Day 21 in the #vDM30in30

I’ve written about my trips to FOSDEM, but I thought it’d be good to have a general survival guide, as it’s a massive event and I encourage everyone to come to it at least once.

So here’s my breakdown of tips:

It’s super, super busy

FOSDEM has no entry-free or registration process, you simply turn up. This, combined with the fact it’s the largest open-source event in Europe means that things get a little crowded sometimes. I’ve heard estimates are about 40-50k people over the two days.

Get an earlier bus or split a cab

The buses from Brussels Central to the University are jam-packed in the mornings and evening. It’s better to get an earlier one, split a cab with people or maybe even go in a little later if you’re not that fussed about the keynote.

Same at the end of the day, I usually end up finding a group of people to get dinner with in the local area, so we can wait out the crowds a bit.

Side note: I always feel sorry for the regular Belgian people sitting on the Bus who have to deal with a wall of FOSS-geeks blocking their way.

Bring snack food and drinks

The queues for coffee and food are pretty long, especially during lunch time. I usually bring bottled water and some cereal bars for if the queues get too much.

Be prepared to miss a talk

As the years have gone on, the more popular tracks have been moved into bigger rooms, but even they can get full quickly, especially if someone well known in the community is speaking.

I’ve always found it’s good to get in a few talks early or just find a few backup talks you’d be interested in.

Be sure to look at other meetups locally

Since FOSDEM is a gathering of pretty much everyone in the open-source world, communities and organizations often organize dojos, user groups and the like before and after.

Config Management Camp has so far been held just afterward, so if you’re in the DevOps or config management space, it’s a short trip to Ghent just afterward which I recommend.

Be sure to ask in your community, or check the Fringe page.

Enjoy food and beers!

Brussels has some awesome food and drink.


Belgium is famous for its beer.

But Belgian beer can be a lot stronger than the beer you’re used to at home:

Unlike some other beers, Belgian beer is not just coloured water. Some beers contain significant quantities of alcohol and will give you a pounding hangover (as a side note, consuming lots of (pure) water helps preventing that).


Indeed, I’m a kriek labmic fan, so I usually go for the beers like Delirium Red, Kriek de Ranke or Kasteel Rouge, which are sweet-sour cherry beers. All of them are about 8% ABV, so I’ve learnt to drink a lot slower and savour the taste more!

The FOSDEM Beer event is held at the Delirium Cafe. Honestly, I normally only go there for a bit to see people, have 1 drink then gather up a posse to find a quieter place to hang out, as it’s mega-crowded, can be over 45 minutes to place a drink order.


Moeder Lambic

Massive beer selection and pretty good bar food.

Le Roy d’Espagne

Bit of a tourist trap is it’s right in the square, but the food I had was good the two times I’ve been there.


Great selection of beers and Belgian food

Bia Mara

Hey, I’m from the UK: we know fish-and-chips, and this place is awesome. They do some amazing unique spiced batter for the fish.

Download a FOSDEM app

The feed for FOSDEM tracks is freely available, and there are a number of apps for tracking talks and such:

Check out the vendor stands

So, obviously there are stands for all the big names you can think of, like SUSE, RedHat, Debian, Mozzilla, but you also have smaller scrappier companies or even solo-projects, which are always awesome to see and talk to people about.

Meetup with community people

FOSDEM is a free conference, on a weekend, focused on open-source, so there’s a huge amount of people you can meet who you’ve probably spoken to in IRC, on mailing lists or in a pull-request. I’ve made friends with many Puppet and devops-y people from talking to people on IRC or Slack then meeing up with them at FOSDEM, even for a just a brief chat and a handshake thanks for that merged PR they had.

Witness or join the Key Signing Party

If you want to watch a pretty unique event, go watch (or even participate in) the key-signing party.

I’ll warn you, it takes a long time and requires a bit of prep.

It’s normally at least 20 or so people, greeting each other, checking ID then signing keys.

So lets say each round of this loop takes 3 minutes, then for 20 people it’s going to be at least an hour.

I think last year the whole process was about 2 hours.

Side note: Last year there was a brouhaha as someone brought an obviously false passport as ID for the signing and few people called them out on it.

Find time to recharge

Something about FOSDEM I find super draining, way more than any other conference I’ve been to.

I find that eating all the heavy food, plus the huge amount of people, plus lack of sleep, plus fine Belgian beers tends to leave one a little groggy by the second day.

Don’t be afraid to go find a quiet corner and recharge a bit, look away from a screen for an hour or so or listen to some music.