Written by Gabriel D'Amours, a member of the OpenCraft team.
After three years of not seeing each other in the flesh, the OpenCraft team flew to Lisbon, Portugal to attend a well-deserved team retreat and participate in the 2022 Open edX Conference. All OpenCraft team members work remotely — the Conference is always a great occasion for us to meet in person, to work together, and cram in a few team meals and fun activities. Our time at the Conference was preceded by a week-long team retreat around Lisbon, Portugal, where we spent quality time together! Here’s a recap of those two weeks:
Week 1: Team Retreat
Most of the team arrived around the weekend of April 16-17 — coming from all corners of Europe, North America, South America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. While the majority of the team managed to fly to Lisbon, a few of us unfortunately could not make it, because of Covid-19 and visa-related issues. Sad. We'll see you next year! Still, there were more than 20 of us on-site, all ready to meet and have a good time!
Since the conference venue was located in the town of Carcavelos, roughly 20 km West of Central Lisbon, we decided to rent accommodations around that town to enjoy the weather, the beachfront location, and the relaxed atmosphere of the area. The Lisbon larger metropolitan area has a vast and efficient network of public transit, which made moving to other locations and getting to downtown very easy.
We bundled up in cozy Airbnbs, ready to work (a little), eat (a lot), and spend good times all together. Speaking of work — we rented two nice coworking spaces in nearby Estoril (another prime beachfront town!) to allow team members to catch up on work whenever they wished. Many of us also needed to prepare sessions for the conference, and the coworking spaces proved perfect for this.
During the first week, our days mostly consisted of going to the coworking space in the morning to get some work done, eating lunch together (often with a beach view!), working a little more, and spending the rest of the afternoon and evening doing stuff together. Oh, and we drank lots of strong espresso coffee, and ate unreasonable quantities of Portuguese pastries. Some went for the ubiquitous, sweet egg custard-filled pastel de natas, while others (such as myself) favored salty pastries such as the classic pastel de bacalhau, filled with cod fish. Portuguese take their pastries seriously, I'll tell you that — they're just everywhere!
Here are a few highlights from the first week:
We went on an e-bike tour, visiting a number of locations around Lisbon that offered gorgeous viewpoints of the city and its surroundings, featuring some of the city's brilliant street artwork. Things suddenly took an unexpected turn when our colleague Fox flew over his bike, and broke his arm. Yikes! Thankfully, he was taken good care of, and was able to enjoy the rest of his trip (although in a cast).
A board game night took place at Gabriel, Geoffrey, and Giovanni's place (a.k.a. the G-House). Many games were played, a bottle of fine whiskey was shared (thank you, Xavier!), pizza was eaten, and additional beverages were delivered to the apartment at a late hour. Success!
Some of us went diving in Cascais. After the logistical challenges (no car, no gear, zero knowledge of the area) were sorted out (Uber, gear hire and expertise from Bork), this was worth the effort. Xavier deserves all the credit for this, by the way — without his determined optimism, we never would have even gotten in! The water was cold, but the day was gorgeous. By swimming only a few meters off the coast, we saw octopus, many fishes, starfish, and sea urchins, buried amongst the rocky underwater ravines.
We went for an all-out bar crawl in the traditional neighborhood of Alfama, visiting all sorts of drinking and eating establishments. Which ones? How many? We don't remember exactly… but the food, ginjinha (cherry liqueur), cachaça (sugarcane spirit), and other delicacies were definitely abundant. To the great misfortune of one of our colleagues, one thing we definitely remember is that we did not find any chicken wings.
Week 2: Open edX Conference
Following our team retreat, we all attended and participated in the 2022 Open edX Conference, hosted at the beautiful seaside campus of Nova School Of Business and Economics, in Carcavelos. The conference spanned from Tuesday, April 26th to Friday, April 29th — you can review the complete schedule in Sched.
