IETF meeting is not just another conference one would attend. It is a place with a “geek dream come true” atmosphere, where you get to meet people who have built the Internet brick by brick and are still pursuing their dream to create a perfect and ubiquitous communication system.
It all started in 2009, when driven by technological advancement in areas like IPv6, M2M as well as inspired by colleagues I have joined Internet Engineering Task Force (www.ietf.org) and Internet Society (www.isoc.org). Internet Society is the organizational home for the groups responsible for the internet infrastructure standards, including IETF and IAB.
The IETF itself on the other hand is one of the largest standards organizations in the world specifically working on the internet standards that are so ubiquitous today. Things like IP, routing protocols, application protocols etc. are all developed within IETF. The interesting thing about IETF is that, compared to other standards bodies it is an open entity and does not exist formally. As such, there are no formal members of IETF.
As an IETF meeting usually means a significant financial investment to take part at, ISOC fellowship program is an effort made by the technical community to allow participation from regions and countries that have usually a low participation rate in the standardization process. The fellows are usually a small number of people chosen from a larger number of applicants based on their applications and participation on mailing list activity.
During the March 2011 meeting, I have had the honor to receive the fellowship and attend the event, which by chance was the 25th anniversary of the IETF and this is what this story is all about.
The IETF meeting is usually a very large event gathering more than a thousand people from all over the world. All large service and content providers, as well as vendors are usually present. You get to know people you have read about in the newspapers or whose books have served as a tutoring material during ones technical career.
What makes IETF meeting different from any other meeting is the way it takes place. Usually a number of parallel sessions take place in various meeting rooms with a large number of attendees. All sessions are broadcasted to Internet or scripted via Jabber. This is no “one man show” and is usually a debate style discussion on the progress of the Internet Drafts being worked upon. This believe me is a hot discussion – not always nice but definitely quite efficient. Be ready for very technical dives into the core of the technology, as the place is obviously the home for some of the most well-known engineering folks.
Another interesting part of the IETF meeting is the voting process. In many cases, a “Hum” type voting is being used. As such, to vote for different options one needs to simply “Hum” accordingly. This is specifically made to avoid the political interference in the standardization effort. This is, your boss does never know what have you voted for. The decisions are made according to the rough consensus.
The spirit of the event is full of enthusiasm and there is hardly any difference in terms of age, dress code, social status. As even the old-time IETFers say, IETF is all about human networking. Almost no work is done within the meeting. The main work is done on the mailing list – while debated on the IETF to make sure it progresses the right way (or at least the way that is most efficient for this specific time).
Getting to know people is definitely easy. All newcomers get a special newcomer mark so everyone can distinguish and help you get around the place. For everyone else, there are special marks as well. As such, round dots of various colors are used to distinguish the IAB, IESG and IAOC members, as well as WG Chairs, Nomcom or the local hosts. Read more in the IETF Tao (http://www.ietf.org/tao.html).
An IETF meeting is not only standardization sessions. Social events, Bar BoFs, random dinners are a great opportunity to meet people and discuss existing issues as well as plan for a new working group or discuss a technical idea.
Eight days have passed by like a moment. Exhausted but happy I have learned one key thing – The internet as we know it is here because people who build it are in love with what they do. This enthusiasm is truly viral.
If you are interested in the standards process – I suggest you have a look at what IETF does, enroll on mailing lists and apply for future ISOC fellowships. You might be the one to make a difference. In IETF – each of us can.
I will finish this article with two of the most well-known sayings around IETF and the base principles the IETF still runs upon. David Clark ones said “We reject kings, presidents and voting. We believe in rough consensus and running code”, while the Internet legend Jon Postel is quoted with the saying “Be conservative in what you send and liberal in what you accept”.