One thing that jumped out at me was the diversity of the attendees. It was very evenly split between men and women and there was good representation of all the various continents and regions on our planet. It reminded me how uniform our own community is and how we really can do a lot better in the diversity column. The reason to do so is not to just be able to say "we're diverse" but to be able to tap more people's talents and interests, to broaden our scope by broadening our participation.
Still, during the expert's panel on the last day it was interesting to see how men were still picked from the audience to ask their questions far more often than the women in attendance. I didn't really notice this until the ex-U.N. ethicist prof and I were talking over dinner and he made an observation about this. He also provided some really good pointers on how to improve on such things in groups like that. In particular, he shared the "stopwatch approach" (which involves a cooling off period between each question of up to 20 seconds to allow more people to think and gather the gumption to share) as well the "list approach" where you write down on a piece of paper everyone who has contributed in the group as you go to ensure you don't unconsciously favor certain people.
I'm also not used to the power difference between people in academic settings anymore. Well, Ok, honestly I was never good at that. Having people carefully call me "Mr. Seigo" and then ask if that was Ok (as if they had some yet more uncomfortable and formal way of addressing me ready to go), or just generally be unsure if they could come up and talk was ... odd to experience. I'm a rather used to the more level playing field in that regard at our conferences, though I did appreciate the generally higher level of social awareness amongst the attendees they displayed in other ways. The lower level of care for social structure in our community is both a blessing and a curse in that regard.
I had also forgotten just how much university students can party, however. If you think the geeks drink good amounts of beer at Free software events ... holy moley! As I was leaving on my last morning there (the conference still had a day or two to go) I could only marvel at the sheer number of crates of empty wine bottles the kitchen staff were packing out from the night before.
Speaking of the kitchen staff, it was really cool how they put an emphasis on locally sourced organic produce and vegetarian eating. In some ways, I felt very at home amongst that particular kind of appreciation and awareness. Oh, and I got cookies!
In conversation some people asked about our software conferences and other odd bits of my more usual life experience and I shared how we have our ways of showing affection even beyond the now rather pervasive KDE hug, namely Ade's cookies. So a couple of the attendees got some materials for the kitchen and made some home made caramel for me! Yay! They made enough that everyone got some, of course, and they also picked up some cookies for me at the store. Ade: don't worry, I still pine for the heavenly smell that pervades the kitchen when you make your cookies. (And aren't we seeing each other in a little over a week in Frankfurt? *cough* ;)
They also had a "love box" in the main hall for the last few days. Or maybe they had it the whole time, I'm not sure; I only slept in the same building as the attendees for those last two days at the castle grounds outside of Zurich. In any case, the love box (which was clearly labeled as such) was full of little red boxes containing condoms. The rate of depletion was noticeable and impressive. I don't think I've yet seen such a thing at a Free software conference. Another social difference.
All in all, though, I had not only a lot of fun (I was a closer in age to the students than the professors, so I hung out with the former during the evening/nights leading to much opportunity for revelry and enjoyment) and I learned even more from the bright minds and spirits that were there, including a couple of new German words which I shall now misspell for your amusement: fachidiot and
The latter rather perfectly describes how I tend to be in the morning (those who know me can probably fill in a more precise definition from there), and the former refers to someone who is so isolated in their specialty that they become nearly useless at anything else. Going to conferences such as this student summit is, I can only hope, a way to prevent myself from becoming such a fachidiot. Hopefully those who attended the lectures and panels I was a part of also gained something of value, though given the feedback it seems safe to say that many did. Exchange is good.
Several attendees have sent me emails that I need to follow up on now, so I suppose it isn't really over, just the introductions are behind us now.