BelFOSS 2017 – roundup by Jonny McCullagh

Jonny McCullagh, DevOps Engineer and one of the organisers of BelFOSS, submitted this summary as unfortunately this year we weren’t able to attend. For those interested, the next event is both being planned and scheduled for the end og January 2018. If you are in Belfast or able to travel to, Future Cert would strongly recommend BelFOSS – it is a packed day, with some great speakers. We might see you there next year!

The dark Irish morning benefited from a splash of colour on Friday 27th January 2017 as enthusiasts of free/open-source software congregated at the School of Computer Science in Queen’s University Belfast.

The recently renovated Computer Science building with colourful glass decorative ‘fins’ boasts cutting-edge facilities for over 2000 computing students. The BelFOSS event takes place before students begin second term lectures but the audience is inclusive of enthusiasts, students and IT professionals throughout Belfast.

Professor Stan Scott started proceedings describing the open nature of his work on the CPC software library since 1969. Phil Weir from the Belfast Linux User Group then explained the history of FLOSS and licensing with a particularly Irish slant. Following that, Steven Hunter from FabLab described the software, 3D printers and cutting equipment available for ‘makers’ in Belfast. From the voluntary sector we moved to the education arena with a talk from lecturer Sandra Scott-Hayward on Software Defined Networks and the Delta project. Then Lorraine Barry, a geoscientist and python developer, spoke about her work and presentation to the global FOSS4G conference. Before the break we had a quick description of the Missing Maps humanitarian project that is built on top of Open Street Map.

Before hearing from the larger global companies we had speakers from local and central government. Mihai Bilauca from Limerick Council described how Limerick had moved away from proprietary software solutions to FOSS alternatives such as Ubuntu, LibreOffice and Alfresco. Mihai then highlighted the challenges for digital transformation, smart cities and IoT. Following that Suzzane McLoughlin spoke about the OpenDataNI project and the governmental data sets they have published. OpenDataNI recently organised an open-data competition and winner Rose Kane-Quinn took the stage to describe her winning project (Gaff Game) and the use of D3.js for data visualisation.

Next to take the stage was recent QUB graduate Ciaran Molloy and colleague Jamie Bentham from Deloitte Digital who described their Smart Identity Ethereum blockchain project. Their code was recently released on GitHub at

After lunch, the burgeoning Belfast cyber-security sector was represented by Chris Fearon of Black Duck Software talking about the security of open source code, followed by Jolene Dunne from Proofpoint who introduced FOSS software used for email security including SpamAssassin, Amavisd and Clamav. Following that, we had the entertaining Ryan Kilfedder from The Tomorrow Lab describe the importance of Composer to PHP. The audience was then blown away with a highly technical overview of the benefits of Mozilla’s Rust programming language by programming expert Chris Nixon of Mintel.

Paul Mayne from LibertyIT explained Docker and containers with a physical demonstration using fast-food foil containers and a Raspbery Pi with cluster phat plus 4 Pi Zeros to provide a Docker cluster. Matt Curry ‘Supa Fly Cloud Guy’ had flown in from Arizona to describe how Allstate are transforming their IT business using agile methodologies and open-source software. Matt highlighted that Open-Source is more than just software and that community is a key element. The panel discussion at the end of the day demonstrated the spectrum of views on licensing options from Debian developer Jonathan McDowell, Philip Lawson, open-source consultant Phil Weir and Andrew Bolster (founder of Belfast hackerspace Farset Labs).   

The BelFOSS 2017 event was supported by local companies including Allstate, Vanrath recruitment, Flax & Teal, OpenDataNI and The Tomorrow Lab. We’ve received great feedback about the event and have already begun putting plans together for BelFOSS 2018. 

It is exciting to see the flourishing tech industry around Belfast and how freely licensed software, open-source methodologies and open-data are so important to our success. While Belfast is home to a highly skilled and educated workforce with an infrastructure capable of supporting tech giants, we have found that Freedom software is crucial to our charities, government departments, education, indigenous companies and global corporations in Belfast.