Conference week

Last week Geoger attended two very interesting, but also very different, conferences.

The first was FOSS4GUK 2016 (see held at the Ordnance Survey building in Southampton. If you are not aware of it, this is a 2-day conference on the use of free and open source software (FOSS) for geospatial (4G) processing, data handling and analysis. In parallel there were a large number of hands-on workshops offered to delegates. There was also a third day set aside for a Hackathon and Code Sprint. If this sounds as if it was a technical event specifically for developers and coders, then you’d be wrong. Indeed, I was initially unsure what to expect at an open source conference, what with attending as a business representative and user of the software rather than a super-skilled developer (although I do code to get stuff done), but this was one of the friendliest and most inclusive conferences that I have attended. A huge thanks to the organisers, delegates and community for the efforts you all put in to making the event this enjoyable. I would go further and say that it was inspiring, and that the conference demonstrated how strong the geospatial community in the UK is, as well as highlighting to me how keen the community is to helping each other out by contributing ideas, code, data and support where and when they are able.

If you are interested, I gave a talk on the use of open data and FOSS to generate intermediate products from satellite imagery, which was part of some recent work for Defra. The slides are available online. The talk went down well with an at capacity audience in the room and I had a number of approaches afterwards to discuss methods and software. Geoger was also one of the sponsors of the event. It’s the first time that Geoger has been able to do this, but as the business grows I felt it was important to be supporting such an event given how enabling open source software and open data have been to my micro-company. Steven Feldman’s “There is no such thing as a free lunch” presentation [now in Beta!] was a great end to the conference, and has made me want to get more involved in those things ‘FOSS’ and ‘geo’ in the UK.


The second conference that I went to last week was the “From satellite to soil: connecting environmental observation to agri-tech innovations” event at the Royal Society. This was a very different type of event, designed primarily to update two sectors (Earth observation and agri-tech) on the advances in each and the potential opportunities of using satellite technologies (mainly Earth observation) in agriculture. It was a very large event, and a number of companies of all sizes were represented. It was obvious however that this was more business orientated – and that’s not a bad thing. Again it was very well organised with some good opportunities for networking, but it just felt a little more forced than the FOSS4G conference, possibly because there was no single focus for all the delegates around which they could bond (some knew more about agriculture, some more about satellites), with most people there for the specific reason of making new business connections. A round table discussion session was a really good idea, but with some discussions getting quite animated at times, you had to concentrate to hear what was being said.

It struck me that the main difference between the agri-tech and the FOSS conference was that at the Royal Society all the delegates were discussing what might get done, whilst in Southampton we were discussing what had been done i.e. the FOSS4G delegates just cracked on and solved the problem that was bugging them. I like that. A further difference between the two events was the use of social media – whilst there were a few of us tweeting about the talks in London, it was almost as if a secondary event was occurring online for FOSS4G with a great Twitter stream under #FOSS4GUK.

I’m glad I went to both conferences, and I met some great people at each. I’m already looking forward to the next event!

BTW, if you are interested, there is a really good write up of the FOSS4GUK event available here, written by Steven Feldman.