FrOSCon: Mistakes were Made: Education Edition talk slides and notes

I just finished giving my keynote at FrOSCon, and am pasting the notes I spoke from below. This was meant to be read aloud, of course. Where it says [slide] in the text is where the slides advance.

Update: My slides are now available on the FrOSCon site.

FrOSCon – Mistakes Were Made: Education Edition


Thank you so much for inviting me here to FrOSCon. This is my first time visiting Bonn, and my first time enjoying Kölsch. I enjoyed quite a lot last night at the social event.

Especially, I would like to thank Scotty and Holgar who picked me up at the train station, Inga who talked with me at length on Thursday night. All the volunteers who have done a terrific job making this conference happen. Thank you all so much for a wonderful experience, and for cooking all the food last night!

And I promised to show off the laser etching on my laptop I had done here by the local hackerspace. I come from the PostgreSQL community, so I got an elephant etched into the laptop. It only costs 10 euro and looks awesome.


I’ve also made a page of resources for this talk. I’ll be quoting some facts and figures and this pirate pad has links to all the documents I quoted.

For those of you from countries other than Ireland, Great Britain, United States, German and Turkey – if you know where to get a copy of computer science curriculum standards for your country, please add a link. Right at the top of this pirate pad is a link to another pirate pad where we’re collecting links to curriculum standards.


And finally, this talk is really a speech, without a lot of bullet points. So, the slides will hopefully be helpful and interesting, but occasionally I will be showing nothing on a slide as I speak. This is a feature, not a bug.


For the past few years, I’ve been giving talks about mistakes, starting with problems I had keeping chickens alive in my backyard. Here’s a map of my failures. Scotty is familiar with the video that is online that tells the whole story of how all these chickens died.

Next, I talked about system administration failures – like what happens when a new sysadmin runs UNIX find commands to clean up — and delete all the zero length files, including devices, on a system. Or how to take down a data center with four network cables and spanning tree turned off. Here’s a tip: it really only takes first cable.
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Europe’s open source advantage

I had this phrase “europe’s open source advantage” rolling around in my head Friday as I helped pack 1500 conference swag bags. We had a team of at least twelve people standing and seated in an assembly line for two hours to complete the task.

And this is what always happens at the volunteer-run free and open source conferences. I was told that somewhere around 70 volunteers would help out today, and it’s felt like easily twice that many people have been wandering around and pitching in today.

After we were done, the woman pictured above, brought conference-themed cookies that she bakes every year for the organizing team.

Attendance at FrOSCon is estimated at 1500. FOSDEM is estimated at about 5000. Chaos Communication Congress had an attendance of 4230 in 2008. All three are volunteer organized, focused on free software, and software freedom (although CCC is also about hacking, security and politics, many people I know go to 2 or more of these events).

FrOSCon has been around for seven years, inspired into creation by the organizer’s trip to FOSDEM, another terrific free and open source conference in Brussels, Belgium. What struck me at FOSDEM, is the same feeling I’m having here in Köln/Bonn.

It’s a privilege to be here. Organizers are excited and smiling and relaxed. Speakers feel obligation to take controversial positions — like I’ve heard more than once in the last 24 hours that “if you value freedom, you won’t buy Apple products.” Also: “What do I care about patents? I live in Europe.” And as I look around, I’m one of maybe 5% of people with a Mac laptop. (Far more people have iPhones.)

I think about our conferences in the USA, and we could learn some things. Both in terms of attendance and in terms of our vision. On the point of where exactly we are losing track of the activist spirit clearly on display here… maybe it has to do with our proximity to Silicon Valley, where I was recently told “charitable giving here is often in [the] form of angel investing.”

We don’t seem to feel an obligation to volunteer and create these large general, self-sustaining conferences. We certainly have large commercial conferences, and smaller generalist conferences. SCALE I think is one example of a community that’s created a sustainable community. And I’ve heard SE-LinuxFest is growing very quickly. So maybe we’re at a turning point?

I’m giving a keynote tomorrow about computer science education. What I’m really going to talk about is computational thinking. It’s a relentless decomposition of problems, algorithms for problem solving and the practical application of those ideas – in code or not.

