By Vegard Haugstvedt

Hong Kong Open Source Conference (HKOSCon) is an annual conference dedicated to promote the use and growth of open source code and data. It is not among the largest conferences around, but it brings speakers from all over the world. Several major contributors to the open source community participates, like Elastic, Jetbrains, RedHat and others. The conference spans over three days, with the first two days dedicated to 25 to 40 minutes long talks. Workshops are held on the final day.

The first day
I did not really know beforehand what to expect from the conference. In fact, I was a bit surprised when I received an invitation to the speakers' dinner a month before the conference, as the acceptance email had gotten lost in my spam-filter... Once I realized I would be sharing the stage with speakers from Elastic, RedHat, gandhi.net, VMWare and others, and that several in attendance had been working in the field I was set to talk about since before I was born, my nerves started kicking in.

Luckily, I was not scheduled to talk until the second day, so I had time to get to know a lot of the speakers and other attendees beforehand, so I did not have to speak to a room full of strangers. The first day was single-track, which meant I did not have to choose what to attend. We heard from both domestic and international participants in the open source community, but what got my attention the most was probably those talking about the need to open source data. 

Without open data the open source community will not reach its full potential, and several of the organizers of HKOSCon work every day with public officials in Hong Kong to make more data available to the public. One example was public transportation schedules, as Hong Kong has five different transportation franchises, which operate on contracts from the government. None of those make their schedules available as an API, which means there are no common schedule apps, like most major cities in the world have. As the contracts are up for renewal, it is important to convince the government to include a clause in the new contracts that these data must be opened, or nothing will change in this field for the next ten years (the length of the contracts).

I also enjoyed a talk by Joshua Rich from Elastic, who gave a great intro to the BELK-stack (Beats, Elasticsearch, Logstash and Kibana). I had signed up for his workshop on the final day of the conference, so this served as a great introduction. As I was also set to talk a bit about Elasticsearch, it was interesting to listen to one of the employees from the company that makes it.

After the first day of talks, the speakers all went out for speakers' dinner in Kowloon, across the river that separates the Hong Kong island from the mainland. We were served many different Szechuan-style dishes, which my new Hong Kong-friends made sure to comment that were not "local dishes". Anyhow, they tasted great!

We had an amazing view of the skyline (Hong Kong has the most skyscrapers in the world), and had the opportunity to watch the Symphony of Lights, the largest permanent light show in the world. Many of the skyscrapers along the river are lit up in different colors, which dance along with the music that is played on the promenade. I recommend everyone who goes to Hong Kong to attend this (free) show.


The second day
The second day was much like the first, with two differences: Half the day was split into four different tracks, and, of course, I was scheduled to speak.

The different tracks meant you had to choose carefully which talks to watch, but there were plenty of great topics to choose from. The only catch was that you needed to pay attention to what language the talks were in. A few of the talks were in either Mandarin (Chinese) or Cantonese (the language spoken in Southern China and in Hong Kong), and I managed to stray into one of these. I hope Mr. Andy Shu understood that I did not object to his presentation when I left, but I literally did not understand a word...

My talk was set for the second session after lunch. Though I was a little nervous about speaking in English and in front of noone that I had known for more than a day-and-a-half, I luckily calmed down once I started talking. The primary purpose of my talk is to advocate the use of Couchbase Mobile as storage for creating mobile apps, as it pretty much offers offline first-functionality out-of-the-box. I also show how to use Elasticsearch as a search engine and index of the content in Couchbase, to provide better and more efficient search functionality when the device is online. I felt thet the talk went well, and was happy that several of the attendees asked questions after the presentation. I also spent most of the next session talking to a few that now wanted to go home and try this themselves. What more can you ask for?

There was another dinner on the second evening, and once again we traveled to the mainland. This time, they had booked a separate room at a karaoke bar. It was a great way to bond with people from all over the world, and once again the food was great (we were served different types of pizza, sausages and traditional asian dishes). As I do not exactly have the greatest of voices, and was exhausted after two busy days, I skipped out a bit early to prepare for the workshop on the final day.

The third day
As mentioned, the final day was reserved for workshops. There were two hour-and-a-half sessions, and I had signed up for a workshop on processing and visualizing Hong Kong government open data with the ELK-stack. We were walked through how to extract and process data with Logstash, how to index and search it with Elasticsearch, and how to visualize it with Kibana and Timelion. I had only worked with Elasticsearch before, so it was great to be able to dive into the rest of the stack.

After the conference
I overestimated the amount of time I would have to walk around, so unfortunately I only had Sunday evening and Monday to explore Hong Kong on my own. I still feel like I managed to make time for a lot, with the night view from Victoria Peak (the tallest mountain on Hong Kong island) and the promenade during the Symphony of Lights (I had to explore this up-close as well) as the highlights. I had also heard that Hong Kong is a good place to shop electronics, but beware of shady back-alley shops. Stick to shops facing the main streets and you should be good.

I left late Monday, and after a ten hour stopover in Z├╝rich, I got home Tuesday evening. I enjoyed the conference, and appreciated the opportunity to speak at a conference abroad. And, although I don't miss the heat and high humidity, I hope to be able to come back sometime.