We are hearing a lot about what happened at PyCon 2013, but most of what is being passed around tells only a tiny part of what really happened. Here’s how PyCon went for me this year:
The Educator’s Summit: This year PyCon hosted an Educator’s Summit for the first time. I am so happy I went! There was a very diverse group of people in attendance, interested in a variety of education-related issues. I met someone who uses Python to teach undergraduate science classes. I met people who are working on an open-source student information system. I met people who are interested in bringing non-traditional programmers from competent to professional. Overall, the summit was an opportunity for many people to make connections with people who share common goals in helping bring new people into the Python community as effectively and efficiently as possible. I am confident that some of these ideas will see significant forward movement this year, directly as a result of this summit. I hope this becomes a mainstay of PyCon for years to come.
Young Coder’s Tutorials: There were two days of tutorials for young people new to Python. From everything we saw and heard, they were a resounding success. It is wonderful to hear about all the work being done to bring people quickly into meaningful projects using Python, and it was good to see this happening at the conference itself.
Opening Ceremony – Raspberry Pi for Everyone! PyCon staff had been building us up to expect something even more impressive than dancing robots during the opening ceremony. They outdid themselves when they announced that every member of the audience was going to receive their own Raspberry Pi, and that we had access to a lab for the next few days dedicated to playing with the devices. Eben Upton, one of the creators of the Raspberry Pi, shared with us the brilliant insight that many young people used to have to “choose not to program” when they turned their computers on, in order to play games. The Raspberry Pi is meant to bring young people back to that place where a computer is hackable as soon as you turn it on. I understood it intellectually when he said it in the opening keynote, but I felt it in my soul when I plugged my bare Raspberry Pi board into the cables in the lab, and booted into the computer for the first time.
Three days of talks: The talks were completely inspiring. Just like last year, I went to some talks that were right at my level, and some that flew right over my head. I like that some talks fly over my head; it shows how much I can learn in this community, and that some people will always be doing way more complicated things than I am doing. I love watching the design-focused talks, because they make me think about the data we collect differently. If you haven’t watched any talks by Idan Gazit, go watch some. You will learn something, and you will have a good time doing so.
The Hallway Track: I can’t imagine that anyone goes to a talk during every scheduled session. There are so many interesting people at PyCon, doing so many interesting things, that you’d have to try to not meet someone you connect with. I met a number of people who helped me understand things in new and deeper ways, and I will continue to collaborate with a number of these people.
Exhibitor Booths: The booths at PyCon are like an extended hallway track, with better places to hang out. I spent a lot of time with the folks at Gittip, and my life was better for it. But I also learned a lot by talking to people from AWS, Lincoln Loop, Caktus, SendGrid, Linode, OpenShift, and more.
Job Fair: The job fair at PyCon is enjoyable even if you’re not looking for a job. Everyone was happy to explain what their companies do, and how they use Python, whether or not you are actually looking for a job.
Poster Session: I really enjoy the poster sessions at PyCon. It is a nice format in which you get to see an overview of someone’s work, and talk to them about what they have done. I enjoyed learning how people are using Python to help smokers quit tobacco. I enjoyed meeting Eric Holscher from Read the Docs, and hearing from him how some teachers are hosting their syllabi on RtD, and letting students submit pull requests for suggested changes throughout a semester. I also enjoyed watching Python luminaries like Guido mingling and talking to people about their projects.
Food: The food was wonderful, and I really liked the organization of exhibitor booths, the poster session, and the job fair in relation to the dining area. It was nice to have one big open area, and move freely among all the different offerings. Lunch is a nice place to just sit at a random table and meet new people, or sit with someone you just met and hash out some new ideas.
Closing Ceremony: The closing ceremony was short and sweet. Jesse bowed out, and received a well-deserved standing ovation. I did not know PyCon before he came along, but it is clear from watching the people I respect in the community that he has left it significantly better than he found it. I wish we could all surround him again and give him another standing ovation, and carry him around on our collective shoulders for a while. That, or we can all attach our Raspberry Pi’s to quadcopters and use them to gently pat him on the shoulder and say, “Good job!”
Lightning Talks: I enjoyed lightning talks last year, and looked forward to them this year. I didn’t see many this year, however, because I was preparing to give my own lightning talk. I had no intention of giving a talk when I began the conference. At the Educator’s Summit I had given a 30-second pitch for a possible talk about using python to “abolish the traditional 9th-12th grade high school structure”. My pitch to give a lightning talk at the summit was not selected, but it start a trend of people coming up and telling me the various ways they had been hurt and even traumatized by the traditional structure of schools in the US and elsewhere. People’s stories were so compelling, and the offer to help out on an open-source project were so consistent, that I decided to give a talk.
It was quite interesting to stand up and give even a brief presentation to 1500+ people that I respect greatly. This community makes it relatively easy for people to share their ideas in this format. My slides were not as polished as most, but my ideas resounded with some people, and that was why I gave the talk in the first place. I look forward to moving forward with this project, and if it goes anywhere meaningful I look forward to speaking more fully about the project and what it means for education on a larger scale.
Code of Conduct: The PyCon Code of Conduct was tested twice that I know of, and it worked well. There is an internet uproar going on that might suggest otherwise. But if you read the two posts by PyCon staff about what actually happened, you will see that conference staff dealt quite effectively and respectfully with both situations. They are getting heat right now because they refuse to sit quietly and ignore a widespread problem. I know in the long run most people will have the utmost respect for the work of PyCon staff in this area. If you have a chance, please refer people to the PyCon statements for some grounding in what actually happened.
Sprints: I stayed for the first day of sprints this year, and I am so glad I did. I got to sit with the Gittip folks while sprinting on my own project, and I got to see the people who create projects like Django working. To someone who has been mostly outside the professional programming community until the past year or so, it is inspiring to see this work being done.
Thank you, thank you, thank you! Thank you to the entire PyCon staff and the community itself. PyCon is absolutely wonderful, and I hope to go back year after year. I can’t wait to bring the rest of my family in a few years, and know that there will be something for everyone.