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GitHub Universe from youngest speaker's perspective

The last two weeks of my life were terrific. GitHub flew me to San Francisco to share my little open source journey on their flagship conference Universe. For somebody who just turned 20 years old, this opportunity was something that I never saw coming. This event played a significant role in my career, and I would love to share the conference experience with you.

conference tag with speaker info

It all started with submission and an email saying that I made it to the final lineup of speakers for 2019's GitHub Universe. I immediately replied, confirmed my attendance, and went for a short walk to get my thoughts together. During that walk, I realized I have absolutely no idea what was the talk abstract attached to my submission and time when I've put it together. I felt pretty bad about it, but few other speakers told me later that it's completely normal, and it happens to them regularly. So I waited until conference organizers put up a website and my talk on the schedule. I was surprised. The session title Building an open source community from the ground up sounded interesting.

Although I had no idea what the submission was. Once I saw it on GitHub's website, that talk was the one I was most comfortable presenting. Angelos and I, alongside few other folks, spent the last 2 years growing an open source organization to fascinating numbers and released the 6th fastest growing open source project in the previous year. The whole organization was very excited about this opportunity and couldn't wait for the conference itself. Since there was no way to bring the entire team to the conference I decided to make a GitHub repository where they can express their opinions on the subject of building communities, which I later put down inside presentation. After a few more extended conversations in the repository's issues with the team, I finally put together the slides and started practicing the talk. Time flew by, and the day of the talk was approaching.

San Francisco Airport

Several days before the conference, I took a flight to the famous SFO airport, which is a 30-minute drive to Disneyland for the tech people - better known as San Francisco. The whole trip was over 11.000 kilometers or 7.000 miles, included one connection flight, and lasted me exactly sleepless 24 hours. I arrived in the afternoon and got barely 4 hours of sleep that night. I originally planned to spend the following day resting as the few upcoming days were pretty crowded with Chrome Dev Summit and GitHub Universe on the way, but that was impossible as I was in one of the cities that were on my radar for a long time. On the very following day, after 24 hours traveling and just 4 hours of sleep, I managed to walk over 31.000 steps. Little did I know that my feet would pay the price for it for the next 3 days.

The next 2 days I spent in Yerba Buena Gardens on fantastic Chrome Dev Summit, which deserves a blog post on its own (coming soon). Their speakers and product booths got me so entertained that I nearly forgot I had to do a talk at GitHub Universe the next day.

Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco

A day before the GitHub's conference, I had to do a tech rehearsal, so I took the Lyft to the Palace of Fine Arts, where the Universe was taking place. It was, by far, one of the best-looking structures I've ever seen. The whole monumental structure, built it 1915, looked enormous compared to anything else around it. Kudos to the GitHub crew for booking it as the conference venue. The area around the palace included the fairytale-like park and the pond. I still couldn't picture a tech conference happening inside. After a short walk, I entered the main building, and it looked like an early-stage construction site.

Construction site inside the venue

There were a lot of people with walkie talkies and fancy staff conference badges. Forklifts were operating all-around the venue and setting up the booths of sponsors. It took me some time to find the right people who will get me to my tech rehearsal, but soon that was solved by fantastic and friendly staff. I entered my track and immediately realized that I am going to give a talk in front of hundreds of people in less than 48 hours. I was a bit nervous. After backing-up my slides one more time (for the 10th time that day) and handing them over to the production team, I got a mic and went on stage to do my talk in front of nobody. Even standing at the stage and talking to the enormous empty room felt a bit weird at first, but I got used to it very quickly, so I didn't even finish the whole talk. Later on that day, I went to the hotel, where all the speakers stayed, for the speaker's dinner and some additional talk practice. The hotel room was very spacy, close to the size of my whole apartment at home, with fantastic views of San Francisco from the 10th floor.

During the dinner, I met a lot of new friends who were also speaking at the Universe and even tried Japanese food for the first time in my life. The whole 3-night stay was an exceptional experience.

GitHub Universe entrance

The next day was the first day of the GitHub Universe. It was unreal to me how they went from the construction site venue to the fantastically equipped space in less than 24 hours. Everything looked very nice, especially the huge floating Octocat figure and RGB GitHub logo at the entrance. Since my talk was on the 2nd day of the conference, I took a few photos of the place, practiced the speech once again, and went for a short walk around the area. I had a few short meetings in the afternoon with Nat Friedman, the CEO of GitHub, and several other Hubbbers, where we discussed the current state and future of open source, GitHub's plans for 2020, Campus Expert program as well as my career.

I went to bed earlier that day since the next day was the one my open source team, and I have been waiting for for the last 3 months.

I woke up very hungry. None of the supermarkets in the Japanese area worked before 9 am, and I desperately wanted to find bananas. I resisted eating anything else since bananas have some superpower to make you less stressed before the public talk. Hungry as I was, I waited a few hours and went to the GitHub Universe and found bananas over there. The food selection was pretty diverse, and there were a lot of options to choose during the day. I liked the fact that they served fresh fruit and juices at all times. For the first time in my life, I tried brownies, and I liked them very much (now I am eating home-made ones while writing this blog post). Luckily my talk was in the morning that day, so I didn't need to wait for it a lot and test my patience and banana's superpower.

Stefan giving a talk on stage at Palace of Fine Arts

The moment that I've been waiting for a long time was there. I gave my talk, and it went pretty smooth. If you'd like, you can check it out on GitHub's youtube channel - I talked about building open source communities and practical tips developers can take to make great online communities and attract a lot of contributors. I will write a complete blog post sometime in Q1 of 2020 about this topic.

Of course, the whole talk could be improved, and there were a lot of details that I missed out, but I was pretty satisfied considering the size of the conference and my lack of experience.

Stefan near the Golden Gate Bridge

The conference was soon over, and it was time to relax and experience the notoriously expensive San Francisco beyond the GitHub Universe. For the next 10 days, I visited every major landmark in the area, tried most restaurants from Yelp's top lists, and had lunches at famous tech headquarters where my friends worked.

iPad for booking hammock at the GitHub HQ

I took a visit to the GitHub HQ, which is so unique in many ways. The 4-story pet-friendly building looked very simple from the outside but packed a lot of fancy perks such as 'REST API' room where you can book a hammock to relax during the day and cozy rooftop terrace overlooking the Oakland Bay Bridge. The coolest part was the series of themed conference rooms such as 1:1 replica of conference room from White House and 'Not so secret room' with hidden entrace in the library wall. Huge thanks to Brian Douglas for showing us around.

Enormous kudos tho the whole GitHub crew for putting together conference of this quality and size and inviting me to be part of it. Easily this has been the best trip in my life so far, and I am thrilled to be back in San Francisco next summer and autumn for various (soon to be announced) career moves.

If you enjoyed reading this article and would like to continue to follow the tech journey of a 20-year-old, be sure to follow me on twitter @fejes713 as I will be writing a lot in 2020.