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Open Source / Tech Culture

Unix Creator Ken Thompson to Keynote SCALE Conference

Ilan Rabinovich, one of the co-founders and conference chair of this weekend's SCALE 20x, in Pasadena, shares the event's 20-year journey in this episode of The New Stack Makers.
Mar 9th, 2023 10:51am by
Featued image for: Unix Creator Ken Thompson to Keynote SCALE Conference

The 20th Annual Southern California Linux Expo (SCALE 20x) will feature keynotes from notables such as Ken Thompson, the creator of Unix, said Ilan Rabinovich, one of the co-founders and conference chair for the SCALE, in this edition of The New Stack Makers.

The event runs Thursday through Sunday at the Convention Center in Pasadena, California,

“Honestly, most of the speakers we’ve had at SCALE in the early days, we just emailed them and said, ‘Would you come to speak at the event?'” said Rabinovich. “We ran a call for proposals, and some of them came in as submissions, but a lot of it was just cold outreach.

“I don’t know if that succeeded, because that’s the state of where the community was at the time, and there wasn’t as much demand — or just because of sheer dumb luck. I assure you, it wasn’t skill or any sort of network …  we just managed to do that. And that’s continued through today. When we do our call for papers, we get hundreds and hundreds of submissions, and that makes it really hard to choose from.” 

Unix Creator Ken Thompson to Keynote Scale Conference

Thompson, who turned 80 on February 4 (Happy Birthday, Mr. Thompson!), created Unix at Bell Labs. He worked with people like Robert Griesemer and Rob Pike on developing the Go programming language and other projects over the years, including Plan 9, UTF-8 and more.

Rabinovich is pretty humble about the keynote speakers that the conference attracts. He and the conference organizers scoured the Internet and found an email address for Thompson, who said he’d love to join them. That’s how they attracted Lawrence Lessig, the creator of the Creative Commons license, who spoke at SCALE 12x in 2014 about the legal sides of open source, content sharing, and free software.

“I wish I could say, we have this very deep network of connections,” Rabinovich said. “It’s just, these folks are surprisingly approachable … even after years and years of doing amazing work.”

SCALE’s Deep Community Roots

SCALE is the largest community-run open-source and free software conference in North America, with roots befitting an event that started with a group of college students wanting to share their learnings about Linux.

Rabinovitch was one of those college students attending the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“A lot of the history of SCALE comes from the [Los Angeles] area back when open source was still relatively new and Linux was still fairly hard to get up and running,” he said. “There were [Linux User Groups] on every corner. I think we had like 25 LUGS in the LA area at one point. And so there was a vibrant open source community.”

Los Angeles’s freeways and traffic made it difficult to get the open source community together. So community members started LUGFest. They held the day-long event at a Nortel building, until the telco went belly up.

So, as open source people tend to do, they decided to scale, so to speak, the community gatherings. And so SCALE came to be – led by students like Rabinovitch. The conference started with a healthy community of 200 to 250 people. By the pandemic, 3,500 people were attending.

For more about SCALE, listen to the full episode of The New Stack Makers, wherever you get your podcasts.

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