QA Team to have an in-depth meeting. Xisco Fauli, the new QA Engineer, eagerly picked our brains for information about Bugzilla, the Wiki, tools, and techniques, and we spent several hours discussing some of the nuances of LibreOffice development and bug workflow, as well as brainstorming new ideas for our roadmap. I’m currently working on pulling together people for a “LibreOffice Q&A Hangout,” an idea we mercilessly stole from the Ubuntu folks (thanks, Jono!)

There were several sessions I greatly enjoyed, but the Google Summer of Code presentations were unique, as they showcased a whole new crop of LibreOffice contributors. Although many students wrap up work with LibreOffice and move on to new adventures, some stick around and become core contributors to our codebase.

During the conference, all the restaurants and cafes I went to served delicious beers with the meals. Unlike restaurants in the US, apparently each cafe serves beer from just a single vendor. At the end of the conference, I noticed that some small wooden huts were appearing around the town, selling Burčák — a kind of homebrew wine — out of plastic buckets and carboys.

As I understand it, Burčák is a young wine made as a part of the pressing process in the fall. It’s light and sweet, and puts a spring in your step as you’re enjoying a nice walk around Brno. I think one of our challenges as a community going forward will be to put a spring in our step.

To keep up our energy and continue to grow LibreOffice’s capabilities, I think we should recruit more GSoC contributors and then fight to retain a greater percentage of those completing the program. Having young, motivated, and imaginative developers working regularly with LibreOffice will not only inject fresh thinking to the mix, but will also attract other young developers to the project.

In the meantime, I’m going to go find some vineyards here in Texas and try to reproduce that Burčák. Let me know if you’re thirsty, and I’ll make some extra for when you stop by for a face-to-face meeting!

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