Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce Embodying the spirit of the LCA volunteer

Embodying the spirit of the LCA volunteer

Thirteen years have gone by since the first Australian national Linux conference was held, but the event is still driven by the same category of people: volunteers.

A great many things are organised very professionally, but it's all done by people who have boundless enthusiasm and who work selflessly, often for a whole year, just to make sure that things run on schedule.

There are all kinds of people who give of their time but few embody the spirit of the volunteer better than Kathy Reid.

Reid (below) was diagnosed with cancer just after the Melbourne Software Freedom Day in 2010, an event with which she was involved.

She subsequently underwent surgery and several rounds of chemotherapy.  She is still undergoing treatment and it will be something like four years before she could be said to be in remission.
Kathy Reid
But she is undeterred by this. Last year she started planning  BarCampGeelong from her hospital bed, and convened the first unconference in Geelong while still near-bald in July 2011.

This is the first time that Reid is volunteering for an LCA but she has been involved with other free software and open source software events - Software Freedom Day in 2008, 2009 and 2010, and the two camps mentioned above.

A resident of Geelong, she helps handle media relations for the LCA and also looks after the conference wiki. Liaising with those who are organising the speakers and the mini-conferences to sort out any issues that arise is also her responsibility.

"It's a great mix of technical and people-oriented tasks - you need to be fairly motivated and self-sufficient to do this sort of role. It's also great to know you've got the back-up and support of previous years' organisers - called 'Ghosts' - to help you out if you get stuck with an issue," Reid says.

"Josh's (Stewart, conference director) leadership style is also really attuned to this sort of event - he's very calm, laid back and diplomatic - and gently eases people toward an outcome while being consultative".

After the BarCampGeelong was a success, Reid submitted a talk proposal to LCA 2012 titled "The best Software Freedom Day in the world - and how you can do it too!" She was then approached by core organisers Cameron Tudball and Sae Ra Germaine to join the organising team.

"The fun and enthusiasm of the team were what clinched it for me - it might sound like a cliche, but the team is a genuinely warm, friendly and fun-loving group of people - and we just work very well together. The team meeting requirement of outrageous headgear was also an attractive factor, I have to admit!"

Reid has been using free and open source software of some kind for the last four or five years. "I started off using programs such as GIMP, then Inkscape for graphical work, and adopted WordPress as my blogging platform of choice. Eventually that led to getting more into Linux, and that led to running Fedora, and now my distro of choice is Ubuntu. And yes, I have to admit that I'm a fan of Unity over Gnome!"

It is a struggle to keep her fingers in many pies, but she manages to fit everything in - working full-time, recovering from cancer and studying part-time for an MBA.

"As the saying goes, if you want something done, give it to a busy person to do," she says. "In a way, having so much on my plate has really helped me not get too focused on, and anxious about, my health problems - it's a great distraction.

"I do have to be careful not to take too much on board, and there are times when you just have to say 'No - I can't take that on - please give it to someone else'. Both event organisers and employers have to be mindful of not 'rewarding' people who achieve a lot with more work - reward them instead by delegating some of their less enjoyable tasks out to others. It also helps to set expectations - for example 'in the next two weeks I've got X on and can't help, but can do 2-3 hours beforehand'."

Reid says there are many ways to measure the success or otherwise of an event like the LCA. "Obviously, the volume of delegates attending and financial metrics are key indicators, as are the quality of talks and miniconferences.

"However there are also some very intangible, difficult to quantify elements - things like the atmosphere, the friendliness of delegates, whether the dinners are enjoyable, right down to the comfort of the accommodation and ease of getting to, and around, the venue."



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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.