Interview: Behind the Scenes at SCALE

by Ostatic Staff - Jan. 22, 2009

The seventh annual Southern California Linux Expo (SCALE) is scheduled to get underway early next month, along with a few co-hosted mini-conferences that address issues surroundingwomen in open source (WIOS) and FOSS health care solutions.

I caught up with one of the event's organizers, Gareth Greenaway, to find get the inside scoop on what's new, what's different, and what they've learned from past events.

OStatic: How many people make up the various organizing committees? How do you decide how to divide up responsibilities?

We have the work load divided up among roughly 7 committees, each committee has varying numbers of committee members. At some point early on we decided what committees would be responsible for what task; over the years as the show grows, we've refined the tasks a bit and moved some tasks around. We've also added new committees to better handle various tasks and divide the load. Everyone knows what they have to do to make sure the show goes off without a hitch.

OStatic: What will be different or new this year from past events?

Each year the show evolves in different ways. For the 2009 show we've added additional exhibitor space as well as an additional speaker track dedicated to developer talks. We've also brought back the wildly popular Beginners Track to the program. Each year we end up filling our speaker rooms to capacity and have people overflowing into the hallways. It's a nice problem to have, but usually people are happy if they have a place to sit down. Because of this we've added in some large rooms for speaker sessions.

Last year we teamed up with League of Professional System Administrators (LOPSA) and hosted two 3-hour classes that we called SCALE U. It was very well received and very popular, we're continuing this for SCALE 7x and have expanded it to four 3-hour classes.

We're also getting a lot of interest from other groups who are interested in hosting their own events prior to or during SCALE. Currently we'll have the Fedora Project's Fedora Activity Day as well as a SVN Developers Day hosted by Both of these events will occur on Friday, February 20th prior to SCALE. These will be in addition to our Friday events, Open Source in Education and Women in Open Source.

OStatic: This is the seventh SCALE event. What have organizers learned along the way?

SCALE has definitely been a learning experience for all of us. The first SCALE was a crazy event, we definitely learned how to not run a conference that year. :)

We learned that we needed to check to make sure the venue had enough power capacity for all of our exhibitors. We ended up having an exhibitor power on a huge server and blow the circuit breakers in the room three times before we figured out why everything kept shutting off.

Our show network has been another area where a lot of thought and preparation has gone in. The SCALE technology chair, Stuart Sheldon, has gone to painstaking lengths to ensure that our show floor network is incredibly secure with each exhibitor isolated from each other. In turn the exhibit floor is isolated from all the other areas of the show, for example our registration and our email garden.

We've also learned a great deal about event organization and working as a team. Communication is key to really pulling something like this off.

Personally, I think the most important thing that we've learned along the way is to listen to the community. I believe this is one of the reasons that SCALE has been so successful. SCALE may be organized by a small core group of people, but we're really take our cues from what the community as a whole wants to see in the show.

OStatic: How many man hours would you estimate go into setting up the event? Do you still need volunteers?

It usually depends on how close we are to the show. For most of us, two months before the show it seems like we have two full time jobs. Some of us joke that the last month or so, we give up sleeping. :)

We're always in need of volunteers. We have a great group of people that come back each year to help out at the show, but definitely always need more help.

OStatic: How many exhibitors do you have lined up? I see you're asking exhibitors to offer live demonstrations of products. What kinds of demos will we see this year?

At the moment we've got roughly 80 exhibitors lined up and we've got space left for a few more. All of our exhibitors are involved in the free & open source world in some capacity. Attendees will be able to see them showing off their projects & products. We have exhibitors that come back each year, such as Debian, IBM & the LinuxChix group. We're also going to have a few new exhibitors this year that haven't been to SCALE before including Coreboot, which is an open source BIOS replacement and the OpenSUSE Linux distributions.

We're always talking to new potential exhibitors in hopes of letting our attendees know about groups they might not have heard of. Many of the smaller dotORG groups that we end up inviting to the show get great exposure because of it.

OStatic: There's no shortage of open source conferences to attend each year. Why should people choose SCALE over others?

While we'd love for everyone to come to SCALE, we don't encourage people to choose SCALE over other show. We definitely think that the community-run shows are the direction that things are going. And there are definitely plenty of them to chose from at this point: Linux Fest Northwest, Ohio Linux Fest, Ontario Linux Fest, South East Linux Fest, to name a few.

One of the awesome elements of all these regional community shows is the camaraderie between the organizers. We try to keep in touch with the other events, trade ideas, learn from each other's mistakes, etc.

OStatic: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

SCALE is a definitely good time! If you've never been to the event then we definitely encourage you to come out for it. We hope to see you there!