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When the stars align: My SoTM2022 and FOSS4G2022 story


It has been almost a month since the annual State of the Map (SoTM) and Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial (FOSS4G) 2022 conferences, but the stories and experiences are still fresh in my memory. Both were the most awaited conferences in the open mapping and open software world and, undoubtedly, the best conferences I have attended.

SoTM and FOSS4G conferences were hybrid โ€“ held in Florence, Italy, and online. SoTM2022 was held last Aug 19-21, 2022, while FOSS4G took place on Aug 22-28, 2022. On top of the conference sessions and workshops, different organizations hosted additional events, like the HOT unSummit, and the YouthMappers documentary premiere. GeoChicas also hosted their social night.

The beautiful sunset in Firenze, taken at Piazzale Michelangelo!

Before I share my story, let me thank YouthMappers for inviting us to join the back-to-back conferences and providing us with a conference stipend. Also, I would like to thank the local organizers of SoTM and FOSS4G for giving me a partial travel grant in recognition of my SoTM logo proposal. Without the support of these organizations, I would not have been able to attend the conferences. In retrospect, it seemed that the stars aligned in my favor this year. I remember the struggles of securing financial sponsors back then just to be able to attend these workshops. Who would have thought I would be attending these conferences this year without worrying much about the financial matters that would come with it? I am forever grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! ๐Ÿ™๐Ÿ™‡๐Ÿฝโ€โ™€๏ธ

Of course, the mandatory SoTM photo!
The YouthMappers Regional Ambassadors and Leaders attending SoTM2022!

Before the two conferences, YouthMappers hosted a pre-conference workshop for the Regional Ambassadors and the former Research Fellows. It was our first-time meeting in person, and it was exceptionally great! However, some of our colleagues couldnโ€™t fly to Firenze, as theyโ€™ve had issues with visa acquisition. We spent the day discussing our experiences as YouthMappers, and how the network grew and impacted communities. It was a nice warm-up and perfect preparation for the back-to-back conferences!

Forever grateful to the YouthMappers Steering Committee for giving this opportunity with me and my fellow YouthMappers!

It was my second time attending SoTM and FOSS4G, but attending this year was pretty unique and much more memorable. My first SoTM was in Heidelberg, Germany, last 2019, while my first FOSS4G was in Boston, USA, in 2017. This time, I have grown a much deeper passion and appreciation for OpenStreetMap communities through my involvement in the local OSM-Philippines community and the YouthMappers network and developed more skills using FOSS4G technologies. Moreover, I have known more people from both communities because of the remote interaction and through the power of social media. It was pretty interesting for me when people greeted me with โ€œI always see you on Twitter!โ€ and I honestly did not know how to react -- was I annoying on Twitter? was I noisy? ๐Ÿ˜…. But, imagine the joy I felt from personally meeting the community members and local volunteers, and sharing the same experiences with them; it was unfathomable.

The first three days were fun and exciting; this year's lineup of talks and presentations was solid and excellent. It was a combination of community talks, technical presentations, and governance sessions. Choosing a session to attend was difficult, as the parallel sessions were quite good. Among the outstanding presentations I attended were:

I was also given an opportunity to share a talk about Filipino YouthMappers at the HOT unSummit. In this talk, I shared how I, as a Regional Ambassador of YouthMappers, helped propel the growth of the YouthMappers community in the Philippines. My co-YouthMappers also shared some talks regarding their work in their respective chapters. It was amazing to hear about their stories and learn that we share similar experiences in solving social problems in our communities! I also did a lightning talk about the revamped NOAH website and how open data are used for disaster mitigation efforts in the Philippines during the last day of SoTM.

First time doing two talks at SoTM! Such an honor to represent both Filipino YouthMappers and UPRI - NOAH Center!

