The PyCon Experience

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I attended PyCon for the first time this year and, while I cannot begin to do it full justice, I want to share a summary of my experience. Some of the main themes that I encountered were around community, diversity and social awareness, which are areas that Pythonistas are particularly sensitive to.

Community

The group of people who congregate around the Python language and ecosystem are, by and large, a very helpful and inclusive bunch. The way in which PyCon is run is a powerful manifestation of this theme because of the fact that it is almost entirely dependent on volunteers to make it successful. In addition, the speakers who present during the conference receive no remuneration for their time. They all donate the time and energy required to not only travel to and speak, but also all of the time necessary to prepare and practice their content ahead of the conference. The fact that so many people are willing to give so freely of their time and energy to make PyCon a reality year after year is a testament to the devotion to our peers that the Python community engenders.

Diversity

As a community, practitioners of Python have long paid special focus to the need for greater diversity in technology. One way in which this manifests is in the official diversity statement for the conference. This work has been slowly paying off, with a steady increase in the number of women and ethnicities that attend the conference, not only as participants but also as speakers. A financial aid program, sponsored by the PSF, allowed almost 300 people to attend the conference who would otherwise be unable to. For the past two years, child care has also been offered, making it possible for parents to enjoy the events without having to worry about their children’s well-being.

The keynote by Jacob Kaplan-Moss was perhaps the most powerful example of how the Python community feels about diversity and inclusiveness in technology. If you haven’t watched it yet, I highly recommend that you take the time to do so. The focus on diversity extends beyond race or gender into diversity of thought, exemplified by the keynote talks from Catherine Bracy and Gabriella Coleman.

Ethics

As engineers and technologists, we are in a position of power over those who use the tools and services that we create. As such, it is important to consider the ethical ramifications of the decisions that we make on a daily basis. Glyph provided an eloquent argument to this end in his presentation. His talk was followed by an open spaces discussion, which he led, to continue the conversation.

Education

Since its creation, Python has had a strong focus on teaching. To this end the first two days of the conference each year are dedicated to tutorial sessions where attendees can learn to use a wide range of tools and disciplines related to Python. Another offering at PyCon is a Young Coders day-long session where kids between 12 and 18 are taught how to make games in Python.

In addition to the dedicated trainings, the whole conference can be thought of as a learning experience. There were an amazing selection of talks on subjects ranging from how to begin contributing to Python, to making your code more Pythonic, to methods for adding concurrency to your code. There are also poster sessions, where you have the opportunity to engage directly with the creators and discuss the subjects that they are enthusiastic about. Perhaps the most rewarding and informative portion of the conference is the so-called hallway track, the impromptu conversations that can lead to lasting relationships.

Takeaways

My experiences at PyCon reaffirmed my gratefulness for being a part of the amazing community that has formed around Python. I am grateful for having had the opportunity to travel to Montréal and take part in PyCon for the first time. For the next two years the conference will be held in Portland, OR and I intend to be there as well. For those of you who weren’t able to make it, I definitely recommend watching some of the talks which you can find here.

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