That’s the kind thinking I believe leads some of us from “free as in freedom” for software to the value judgements about individual hardware purchases. Or, sometimes it leads us to find space in our communities for people who exist somewhere along the freedom spectrum. 🙂

I’ve had a chance to catch up with old friends, and make more than a few new ones. Mostly I’m looking forward to tonight’s BBQ, even if it rains. Henrik tells me that it’s what sets the whole tone for FrOSCon. People coming together to eat and drink and get to know one another over a shared feeling of belonging, out from behind their screens. And also to be openly critical of the ideas, organizations and products that threaten the foundations of free software.

Submissions for Lightning Talks for Postgres Open being accepted

By popular demand, we’re having a session of lightning talks at Postgres Open this year!

What is a lightning talk, you ask? It’s a 5-minute talk on a topic of your choosing. (For this conference, it should be at least vaguely postgres- or database-related.) Make it as serious or entertaining as you like. If you’ve never given a talk at a conference before, this is a great way to try it out. The audience is forgiving, and it’s only 5 minutes!

Slides are not required, but are helpful.

The session will be 5pm – 6pm on Tuesday, Sept 18. Sign up today!

There’s a limited number of spaces, so get your talks in now! 🙂

(Many thanks to Gabrielle for writing this blog post!)

(And psst – don’t forget to buy your tickets! 🙂

Giving back: “Career advice in less than 5 minutes”

Garann Means came up with this brilliant idea: give career advice about the big topics women in tech are facing IN LESS THAN 5 MINUTES.

So she started a gist to collect advice!

Have a look at the list of topics, and if you’ve got something to add do this:

  1. Make a short video
  2. Upload it to Vimeo
  3. Comment on the gist
  4. Tweet it out!
  5. Feel like the awesome mentor and contributor to the advancement of women in tech that you are!

Also, anyone have a good idea for a tag we should use?

I’m also collecting links to other resources.

Finally, I was talking with some people here in Portland about starting an advice column from respected recruiters and hiring managers. Would you submit a question? I’m thinking like Captain Awkward, but focused on issues women in tech face in looking for jobs, navigating a male-dominated working world, managing and hiring.

LA Postgres first meeting is on for Tuesday, Aug 28!

The meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, August 28, at 7:30pm at 701 Santa Monica Blvd Suite 310, Santa Monica, CA.

From the latest posting on the Meetup group:

Beer and Stories

We huffed and we puffed and now we got beer at the meeting (thanks Beers will be exchanged for interesting Posgres stories and facts you have so ya better brush on your favorite Postgres bits.

Here is a good resource for that:

Parking is offering free parking which as we all is a precious resource in LA. Since its gated a volunteer will be there to meet you and let you in. Please get there on time as the volunteers who will be letting you in are also part of a Meetup and will not be available shortly after it starts. We will leave you phone numbers to call just in case. There is also fairly cheap parking right across the street at the library in case you need more parking.

Lightning Talks

There will be lightning talk sign up at Meetup and we will have various video connectors. Still if you know you are planning to give on let us know.

How to communicate with LA Postgres Organizers

Here are few ways I figured our you can reach us.

Twitter: @lapostgres
Freenode IRC: #lapostgres (

See ya there!

Postgres Open 2012 schedule announced!

We’re pleased to announce the Postgres Open 2012 schedule!

A very special thanks to EnterpriseDB and Herkou for their Partner sponsorships. Please get in touch if you’d like to sponsor the conference this year!

