Kristen Carlson Accardi is a Linux kernel developer for Intel's Open
Source Technology Group. She is the maintainer for the PCIE hot-plug
driver, the SHPC hot-plug driver, and the PCI hot-plug subsystem
in the Linux kernel. She is currently working on SATA
drivers, including implementing power management features.
Kristen is the benevolent dictator for the upcoming Linux Plumbers
Conference. We interviewed her about LPC, why so many Linux
developers live near Portland, Oregon, and life as a kernel developer.
What is Linux Plumbers Conf?
And why the "Plumbers" part?
Linux Plumbers Conference is a conference for developers working on
the low level programming of Linux, including kernel, libraries, and
system applications such as udev, hal, and dbus. We came up with the
name "Plumbers" because we wanted to represent these areas as basic
system infrastructure which has many connections. Plus these programs
are sort of the nasty, grimy, unglamorous underbelly of the system -
not unlike the pipes in your house. Essential - but nobody wants to
know they are there and everyone takes them for granted until they
Running a conference is a lot of work in addition to your full time
job as a Linux kernel developer. What made you decide to start Linux
Actually, it was the idea of a group of people. The Portland Linux
kernel community gets together once a month or so to socialize and
drink beer. At one of these gatherings we had a conversation about
how difficult it was to solve big picture problems that cross multiple
project boundaries. We felt that there are some cases where you
really need to be able to just get everyone in a room and be able hash
things out in person, but there wasn't really a forum for this.
Existing conferences were either too narrow (like Kernel Summit or the
X developers summit) or too broad for our purposes.
Then someone said
something like "Hey, why don't we just make our own conference".
Because we are nothing more than a group of developers with a shared
love of beer, we went to the Linux Foundation and asked them to
collaborate with us, and it's been a wonderful partnership. It's
definitely been a challenge for a bunch of software engineers to try
and organize a conference, but we've leaned heavily on LF for advice
and we've learned a lot in the past year.
Most conferences are centered around talks in which speakers present
their work, but open source developers often skip the talks so they
can discuss ongoing projects face-to-face. How is LPC balancing these
Our format for the conference is based on the idea that we would have
a bunch of "microconferences". Each microconf is meant to represent
a topic that should be small enough to be able to adequately discuss
in a few hours, and should preferably span multiple project areas.
Each microconf is being organized by a single expert in the area who
dictates the content of the microconf. The microconf runner may
decide to have a couple talks and an hour or so for discussion, or
they may decide to split the group into teams and solve some specific
problems. We are leaving this up to the microconf runner to decide,
although we are recommending that talks be not more than 25 minutes in
length so that there is ample time for discussion and questions.
We also have a general track for presentations that do not fall under
our predefined MC topics. In addition to the rooms for the
microconfs, we have several rooms that are going to be available for
"unconference" style talks. People wishing to get together in smaller
groups will be able to reserve a room at the beginning of the
conference. Our larger rooms will also be available in the afternoon
for working sessions.
For several years, developers have been organizing individual
summits and workshops for particular projects, like networking and
file systems. LPC microconfs are similar, but they're held all in the
same location and time. Why did you want to put the microconfs
together into one conference?
We did this to encourage cross project communication. Individual
summits are great for solving narrow problems, but they tend to
compartmentalize developers from each other.
Who is organizing and sponsoring LPC?
LPC is organized by a group of volunteers from the Portland Linux
development community and is underwritten by the Linux Foundation. We
are a group of developers who just wanted to attend a conference which
didn't happen to exist yet, so we made our own. Because we are all
volunteers, we have very little overhead for this conference, and the
money our sponsors have given up is being used directly on making the
conference as productive and memorable as we can make it, with
hopefully a little left over to start over again next year. Our
Platinum level sponsors are Intel and IBM, with NetApp sponsoring at
the Gold level, and HP, MontaVista, and Google at the Silver. In addition the
Linux Foundation and Portland State University and have given us so
much more than money - they have been true collaborators and we are so
grateful for all their time and effort.
Were there any sponsorships you didn't accept?
Not that I can recall - we actually started fund raising a little late
and missed a lot of people's planning cycles. We were extremely lucky
that there were so many great sponsors like Intel, IBM, NetApp, HP and
Google that believed our conference was valuable enough to find the
money in their budget despite the short notice.
How did you decide on the location of LPC?
Portland State University was always our first choice for LPC. We
wanted a non-corporate, friendly environment that was downtown. It
was very important to us as well to have a "green" conference - hey,
we are Oregonians! We wanted a place were there were
plenty of hotels and restaurants within walking distance so that
people would not have to rent a car. In addition, we didn't want the
more traditional convention center or hotel atmosphere, nor could we
Tell us more about LPC as a green conference.
As frequent conference-goers, we are all a little dismayed by the
waste generated from conferences. Disposable drinking cups and
bottled water, flyers and schwag that immediately hits the garbage bin
when you get back to your hotel, and driving around from event to
hotel and back again are just some of the things that we decided we'd
like to not have at our conference. As such, we are not distributing
printed material at the conference. We're also limiting our schwag to
only things we've deemed useful, and we are working with our caterers
to reduce paper waste and provide foods from local, sustainable
sources where possible.
How did you get started in Linux kernel development?
I started using Linux in college back in 1994 or 1995 - I wanted to be
able to work on my homework at home rather than in the lab, and all we
had in those days was a horrendously slow modem connection to the
school. For years afterward, all I wanted to do for a living was to
work on Linux, but it wasn't until around 1999 that I got my first
chance to write some drivers for Linux while working in Intel's
networking division. I had previously written device drivers for
Netware - a job I'd gotten right out of college. After working on
out-of-tree drivers for embedded systems and research projects for
many years, I finally joined Intel's Open Source Technology Center in
2005 and was able to start contributing upstream in a meaningful way.
Portland is home to many top Linux developers, including Linus
Torvalds. Why do you think Portland is so attractive to open source
Honestly - I have no idea. People ask this question all the time, and
all we can do is speculate. I know why a lot of us live here - it's a
great city to live in. At some point you get enough critical mass of
developers that you start attracting others. It could be any number
of things. Maybe because it's easier to thumb our noses at Redmond
In your opinion, what are some of the most important technical
trends in Linux kernel development today?
Low power features in hardware is driving a lot of kernel development
Tell us about some of the places you've traveled for your job.
When you work in open source, you have to travel to meet your
"co-workers". I've had a chance to go to OLS a few times, Sydney for
LCA a couple years ago, and Cambridge last year for Kernel Summit and
LinuxConfEU. Recently I traveled to FISL in Porto Allegre, Brazil.
I've also been to Ireland for Skycon - a fun and interesting
conference. I'm actually looking forward to not having to travel to
Thanks, Kristen, for taking the time to answer our questions.
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