May 13, 2013

‘By the people, for the people’: Building MOSSCon from the ground up

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By Simon Isham —
Not one year into his stay in the United States as an exchange student, Altin Ukshini has already made great strides towards bringing open-source software, programs for which the source code is freely available, into the hands of everyday American consumers. 2013 is the inaugural year for the Midwest Open Source Software Conference, an event which Ukshini spearheaded, bringing together 20 speakers on a range of topics, with sponsorship from nine organizations and representation from the world’s largest open-source web community, Mozilla. The kicker: Ukshini is still in high school.

MOSSCon will take place at U of L on May 18 and 19 in the Swain Student Activities Center from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Early registration is $35, and regular registration is $50; students can register online for a $20 admission fee, presenting their student ID at the door. The conference welcomes beginners, but all of the scheduled speakers will present “Intermediate to Advanced” topics. The lectures follow two tracks, and online registration at allows attendees to create their own preferred schedule.

“It required a lot of work, effort and determination,” he said. “MOSSCon is a challenge that was worth starting and and it is something that I will always be proud of. I am happy to have initiated and [led] this conference with this team because I know that after I leave this country … I will remember that I left something good behind.”

Ukshini came to Louisville in August of 2012, fresh off the plane from Kosovo — a newly independent country in the Balkans the size of Connecticut — eager to find his niche. With interests in computer programming, he found where he belonged at LVL1 Hackerspace on Broadway. There he met John Hicks, the director of the Kentucky Open Source Society, from whom he learned that Kentucky lags behind other states in terms of open-source conversation and development.

It was this lack of discussion and a need for it that led Ukshini to consider planning Kentucky’s first open-source conference, MOSSCon. The idea was to show people who are interested in technology that open-source software can fit into both work and entertainment just as proprietary software does through an exchange of information and ideas.

“MOSSCon is a community-driven conference,” he said. “‘By the people, for the people,’ as we  like to say it, so it is open to everyone with interest in open-source software.”

The open-source community of Louisville proved to yield several of the members of the MOSSCon planning committee, who decided the name and date of the conference. They also elected Ukshini president. After all, MOSSCon isn’t Ukshini’s first open-source rodeo; in 2012, he helped to organize the Software Freedom Kosova conference in Pristina.

One of the conference’s co-organizers, Chris Rockwell, the assistant show manager for the Mid-America Trucking Show, works with open-source softwares on a daily basis when maintaining the show’s website, among them Apache HTTP Server, MYSQL, PHP and Drupal, but claims that he is not at all an expert.

Rockwell confirmed the power of the people in open-source development, saying: “The driving force behind the software is this vast community, which inherently ensures that the technology will always be changing, advancing and adapting. It’s a never ending learning process!”

With all the board’s goals in mind, the next step of the planning process was to decide on a location for the conference. U of L was a natural choice, as it offered a “cost-effective, centralized location well-suited to hosting a conference,” but it was ultimately the influence of Dr. Adel Elmaghraby, a Speed School professor and Ukshini’s scholarship adviser, that secured the venue.

Elmaghraby told the Cardinal that, after hearing Ukshini’s presentation about MOSSCon and in conjunction with some of the other faculty at Speed School, he had attempted to partner with MOSSCon as much as possible, stating that “It will bring the whole community more awareness [of] Open Source initiatives and their impact in the community beyond the classroom.”

That open-source can be developed anywhere in the world, unconstrained by geographical boundaries, lends much credence to the idea that the communities who produce it can spring up anywhere, but also guarantees projects a certain portability.

As for Ukshini, he will return to Kosovo after the conclusion of MOSSCon to complete a mandatory 13th grade before graduation from high school. He said he hopes to return to the United States to pursue a collegiate education, but that he will use the skills he learned here in organizing MOSSCon to help his home country grow and thrive.

“I loved working with people here, and the most important part of it is that I have made lots of contacts and life-long friends! This was definitely a blast, a great motivation and an unforgettable experience for me. Can’t say I didn’t get the best out of it — I want to stay as much as I want to go home!” he said.

MOSSCon won’t be leaving with him, however. The dedicated team of individuals that Ukshini helped to assemble while here will continue to put on the conference even after he departs.

“Our team is building a strong foundation,” Rockwell said, “that, we believe, the entire open-source community will be able to build upon, making MOSSCon a must-attend event in our region for many years to come.”

Photos by Simon Isham / The Louisville Cardinal

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