Please see a list of our currently accepted talks and keynotes below:

  1. Keynote – Jacob Kaplan-Moss
  2. Deploying maximum HA architecture with Postgres by Denish Patel
  3. PostgreSQL Backup Strategies by Magnus Hagander
  4. PostgreSQL Access Controls (AuthN, AuthZ, Perms) by Stephen Frost
  5. Full-text search – seek and ye shall find by Dan Scott
  6. PostgreSQL When It's Not Your Job by Christophe Pettus
  7. Programming the SQL Way with Common Table Expressions by Bruce Momjian
  8. High Availability with PostgreSQL and Pacemaker by Shaun M. Thomas
  9. This Is PostGIS by Paul Ramsey with ?
  10. Super Jumbo Deluxe by Josh Berkus
  11. Using the PostgreSQL System Catalogs by Robert Haas
  12. Range Types in PostgreSQL 9.2 – Your Life Will Never Be the Same by Jonathan S. Katz
  13. DVDStore Benchmark and PostgreSQL by Jignesh Shah
  14. PG Extractor – A smarter pg_dump by Keith Fiske
  15. Performance Improvements in PostgreSQL 9.2 by Robert Haas
  16. Logging: Not Just for Lumberjacks by Gabrielle Roth
  17. Choosing a logical replication system: Slony vs Bucardo by David Christensen
  18. PostgreSQL on ZFS: Replication, Backup, and Human Disaster Recovery by Keith Paskett
  19. 12 Years of PostgreSQL in Critical Messaging by John Scott
  20. Embracing the Web with JSON and PLV8 by Will Leinweber
  21. Retail DDL by Andrew Dunstan
  22. An object oriented approach to data driven software development by David Benoit
  23. A Shared-nothing cluster system: Postgres-XC by Amit Khandekar
  24. Scaling out by distributing and replicating data in Postgres-XC by Ashutosh Bapat
  25. Disaster Recovery of PostgreSQL databases in Business Critical environments by Gabriele Bartolini
  26. Leveraging PLV8 in Javascript-heavy Web Applications by Taras Mitran
  27. PostgreSQL in the cloud: Theory and Practice by John Melesky
  28. Query Logging and Workload Analysis by Greg Smith
  29. A Batch of Commit Batching by Peter Geoghegan
  30. Large Scale MySQL Migration to PostgreSQL by Dimitri Fontaine
  31. Temporal Database Demo by Jeff Davis
  32. Performance Scaling Roadmap by Greg Smith
  33. Postgres is the new default – how we transitioned our platform at Engine Yard and why you should too by Ines Sombra
  34. How Akiban Implemented a New Database Compatible with the PostgreSQL Protocol by Ori Herrnstadt
  35. Scaling Postgres with some help from Redis by Josiah Carlson
  36. Lightning Talks by Gavin Roy

Stay tuned for our call for Lighting Talks.

Re-thinking “Mistakes were made”: free and open source software and teaching

I’m working on my keynote for FrOSCon right now.

They asked for me to revisit the “Mistakes were Made” talk. My introduction will probably be a lot the same. A core idea is a theory that the ratio of failure to success remains mostly constant over time. So, in order to succeed a lot, we need to be trying and failing a lot more.

But this talk, I am planning to go into what concerns me the most about open source software: succession.
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Leveling up: handling conflict like a boss

I’m finding myself in conversations with friends and colleagues lately about strategy, conflict and overcoming fear. At Ada Camp DC, there were multiple sessions on Imposter Syndrome, and many friends were in career transitions. So, I decided to share parts of private conversations I’ve been having. I think of these conversations as “leveling up.” As the women I know become team leads, managers, directors and executives, we’re all facing similar sets of problems and struggling through as best we can. I hope that people find this stuff useful. I have benefited from a great deal of mentoring and support over the years, and my hope is that this helps someone else in the same way.

Someone asked for some help in handling conflicts, both at work and personally. Specifically, they mentioned that they were plagued by self-doubt. Friends have remarked to me that I “seem so confident” or that they “wish they could be as sure about things” as I am.

When someone says that to me, I get confused for a minute. Because I question myself all the time, wonder if I am doing the right things, and often think that I am really, really screwing things up. I used to never talk about those moments with other people.

I felt pretty alone.

People have told me that I’m “argumentative,” or more politely “a little intense.” I tend to engage in conflict directly, and to resolve problems with people by talking or having arguments. I can be the type of conversationalist that’s a little scary to people who aren’t used to so much directness. But here’s the secret:

I wasn’t born like this.