We were truly eager to meet the Community again, and see old faces and new: people from The Centre for Reimagining Learning (tCRIL), friends at edX, team members from other service companies, and many of our clients attended in numbers. What a pleasure it was to reunite with familiar faces, and to meet new members of the community! After a lengthy period of isolation, coming all together again certainly felt like a blessing.
For this year's edition, the OpenCraft team got pretty involved in many aspects of the conference. Some of us had been busy for months helping tCRIL with the conference planning. Some volunteered for on-site help and many of us were invited to present sessions during the conference. In 2022, OpenCraft team members presented 4 hands-on tutorials, 4 breakout sessions, and 3 lightning talks — not bad! We were also the event's reception sponsor for this year.
This year's conference offered four distinct session tracks: Integrations and Extensions, Pedagogy and Instructional Design, Platform and Product, and a Virtual Track for those who could not attend in person. Our sessions touched on various topics, including UI/UX, Micro Front-Ends, platform deployment, LTI, and the Core Committers Program. By the way, all session recordings are available on Open edX's Youtube channel — go watch them!
We also enjoyed attending the excellent sessions prepared by our colleagues, clients, and friends, which explored a wealth of complementary topics. We were equally excited to attend the keynote speeches, and these two in particular:
Ed Zarecor and Jenna Makowski from tCRIL presented the much-awaited "State Of Open edX" keynote (watch here). The talk gave insights on the important changes happening in the Open edX project's governance following the 2U/edX acquisition and the creation of tCRIL, and touched on other important topics such as Core Contributors, and the product vision and evolution of the platform. The talk was concluded with a guest appearance by Racoon Gang CEO Sergiy Movchan, who explained how the Open edX platform can be leveraged to support and maintain educational programs in war-torn Ukraine.
Open Source evangelist Tobie Langel's keynote speech, titled "From Open Governance to Collective Ownership" (watch here), discussed the critical topic of collective ownership of open source software. He argued for the importance of true, community-driven open source projects that are based on openness, collaboration, and equality. Needless to say, as strong open source advocates ourselves, we were quite captivated by Tobie's presentation. A few of us even had the pleasure to sit down with Tobie and discuss some more.
Kudos and special thanks to tCRIL, edX, and every member of the Community who worked hard to make this event a success! We're thrilled to see that the broader Open edX Community is increasingly involved in the project's governance, and in the planning of activities such as the Conference. We're taking steps in the right direction : )
Another definitive highlight during the week of the conference was the OpenCraft-sponsored food & wine tour, organized by yours truly. What better way to mingle and discover Lisbon other than touring historical neighborhoods on foot, eating great food, and drinking great wine? We organized a lucky draw, formed a group of 12 lucky tour guests, and had a wonderful Thursday night walking Lisbon's colorful streets. Our tour guides took us off the beaten path, sharing intriguing anecdotes about Portugal and Lisbon's history in the process. We visited a specialty olive oil shop for some tastings, ate charcuterie in a traditional Portuguese grocery store, and sat down in three (!) different restaurants to sample Lisbon's finest traditional dishes. Needless to say, our stomachs were full, and our heads were now filled with memories. Faithful to what is seemingly becoming a tradition, I took the remaining survivors for a bar-hopping ride to end the night in true Portuguese fashion.
We ended the week with our traditional team dinner, sharing a few last bites of excellent vegetarian food at The Green Affair, a few drinks, and warm goodbyes until next year. It all went in the blink of an eye!
Some of us visited Sintra towards the end of the trip, which is a beautiful and well-preserved castle town near Lisbon that hosts a variety of fascinating historical buildings and stunning natural scenery. A perfect day trip!
Before we knew it, our two weeks in Portugal were over, and it was time to head back home. But what a time we had! We are all very grateful for our presence in Portugal this year, and can't wait to do this all over again next year in Cambridge, USA : ) Thanks to everyone who made this possible!
Photo credits: Gabriel D'Amours, Jill Vogel, Geoffrey Lehée, and Giovanni Cimolin da Silva.