cat /dev/brain

PyCon 2015 Recap

This year was my second year attending PyCon North America (a.k.a., PyCon US) and once again I loved every second of it.

tl;dr I didn't see a lot of talks in person but I spoke to a large number of people this year and made some great friendships that I hope to maintain for a long time.

Thursday - 2015 April 09

I flew through Atlanta on a flight with a bunch of other people going to PyCon (including some Mailchimp and Center for Open Science employees and the awesome Daniel Rocco) [1].

When we arrived in Montréal, some of us took the bus over to the conference centre to register. After checking into my hotel, I went back to the conference centre for the annual swag bag stuffing event. If you haven't participated before, allow me to describe it. A large number of PyCon attendees, staff, volunteers, etc., all form a human assembly line to stuff the swag bags that every attendee receives when they arrive on the first day of PyCon. Sponsors send large quantities of swag (sometimes too much, sometimes too little) and the people who form the assembly line make sure a piece makes it into each bag.

I also participated last year, and one of the other volunteers who walked around the tables with bags to stuff would frequently compliment those standing at the tables and placing the swag in the bag. They also took a second to look at the person's badge and learned most of our names. I was standing at a table with a couple shy people so I started doing something similar. Everyone who walked up to me with a bag to place swag in was greeted (or thanked) by name and it became a bit of a game for those around me who participated and myself. I think I was able to memorize most people's names without looking at their badges by the end and it was kind of awesome. PyCon is huge but I still saw so many of these people many times throughout the rest of the conference and each time we bumped into each other, we exchanged sincere and cordial greetings. Andres from the Dominican Republic always said stopped to say hello and Jamiel was always trying to see if I had forgotten his name yet. Suffice to say, I think I'll remember most people's names from Thursday afternoon.

Friday - 2015 April 10

On Friday, I was finally able to find Cory, the other maintainer (core-contributor, whatever you want to call us), of requests. I went to his excellent talk on HTTP/2 and his library hyper. But I spent most of the day hanging around the Rackspace and OpenStack booths meeting and talking to yet more people and explaining what OpenStack is, why Rackspace invests so much in it, and why I love what I do as an employee of Rackspace.

I was, then, finally able to meet Flavio Percoco, Cindy Pallares, Ed Leafe, James E. Blair, and a bunch of other people who work full-time on OpenStack in person. I had great discussions with all of them and I can't wait to see (some? of) them again at the OpenStack Summit in Vancouver.

Saturday - 2015 April 11

On Saturday, I went to a couple more talks than Friday, and I gave my own talk (video, slides) and attended a few other talks in the afternoon. Surprisingly, I wasn't as exhausted as I was after my PyTennessee talk. I was, honestly, surprised at the number of people attending my talk, especially considering the fact that Glyph was also speaking at the same time (and frankly on a topic that I really wanted to see presented live). I rounded up Saturday with dinner and games with some really excellent people and friends.

Sunday - 2015 April 12

After my talk on Saturday, a contributor to requests came up to me and asked for some help fixing a bug in one of the authentication plugin libraries that Cory and I maintain so on Sunday morning (after having an extended breakfast with some new friends) this contributor and I sat down and figured out the best way (we think) to fix that particularly nasty bug. I missed the morning keynotes but was able to attend Guido's talk about the proposed standardization around type hints. I appreciated the details he gave while I understand (and empathize with those who feel this way) that he gave too much detail.

You should also watch Jacob Kaplan-Moss' Keynote from Sunday if it's the only PyCon talk you watch. There were a lot of really excellent ones too, but I think I'll put together a separate blog post about that.

The Meta Commentary

This year was also my first time working on the PyCon Program Committee (PC for short). On the PC we review talk proposals and vote on them (and don't worry, I couldn't vote for my own talk). I had the great pleasure of meeting a number of the other PC members at PyCon and finally being able to put a face to the IRC handle.

I was lucky enough to hear some criticism of the talks that we did end up selecting for this year (and some of what I'm including was criticism that was made when the talk list was first published). I've summarized it below:

  • There were not enough Django/Flask/etc. talks selected to allow employees to justify their going to their employer (especially junior employees).
  • There were not enough advanced talks selected that provided people with deep dives into certain topics.
  • Too many of the talks contained insufficient detail. They were broader strokes of paint or more story-like than detailed.
  • Certain frameworks and communities were entirely excluded from the talk list.

I think these are certainly valid criticisms and they're definitely something I will keep in mind if I end up volunteering for the PC again next year. I would like to stress that the PC does it's best to select the best proposals from the submissions we receive. I have some suggestions if you would like to see a change in next year's PyCon. Anyone can involve themselves in the process.

  • You can join the PyCon-Organizers mailing list and get involved in the submission review for PyCon 2016.
  • If you are part of a community that felt excluded or ignored this year, start encouraging people to prepare proposals now. Work with them to make sure their proposal is cogent, complete, detailed, and something that will interest people outside your community as well as within it.
  • If you are a speaker and you received feedback about your talk, don't ignore it. Personally, I'm going to watch my talk in a couple of weeks and try to objectively analyze my speaking style and the content that I gave. If you have feedback for me, please send me an email.
  • If you wished you could have received more information from a speaker, tell them. They may be giving that talk again and would probably like to improve it.
  • If you cannot join the PC, join a speaker support group. There are a few that are public to most anyone to join. By joining one and inviting people who will be speaking at PyCon 2016 to practice their talks there, you will be able to provide early and direct feedback so people can improve their talks.

I joined the PC this year because I wanted to make sure I could help PyCon be as awesome as possible. I think we all want PyCon to be the best conference, so if you can afford to do the same, please do. We definitely need a larger and more diverse group of participants in the PC.

Diversity at PyCon

I heard a lot of negative reactions to Guido's keynote on Friday where he talked about the work he wants to do to improve the diversity of the CPython Core Development Team and the PyCon participants in general. Personally, I'm very happy to see Guido trying to lead the charge on this. I think it means a lot coming from Guido, but he's not the only core developer interested in this goal. Many of the core developers I spoke to throughout the conference echoed his sentiments. Further, if you watch Guido's keynote, you'll notice that he only mentioned wanting to add two women to the team. If the Q&A session is recorded as part of that talk, you'll hear an attendee emphasizing that gender is yet one axis on which diversity can be measured (out of many) and that we really need to work towards a much broader sense of diversity in PyCon and the core development team. This is something that I really think we as a community really need to put a lot of effort into.

I think that we can make PyCon itself more welcoming if we have a better selection of talks and speakers. I think that we as a community need to really encourage and assist a larger and more diverse group of people proposing talks and we could almost certainly use a more diverse Program Committee. I would hope that by having a more diverse grouping of speakers that we can also entice a more diverse set of attendees. Personally, I am going to start reaching out to different organizations and volunteering to review talk proposals for people who are looking to apply to PyCon 2016 and other Python Conferences. I hope that others will join me in doing this. Disclaimer: I'm not looking to organize a group of people to act as mentors, I simply don't have the time to do that. If you want to do that, I'll happily publicize it for you.

Other notes

I spoke to Swapneel Patnekar who is trying to build and teach his local community how to program each week using Free and Open Source Software. I won't give away too much of his story, but he and the community that he is building in India are building their own Open Source tools and websites to replace things like Meetup and other organizing tools that cost too much for them. He's doing some really awesome things and I know that he isn't alone. There are so many people doing really amazing things with Python. As Cory has already pointed out, PyCon is a great place for us to recharge. So many people can be so amazing that it really helps renew our zeal for working on the software that we work on in our free time.

[1]Although I didn't actually sit with them. I just said hello at the gate.