Meanwhile, FOSS4G was a bit overwhelming as it was overloaded with more technical presentations and workshops (imagine eight sessions happening simultaneously!). During the first day of workshops, I felt quite intimidated by the people around me. Both sessions I attended had fewer women participants (maybe around 3-5 women?) so I suddenly felt overwhelmed and it made me realize that women are still under-represented in this field. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed the workshops and sessions I participated in! This year, I have relatively more knowledge and experience using FOSS, such as QGIS, GDAL, GeoPandas, GeoServer, and Mapillary, so the sessions were quite relatable. PLUS, meeting the developers behind these tools was excellent (I was fangirling on the side!). Just a little side comment though, I noticed that some speakers had three (or maybe more?) presentations. Although I know they are well-experienced and have significant contributions to the community, we could perhaps rethink how we evaluate the lineup of speakers next year to provide equal opportunities to other contributors who want to share their work and highlight their initiatives.

The most beautiful conference venue I have ever seen!

My favorite workshops were Doing Geospatial in Python and using Mergin Maps! I like them both because they are easy to use, convenient, and innovative tools. They will definitely be part of the knowledge-sharing session I will organize in my country.

One of the highlights of participating in these conferences was attending the premiere of the YouthMappers documentary. The video documentary gives a powerful message on how student mappers shape the communities within OpenStreetMap and help contribute to solving global problems through open mapping. It was also lovely to share the stage with my co-YouthMappers when we introduced our book chapters and answered some questions related to them at the launch of our book titled "Open Mapping towards Sustainable Development Goals" after the documentary premiere.

During the Q&A portion of the book launch! Photo grabbed from Gregory Marler!

To add, FOSS4G organizers know how to organize a socials night! It was absolutely the best social night I attended in Florence! After all the intense workshops and sessions, it was a much-needed social event. ๐ŸŽ‰

The local organizing team of FOSS4G also made some pleasant remarks and deserving recognition to the conference volunteers and community members at the Closing Session. It was truly inspiring to learn how much effort and heart they put into making this event possible. Another side comment though, while providing some statistics of the participants geographically this year is essential, I am also interested in seeing how much the ratio between the men and women this year is.

Attending both conferences was absolutely the best experience I have ever had in my entire career. Since it was nine-full conference days, it was a bit intense and sometimes overwhelming -- I was experiencing some learning fatigue on the 5th day. Nonetheless, it was a truly memorable experience, and it has made me realize how strong these communities are, especially when communities join together towards a common goal. Furthermore, the accommodating members from the local organizing team of both SoTM and FOSS4G, and the friendly atmosphere of Firenze undoubtedly made my experience more unforgettable! (I remember my very first day in Florence โ€“ I traveled to the YM workshop venue for about ~30 minutes by walking because I was unsure how to commute, so I got dehydrated when I arrived. A man willingly helped me buy water in the vending machine since I couldnโ€™t understand how to operate it. He even kindly paid for my water! I didnโ€™t even know that the man who helped me was Luca Delucchi, until Letwin Pondo shared with me how Luca helped her navigate through Florence too and showed his photo. I was humiliated when I learned it was THE Luca later ๐Ÿ™ˆ, the chair of the FOSS4G conference, but I was very thankful. Hearing Letwin's amazing SoTM and FOSS4G journey with the help of Luca is a testament how kind and humble Luca is. He is indeed the BEST!!!).

The FOSS4G travel grant scholars with Christiano (man in red shirt, left side) and Luca (man in red shirt, right side)! Thank you, OSGeo! Photo grabbed from FOSS4G2022.

I am looking forward to attending the next SoTM and FOSS4G conferences and excited to creating new memories again! I hope the venue next year has fewer and less complicated travel requirements so more people can attend; after all, we are known for promoting inclusion and diversity. Again, thank you very much to the organizers, speakers, volunteers, scholars, and fellow participants, for making my SoTM and FOSS4G experience a memorable and special one! โ™ฅ๏ธ

Meanwhile, Pista ng Mapa 2022 and State of the Map-Asia 2022 will be held on 21-25 November in Legazpi City, Albay, Philippines. Please join us when you can! The call for participation and registration is now open as of this writing. Please see the following links below:


Until we meet again! Ciao!