Chicago GNU/Linux talk on Guix retrospective

By Christopher Allan Webber on Thu 01 October 2015

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Friends... friends! I gave a talk on Guix last night in Chicago, and it went amazingly well. That feels like an undersell actually; it went remarkably well. There were 25 people, and apparently there was quite the waitlist, but I was really happy with the set of people who were in the room. I haven't talked about Guix in front of an audience before and I was afraid it would be a dud, but it's hard to explain the reaction I got. It felt like there was a general consensus in the room: Guix is taking the right approach to things.

I didn't expect this! I know some extremely solid people who were in the audience, and some of them are working with other deployment technologies, so I expected at some point to be told "you are wrong", but that moment didn't come. Instead, I met a large amount of enthusiasm for the subject, a lot of curious questions, and well... there was some criticism of the talk, though it mostly came to presentation style and approach. Also, I had promised to give two talks, both about federation and about Guix, but instead I just gave the latter and splatted over the latter's time. Though people seemed to enjoy themselves enough that I was asked to come back again and give the federation talk as well.

Before coming to this talk, I had wondered whether I had gone totally off the yaks in heading in this direction, but giving this talk was worth it in at least that the community reaction has been a huge confidence booster. It's worth persuing!

So, here are some things that came out of the talk for me:

  • The talk was clear, and generally people said that though I went into the subject to quite some depth, things were well understood and unambiguous to them.
  • This is important, because it means that once people understood the details of what I was saying, it gave them a better opportunity to evaluate for whether it was true or not... and so the general sense of the room that this is the right approach was reassuring.
  • A two tier strategy for pushing early adoption with "practical developers" probably makes sense:
    • Developers seem really excited about the "universal virtualenv" aspect of Guix (using "guix environment") and this is probably a good feature to start gaining adoption.
    • Getting GuixOps working and solidly demonstrable
  • The talk was too long. I think everything I said was useful, but I literally filled two talk slots. There are some obvious things that can be cut or reduced from the talk.
  • In a certain sense, this is also because the talk was not one, but multiple talks. Each of these items could be cut to a brief slide or two and then expanded into its own talk:
    • An intro to functional programming. I'm glad to see this this intro was very clear, and though concise, could be reduced within the scope of this talk to two quick slides rather than four with code examples.
    • An "Intro to Guile"
    • Lisp history, community, and its need for outreach and diversity
    • "Getting over your parenthesis phobia"
  • I simply unfolded an orgmode tree while presenting the talk, and while this made things easy on me, it's not very interesting for most audience members (though my friend Aeva clearly enjoyed it)

Additionally, upon hearing my talk, my friend Karl Fogel seemed quite convinced about Guix's direction (and there's few people whose analysis I'd rate higher). He observed that Guix's fundamentals seem solid, but that what it probably needs is institutional adoption at this point to bring it to the next level, and he's probably right. He also pointed out that it's not too much for an organization to invest themselves in Guix at this point, considering that developers are using way less stable software than Guix to do deployments. He suggested I try to give this talk at various companies, which could be interesting... well, maybe you'll hear more about this in the future. Maybe as a trial run I should submit some podcast episodes to Hacker Public Radio or something!

Anyway, starting next week I'm putting my words to action and working on doing actual deployments using Guix. Now that'll be interesting to write about! So stay tuned, I guess!

PS: You can download the orgmode file of the talk or peruse the html rendered version or even better check out my talks repo!