Confidence is learned and a gift to yourself

Confidence isn’t an innate talent. It’s a skill that you cultivate, and a set of behaviors you can learn. Confidence is what you project to the outside world, and doesn’t necessarily mirror what’s inside. (I’m thinking as I write that — “duh, everyone knows that, don’t write that, Selena!” But really, there are many people who think that to be confident, you have to *feel* confident all the time. And that’s just not true.)

Also, there are many styles of conflict resolution, some that don’t involve arguing at all.

Just because you tend to prefer one style, doesn’t mean you can’t learn others. Confidence is also a gift you give to yourself, because you deserve to not feel like crap after an argument. A lot of the questioning and self-blame people put themselves through is unnecessary. Learning from arguments doesn’t have to involve suffering.

Problem solving: my problem or your problem?

The most important mental model I’ve developed in the last decade is distinguishing between problems that are “my problem” and those that are someone else’s.

For problems that are mine, I take action without having conversation or consensus building and then let people know what I’ve done. I apply this in my marriage, my open source work and in business — and it has made me SO MUCH HAPPIER. In a corporate setting, this is probably the ask forgiveness way of operating.

When something is someone else’s problem, I think carefully about whether I want to help the other person solve it. You are under no obligation to solve other people’s problems.

If I decide to help, I think through possible solutions before talking with the person about it. When I get to the point where I actually talk with someone about a problem, I try to ask the other person what they think before offering my own solution. I find acting out these conversations with a trusted advisor ahead of time is very, very helpful. That’s too simplistic to apply to every type of business problem out there, but it’s a calming thought pattern when I first start problem solving.

When arguments feel hostile

From the research (Gottman’s, specifically), contempt is the primary indicator on whether a marriage survives. If someone is treating you with contempt, or you are using contempt in arguments, that’s a big warning sign.

My experience has been that relationships that are in this state can be repaired, but it takes a lot of work. In business, if someone treats me with contempt, I raise the issue in a business-appropriate way, and if it continues, I get the hell out of there.

Life is too short to be treated like crap. Not everyone has the privilege of being able to switch jobs, but start planning your exit strategy. You deserve a long, contempt-free life.

Recommended Reading

I’m going to share a few of the best books I know concerning relationship conflict.

In my opinion, relationship skills apply equally to personal and professional lives, and the learnings in one context necessarily translate to the other. There are a lot of very bad books out there that will give you counter-productive, and not-science-based advice (and I have read many of them).

I found that good books paired with advice from a counsellor who strictly adhered to proven-with-science strategies measurably helped me. Here’s the books and training I recommend:

  • The Passionate Marriage, and Intimacy and Desire: Both books are fantastic for thinking carefully about what marriage really is for you. Defining what intimacy is helped me A LOT in all my relationships. Marriage is a special and weird relationship, and not one that I was prepared for at all.
  • Pretty much anything by John and Julie Gottman, like The Relationship Cure: They’ve also been featured on This American Life, and those podcasts are worth a listen, and slightly more fun that slogging through their “10 steps” type books.
  • Harvard University Negotiation training: I arranged for a version of this training to be given just before OSCON for women in open source community management last year, and it was amazing. Every woman who attended said it changed their professional and personal relationships. It’s the type of thing people often can get work to pay for, as it’s obviously work-related training.
  • Liespotting: There’s a bit of pseudoscience in it IMO, but lots of very entertaining stories. There’s a chapter in it about your trusted circle of advisors, and how to test out and develop that circle over time for personal and professional advice. I started working on this for myself last year, and the people who I now turn to are an invaluable part of decision making, and really, my entire life.
  • If you’re struggling with illogical behavior and influence patterns (like: “Why the hell did person X do THAT for person Y?”), you may find _Influence_ useful as a primer in how skilled people get others to do things:

Books that didn’t really help me

There’s a series of books I’ve tried to read about “verbal self defense”, but to be honest, none of them helped me. Reading them made me feel better temporarily as I started to recognize different types of “attacks,” but I found their suggestions to be too difficult to remember, for me to be able to implement them in an emotionally charged situation. I’d love to hear from anyone on strategies that work for you, and books that have helped you out.