“It’s like they let the old folks home out,” said one developer on the floor on the All Things Open conference Wednesday in downtown Raleigh. He meant this in the nicest possible way. And admittedly, said developer was someone who used to work for me and with whom I hadn’t caught up in a long time.

Apparently, in geek years, I’m ancient.

The open movement is a bit of a rebellion, in the most harmless sense of the word. There’s a free spirit coursing through open source, not free as in “free music” but free as in “free to experiment, improve, and share the results.” This makes open source the fun edge of technology proper, and also allows for possibly the widest range of haircut styles I’ve ever seen at a conference.

I can make this joke because, more often than not, I’m rocking an awful haircut.

“There’s nothing out there like this, for this group,” said another developer I hadn’t seen in a while. “It’s funny that as the whole startup event thing has gone into overdrive here, there’s less out there that’s strictly for technical people, let alone the open source crowd.”

More Like This, Please”

All Things Open is the inaugural Raleigh open source conference, an offering from IT-ology, who has run the successful POSSCon un-conference for the last several years. Some of the very same speakers, all of whom are well known, participated in this conference as well, with egos checked. That group mixed with some well-known local developers and open source advocates like Red Hat/Opensource.com’s Jason Hibbets and Spreedly CTO Nate Talbott.

“Two things really impressed me about All Things Open,” Talbott said. “First, that a first-year conference in the Triangle managed to pull in such a stellar speaker line-up – kudos to the organizers for their hustle. Second, and more importantly, that the conference really has been about open source, with a really focused talk lineup and speakers and attendees that obviously care about all aspects of the open source movement.”

He added, “More like this, please!”

Last week I wrote about the potential for Raleigh to find its startup identity in open source. If Wednesday was any indication (and the conference continues today, by the way), there’s quite a bit of shared enthusiasm for that theory. Over 800 came out for All Things Open, including what I’m told were over 150 walk-up registrations (open-sourcers don’t like to plan that far ahead).

“Everyone I ever worked with at Red Hat is here, I think,” said Kevin Sonney, now a Senior Linux Administrator for Apptio. “Former co-workers, associates, and people I may not have seen since a job three years ago are here. The community and variety of people here is amazing, and it’s well worth attending.”

“Organizationally,” he added. “I can tell this is a first-year con. Better than some — and I do a lot of cons. Speakers and sessions run from the ‘meh’ – Hadoop and the distro wars – to good, to wow, like ‘Hot BTRed ZFS’ and Whurley’s keynote.”

I spent some time attending sessions, hearing about everything from Python to open data, which I’m a huge fan of. I also spent time at a table where my company, Automated Insights, was putting our new status as the best small company to work for in the Triangle to good use, looking to lure some of these programmers into our Ruby-based development team.

Yep, Raleigh Is a Hotbed for Open Source

And we weren’t the only ones. Fast-growing HireNetworks was there too, set up with a makeshift lounge a few tables down.

“Our major hiring focus is technology and it’s rare that this community gets to network in their own techie world and get intimate access to technology leaders,” said CEO Craig Stone. “We got involved with the Chair, Todd Lewis, early on and his inspiration was right on in bringing this highly successful event to the Triangle for an audience that is not typically focused on.”

I also had the chance to make some connections and some introductions. At one point, for example I pushed the director for online training at Red Hat towards my friends Elliot Hauser, Eric Martindale, and Brian Marks from Coursefork, a local startup looking to be the GitHub for online course material.

Yeah, it’s a first-year con, but for a first-year con it found a level of enthusiasm and participation that I don’t think even the organizers were expecting. If I had to make a call, I’d say it drove home the fact that Raleigh (and the Triangle) is already a hotbed of open source. A few more and bigger conferences like this will make that clear.

That’s not only possible, it’s inevitable. IT-ology announced the opening of a Raleigh presence during the conference. And as I headed down to Spy Raleigh for the evening’s drink-up, I caught Todd Lewis, the chair of ATO, standing outside making sure attendees got to where they were going. In the five or so minutes we chatted, probably a dozen people walked up and thanked him.

And none of them seemed like old folks.

Editor’s note: Joe Procopio is a serial entrepreneur, writer, and speaker. He is VP of Product at Automated Insights and the founder of startup network and news resource ExitEvent. Follow him at @jproco or read him at http://joeprocopio.com